Regenerative Education: Beyond Sustainable

Regenerative Education: Beyond Sustainable

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Trends in education come and go. There is motivation, hype, and even money to institute certain practices because a “they” believe it is the best way to educate our youth. Sustainable education is getting the same rap–it is being seen as a trend. “Going green” and “stimulus package” are the current buzz phrases in education circles. What concerns me is that many people don’t understand the depth of sustainable education, and as a result sustainability might go out of fashion like other trends. This “trend” is too important to let pass by. “Sustainable” is not a way to educate–it is a way to live. In the early 1900’s the industrial revolution began changing the way we lived and educated. This sustainability revolution needs to have the same impact. I propose at least three different levels of sustainable education. I believe that if we do not work at all three levels, the sustainable education

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Musical Metaphor

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Many professionals in the land-use planning and development field are now aware that good functional design does not necessarily lead to good cities and community settlement patterns.  To use a musical metaphor, building structures are only instruments that, no matter how well they are crafted, are only as good as the musicians who use them.  Good planning, therefore, requires more than just good technical design and management.  It also requires the engagement of stakeholders in ways that develop their sense of co-stewardship in the planning process.  But even stakeholder engagement processes are not enough.  To carry the musical metaphor further, there is now just beginning to be a larger realization in the planning field that humans and their settlements are merely one section of musicians in a much larger orchestra who must learn to play together in harmony.  Without such systemic understanding and stewardship planning, we face such catastrophes as

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How do we rebuild our usefulness to one another?

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 If the key to the health and wealth of all living systems, including economies, is based on resources being exchanged and recycled often and locally, how can a national economic stimulus package best help to build local and national economies?  The various programs of the 1930’s often employed numerous people through large-scale projects accomplished with hand labor and small-scale, locally owned equipment. Most modern projects of all kinds concentrate on the use of large, expensive, laborsaving equipment–at the expense of jobs.   In natural systems, any one essential function is provided in multiple ways. Few animals feed on only one species. The most successful ones, like coyotes, feed not only on many animals, but on plants and even insects as well. The really resilient plants are the ones that have many different ways to get and store food and water, and to be pollinated and reproduce. And just as it is essential

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Problem Solving Can be a Problem

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I was honored to be asked to kick off MIT Sloan sustainability series. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, followed me a few months later. He talks about what a business can do with its business practices to reverse the problems that business has created. In my talk, I am asking businesses to see themselves as part of a living system, and to learn to be a integral aspect of the working of that system. In other words, Immelt is talking about problems and I am talking about potential–both are important, but it is important to know what they can each produce.

Rural Schools, Rural Economies

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Recently, Ashley Nielsen at Living Education was asked by George Otero, a friend and colleague, to do some thinking about the connection between rural schools and their communities. George talked to her about Australia’s Schools First program, which created government incentives for schools to work in close collaboration with their surrounding communities. He is now working with a group of people in New Mexico demonstrating an interest in using  American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  funding to revitalize rural schools right here in the state. In answer to this request, we (Ashley along with a group of us from Regenesis) spent a couple of hours one morning talking about the connection between rural schools and rural economies. It is fairly well recognized, by the proponents of Schools First and by others, that education improves dramatically when schools work to build supportive connections with their surrounding community. Less widely considered, though, is the

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Re-Membering Sustainability

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I had a recent conversation with an author who was writing about going “beyond sustainability.” He couldn’t decide between restoration and regeneration to describe “beyond”, but was tending toward restoration.  Regeneration, he said, seems rather squishy. And he is right…at least insofar as the word is being used, or rather misused, these days. In our business and in the courses we teach, we talk a lot about the distinction—and the complementarities—between these two processes. So of course I jumped on the opportunity to talk more.  Reflecting on our conversation later, however, I realize I responded to the wrong question. And undoubtedly contributed to my friend’s continuing confusion. The real question is, “Why the growing interest in going beyond sustainability in the first place?” 

The City as Sacred Place

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Here’s an interesting tidbit.  According to historian Lewis Mumford, the social, psychological, and spiritual origins of the city existed before the first city was ever built.  Cities, in their beginning, were spiritualizing centers for cultural and religious congregation.  In Mumford’s words, Thus even before the city is a place of fixed residence, it begins as a meeting place to which people periodically return: the magnet comes before the container, and this ability to attract non-residents to it for intercourse and spiritual stimulus no less than trade remains one of the essential criteria of the city, a witness to its inherent dynamism… 

What About Technology?

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Given a regenerative perspective on the green design and development field, we frequently find that we need to contextualize the value of technology within a living-systems approach to sustainability. Specifically, when we talk about regenerating living systems, it’s important to clarify that we’re not saying that the use of green technologies is unnecessary—but we are saying (with a lot of conviction) that a technology-based approach alone is insufficient. One way to think about this is to look at two distinct ways of using technology in a specific place. Each individual place on our planet has a natural system that provides human inhabitants with resources (such as clean water, healthy food, building materials, and energy harvested from the sun or wind) and absorbs their waste (both solid waste and pollution).

Trickle Down or Trickle Through

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If money is like water then it may be helpful to look at the economic stimulus package from an ecological point of view, since hydrology and ecology are so tightly linked. There is a principle of living systems: it is not the absolute amount of a resource that determines health, but the speed at which the resource moves through the system. This is why our intestines meander. Food and water need to travel something like two miles to get through the few feet between our two ends. This allows our bodies to absorb the greatest amount of nutrients and water possible. Healthy rivers and streams also meander. If a stream moves languidly, the water and nutrients it carries have a greater chance to nourish the landscape. And a well-nourished landscape creates a stable channel and storage system for the stream.