The paradox of Regenerative impact

In each edition, we share an article by a player from the regenerative field.

Evan Langmuir shares his reflections from the B For Good Leaders conference in Amsterdam, where a discussion on regenerative impact posed the critical question: “How can we measure regenerative impact, which is all about the future, when the current paradigm focuses on measuring the now?” He goes on to explore how the Butterfly School would address this complex theme.

FYI: It is not meant to be an exhaustive or authoritative piece on “What is regenerative impact” but rather food for thought on how regenerative thinking can bring a new perspective to impact.

The paradox of Regenerative impact

Hey everyone! I recently attended the B For Good Leaders conference in Amsterdam, where the panel on “Regenerative Impact” really got me thinking. The discussion initially presented regenerative impact as a way for companies to become better at measuring their social and environmental impacts. The moment that made me wake up was when Hans Stegeman, Chief Economist of Triodos Bank, spoke up from the back of the audience. Stegeman brought the panel to silence with his question: “How can we measure regenerative impact which is all about what happens in the future when the paradigm of impact measurement is focused on measuring the now?” At Butterfly School and AXA Climate we respond to this question with the notion of potential.

What is potential?

We understand it to be the latent but unrealised capacity of any living system – from a person to an organisation to a forest – to evolve and express its uniqueness. If we reframe our approach to regenerative impact this way, focusing on potential and capacity rather than direct results, it might clear up some of the confusion around the term “regenerative impact”. It’s a different approach, but we can measure, in the short-, medium- and long-term, the development of new capacities. Then the question becomes how do we create the conditions for living systems to develop their potential and for businesses to have regenerative impact. Here are some of the approaches we’ve learnt at Butterfly in the process of developing our 10-week introduction to regenerative business:

Regenerative impact happens somewhere: Reconnect your business operations to place

Bill Reed, co-founder of Regenesis, invites us to consider “we can’t change the world, but we can change places.” Our spreadsheets for measuring impact are just numbers and don’t reflect the messy reality of life. While we can’t grasp the complexity of the whole planet, we can reconnect our business to the local place it belongs to. Start simply by learning about the uniqueness of the place we work in—its cultural history, ecological patterns and natural resources. This can be the first step in helping your business align its decisions and actions with the living systems it depends on.

Regenerative impact doesn’t happen alone: Take a broad stakeholder approach

This means creating projects, products, and business practices that align with the evolving aspirations of your company’s stakeholders and develop their capacity to regenerate. From customers to employees, investors to local communities, and of course the environment, the more connected your business is with everyone the better it can make a positive impact. ****It starts with starting to consider the impacts of really listening to get to know the needs and lives of your stakeholders (yes that includes the ecological system your business impacts too!). After that, it’s about teaming up with them to work together and create value that’s bigger than the sum of all the parts.

Rethink measurement: Be process driven and support collective learning

We can’t measure potential, capacity and regenerative impact with the tools we have traditionally used to measure direct quantitative results. We need to a shift from a quest for predicting future outcomes to an iterative process of collectively reflecting and interrogating data through sense-making and conversation. In this sense, we don’t set up measures at the start of a project and then just evaluate at the end, but engage throughout the project to enable knowledge sharing and learning across business unit siloes. This is a way to evolve the capacity for a business to learn as a whole, and effectively adapt to changing conditions.

By reconnecting to the living places our businesses are connected to, listening to the aspirations of our multiple stakeholders and fostering collective learning in our organisations, we’re stepping closer to rethinking regenerative impact.


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