Leen Gorissen: Regenerative business starts with a shift of mindset

11 kesäkuuta 2024

Dr. Leen Gorrisen, a Belgian ecologist specializing in regenerative business and innovation, served as a coach at FIBS’s two-day training session in May 2024. We asked her what regenerative business means in practice, why Finnish companies should initiate the shift towards this new business model now, and how to get started with the work.

Can you share with us your journey into the world of regenerative business and what inspired you to become an expert in this field?

I have been trained as a biologist and prior to founding Centre4NI, I worked in the field of sustainability R&D. That is where I realized that the way we interpret and apply sustainability is not effective. We are not tackling the root cause of what is fueling unsustainability. Disappointed with the lack of impact that sustainability-oriented projects yielded, I left my job and took a training in Regenerative Development and Design. This approach really opened my eyes to what was needed and how we should be working differently. Once I understood, there was no returning to the old ways of working and I have dedicated my time to dive deeper into this topic ever since.

What are some key differences between traditional sustainability approaches and regenerative business models, and why is the latter increasingly gaining attention in today’s corporate landscape?

Sustainability approaches usually focus on “doing less bad”—less energy consumption, less pollution etc— which boils down to efficiency thinking. Not only is doing less bad not very motivating, there is also a deeper level of thinking missing in the sustainability discourse: are we actually resolving the challenges of our time or are just doing the wrong things more efficiently? In other words, are we just postponing the apocalypse? This type of essence thinking is one of the blind spots in Western society.

Regenerative entrepreneurship starts from a very different perspective. It is not about doing less bad but about finding ways to create regenerative impact. Impact that increases the vitality, viability and evolutionary capability of the living systems we are part of. While sustainability has become a lot about technological fix solutions, regenerative development is about living systems science and finding our role of value adding in the ecosystems in which we are embedded.

How can leaders and organizations begin to shift their mindset and practices towards regenerative thinking, especially if they’re currently operating within more traditional frameworks?

There is a lot to gain from aligning work with the way living systems work. After all, we humans are living systems as well. Unfortunately the mechanistic, behaviorism paradigm that views organisations as machines is still predominant. The first step is to broaden your perspective, for instance by reading the books of Carol Sanford, one of the pioneers in regenerative business.

In your opinion, what are the most promising opportunities for businesses within the realm of regenerative business, and how can they capitalize on these opportunities?

We have entered a period of accelerating turbulence, uncertainty, and volatility. Old fashioned business models have been designed for stability and are thus ill-equipped to deal with this increasing turbulence. What is more, increasing volatility means that what worked in the past is no longer guaranteed to work in the future. In such times, having a regenerative company culture, that stimulates a creative, responsible and collaborative work force spirit are more likely to find constructive ways to deal with the unexpected. To build such a culture, companies need to commit to and invest in such a process. Once a regenerative culture is installed, the business can seize new opportunities, opportunities that can help our planet move back to balance. It all boils down to showing leadership. Change happens through design or through disaster. It is up to all of us to transform ourselves, our value logic, business models, and organisations in ways that we become part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.”

Could you highlight some real-world examples of companies successfully implementing regenerative business practices and the positive impact they’ve had on both the environment and society?

One of the most impressive examples is the transformation Interface, a multinational carpet tile manufacturer, made. By installing an internal culture of innovation, they almost completely erased their negative impact and they are now exploring how they can do business in a way that is beneficial for our planet. Sanford illustrates several other business examples in her books how working regeneratively build capability in employees which benefits the business and society.

Given the urgency of addressing global challenges, why is now the ideal time for businesses to embrace regenerative practices?

I already said it before, the road is going to become very rocky and unpredictable. Very few businesses have employees with the capabilities required to navigate such volatile times. And our life-support-system is on the verge of collapse. Waiting is no longer an option.

What are some common challenges or misconceptions that businesses face when transitioning to regenerative practices, and how can they overcome these obstacles?

Regenerative value creation requires a different way of thinking. The concept is becoming increasingly popular and many businesses claim they are working regeneratively, large industrial agricultural corporations for instance. But while they may engage in restorative land management practices, they have not changed the business logic (the thinking) behind their business models. One of the main barriers to working regeneratively is the tendency of our brain to stick to our old paradigms of thinking because changing the way why we think like we think is very energy intensive and hard work.

How do you see the future of regenerative business evolving, and what role do you think events like ours play in advancing the understanding and adoption of these principles?

The mission of Centre4NI is to leave the planet better off than before, so I hope that our work helps people to better understand living systems and the depth behind the concept of regenerative development. Because if we allow to happen with regeneration what has happened to sustainability, we will arrive too late. Events like this one organized by FIBS, where people can reconnect to nature, shift from efficiency to essence thinking and learn about the ways living systems work and how we humans can redefine our own role within those living systems, is a first and necessary step towards a regenerative future. Like I shared in the retreat, real change will only begin when we realize that we are the Earth regenerating herself.


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