When sustainability is not enough.

Sustainable. Barely a day goes by without hearing something about “sustainability.” The City of Los Angeles has a Chief Sustainability Officer. Most large corporations have a sustainability plan. And goods from furniture to wine tout their sustainability credits.

But is it enough? I don’t think so. At it’s simplest, sustainability means meeting today’s needs without compromising those of the future. Sounds like a good thing to strive for. Trouble is, we have been borrowing from the future for generations and at some point we need to pay it back and leave the world better than we found it. I believe we’re past that point.

A quick example. If you were given a lump- sum of cash to invest and live of the interest for the rest of your life how would you feel? Pretty fortunate if you were given $10 million. You could live a rich life on $500,000 a year. If you were given $100,000 you’d be scraping by on about $5,000 a year.  You’d struggle to keep healthy and fit at that level and life would likely be short and brutal.

Well, the same is happening with the natural capital of our planet. Every year we are borrowing from the future to sustain our standard and way of living. It’s time to start paying back. To move from the goal of having a a sustainable society to one that is regenerative.

This is starting to happen in pockets around the world. In the redwoods, groups like the Mendocino Redwoods Company are rebuilding the productive capacity of the forests even while they manage them for timber today.  In places, these forests used to have in excess of 200,000 board feet an acre. Today, many have less than 5,000. Sustained yield on a forest with 5,000 board feet an acre is insignificant compared to the potential of these forests.

In the ocean, Marine Protected Areas are being established to restore the productive capacity of the ocean.  In these set-aside zones, there are more fish, they are larger, and more fecund. They also stray and rebuild the fish stocks of the rest of the ocean.

We need to multiply these efforts around the world. With more than half of the world living in cities, these efforts are going to have to come to cities as well. Rather than striving for a sustainable city, we need a regenerative city.  One that is striving to leave the world a better place.

Do you have any examples of cities adopting bold goals that go beyond sustainability? I’d love to hear from you!

Black perch congregate in MPA off Catalina Island (Heal the Bay)
Black perch congregate in MPA off Catalina Island (Heal the Bay)
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks

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