Exploring the notion of regenerative design - II

By Ramana Koti, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C       October 23, 2018

Image courtesy of Regenesis Group

Image courtesy of Regenesis Group

In the first post on this topic last month, we tried to define ‘regenerative design’ in simple terms and identified its link to culture and psychology. The emphasis was on developing the required ‘state of mind’ first.

The Regenerative Design Summit, organized by U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Georgia with the support of The Kendeda Fund, was convened on October 12 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Day Hall. The daylong summit started with an opening plenary, followed by in-depth panel discussions on various aspects of regenerative design, and ended with an interactive process workshop.

Here are some excerpts from the proceedings to give you a flavor for the day’s activities:

Plenary Session by Bill Reed: Working with potential (evolutionary health of nested living systems) is preferable to working with problems. In other words, harmonize, not compromise. Focusing on problems leads to a fragmented approach whereas focusing on potential has the ability to dissolve problems. Enlarging the scope of seemingly unsolvable problems often shifts the perspective to potential.

Resource Stewardship Panel Discussion: Georgia Tech and The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design are making great strides in developing campus-wide sustainability metrics and a net positive approach to energy and water, respectively. Embodied carbon is a harder sell than operational carbon because it is harder to see and to assign monetary value. Whole Building Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) can help to identify a project’s high impact areas. Carbon has time value, and with the pressing need to address climate change, early savings should gain higher priority over long-term savings. Embodied emissions from building materials and construction processes fall in the early savings category whereas operational emissions fall in the long-term savings category.

Biomimicry, Biophilia, and Ecotone Panel Discussion: It is possible to have it all and, at the same time, halve it all by using nature’s efficiency as an inspiration. Nature also has a calming and uplifting effect that puts one in the present moment. Types of diversity to consider are bio, material, and experiential. When you are dealing with a project with too much focus on monetary costs, take the client for a walk in the woods to shift perspective.

Quantification and Metrics Panel Discussion: When it comes to building materials, from a manufacturer’s perspective, action on climate change (carbon footprint) can be the post-sustainability frontier. Energy poverty and energy burden are real problems; there are people who have to skip meals or miss refilling prescriptions in order to pay their utility bills.  A strategic combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy has the potential to ease energy burden for the vulnerable.

Interactive Process Workshop: How does a project in Atlanta add value to the larger “whole” (community, city, ecoregion, life-shed, etc.) it resides in and how does the larger whole inform the development of the project? How does one define the bounds of the larger whole? The development of a purpose statement for a project can lead to surprising insights for its approach to regenerative design. Action is informed by strategy, which is, in turn, informed by beliefs and principles.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects was the incorporation of live audience polling to measure how the summit influenced the participants’ outlooks and perceptions. Precisely to this end, the audience poll included two questions:

  • Rank perceived barriers to regenerative design (before the summit started)
  • Things I will do right away to affect change (at the end of the summit)

Responses by audience were quite revealing, even when the options to rank or prioritize were embedded into the poll questions. Here are the findings.

Figure 1. 38 respondents ranked perceived barriers to regenerative design (before summit). Data for the graphic is courtesy of USGBC GA.

Figure 1. 38 respondents ranked perceived barriers to regenerative design (before summit). Data for the graphic is courtesy of USGBC GA.

Figure 2. 31 respondents identified things they would do right away to affect change (after summit). Data for the graphic is courtesy of USGBC GA.

Figure 2. 31 respondents identified things they would do right away to affect change (after summit). Data for the graphic is courtesy of USGBC GA.

Lord Aeck Sargent appreciates the opportunity to be a part of the volunteer committee that helped USGBC GA organize the summit and gather participant feedback.


#1. Posted by Shabnam patel on October 30, 2018

Very interesting read.The words that encourage and change the conventional green building vocabulary here are living,biomimicry, potential rather than problem and more importantly looking at the short term cost and embodied energy as priority areas.

#2. Posted by RamanaKoti on October 31, 2018

Thanks for reading and leaving your feedback here, Prof. Patel. As a teacher, you instilled the right values in us during our undergraduate days.

#3. Posted by Katharine on February 12, 2019

What an amazing read—found the concept of regenerative design incredibly uplifting—especially the focus on potential and harmonize to “dissolve problems”.

Our community is working to restore and reimagine our Chicago Clarendon Park Community Center built in1916—once a bustling Bath beach center along Lake Michigan. 
We stay true to our vision; your words have given us renewed hope to make our dream come true.

#4. Posted by Ramana Koti on February 12, 2019

Katharine, we are thrilled that you found our post on regenerative design uplifting. We wish you the best with the Chicago Clarendon Park Community Center restoration project. Let us know if we can be of further assistance.

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