Imagine a world where the most the general population expects from big business is that it keeps its hands to itself—that it doesn’t take anything away from a community or the Earth—but rather it sustains. That’s the golden standard of sustainability. While sustainability is noble in its own right in that it’s a step up from exploitation and destruction, if the goal of being sustainable is simply to not have a negative impact on people and the planet, it’s time to raise the bar.
With an onslaught of terrifying climate-change stats flooding the news over the years, it’s hard to pick just one to drive my aforementioned point home. So I’ll share these. According to data collected by NASA, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit (1.18 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, due to increased carbon dioxide emissions and other human activity. Most of the warming progressed in the past 40 years, with 2016 and 2020 tied as the hottest year to date.
We’re well past the point of being able to continue polluting the environment and extracting natural resources without doing harm, and sustaining the status quo isn’t enough to make a positive dent in all the damage that’s been done.
That’s why the bar that designer and entrepreneur, Jeff Scult, has set for his clothing line, One Golden Thread, is regenerative—a set of agricultural practices that build organic matter back into the soil, storing more water and drawing more carbon out of the atmosphere.
“I mean, how inspiring is it to say we’re focusing on sustainability, which is basically maintainability?” asks Scult. “There’s nothing really inspirational about that. It’s like sending your kids to school and telling them to aim for a C average, to just maintain. Sure, let’s use sustainably sourced materials. Beautiful, let’s do that. But let’s also leave the place better than we found it. That’s the idea of the regenerative spirit, to give back more than it takes to make something.”
One Golden Thread sources material from trees that regrow on their own through a company called Lenzing, which uses 85% renewable energy and water sovereignty at its predominant plant.
“We’re creating clothing that reminds you that you’re nature,” says Scult. “I’ve gone to sustainability conferences where I’ve watched people show up in jeans and synthetics, and I’m thinking, okay, so you’re basically wearing something that takes 500 gallons of water to make, and you’re releasing 64,000 microplastics in the ocean every time you wash that synthetic top. It doesn’t matter that it’s a vintage piece.”
Being of Nature & Giving Back to Nature
The core of One Golden Thread’s ethos is to `’regenerate for a golden planet,” and calls for people to join Gen R, the Re: Generation. If there’s ever been a time for business leaders and environmentalists to galvanize a generation of all ages focused on leaving the Earth better than how they found it, it’s now.
“I believe that the greatest lie is the illusion of separation,” shares Scult. “Addressing that lie starts with remembering that we’re connected to nature, to see nature as not that thing out there, but see ourselves as nature, and then to wear nature on our bodies to remind us of our inner nature, and then to have a model of benevolence to actually regenerate nature. That to me is infinite sustainability. That’s regeneration and that’s Generation R.”
It comes as no surprise that women are playing a key, hands-on role in promoting regenerative thinking. Seleyn DeYarus and her team at Regenerative Rising produce interactive conversations and summits, bringing businesses and thought leaders together across sectors to elevate models that improve soil health in agriculture, water and resource restoration, and create shared prosperity for stakeholders. The Organization’s Regenerative Member Community helps professionals, brands and farmers connect with colleagues to accelerate the adoption of regenerative principles at the business and organizational level.
Last year, when Regenerative Rising rebranded from its original name, At The Epicenter, DeYarus said: “It is an unsustainable business strategy to focus on profitability at the expense of the health of your customers and the natural resources that keep you in business. That is obvious, and change is necessary. All indicators are that the changes we are highlighting are proving profitable. We are seeing that through companies like Danone, Applegate, Patagonia, Timberland, Eileen Fisher, Alter Eco, Guayaki, Thrive Market, HB Specialty Foods, Dr. Bronner’s, Pipeline Foods and the list goes on. All of these companies from supply to manufacturing both in food and apparel are seeing what is needed to have a successful long-term existence as a business. And they are making significant commitments to regenerative strategies, not just sustainable strategies.”
What Products Can Be Regenerative?
According to the Regenerative Organic Alliance, just about any agricultural product can be grown or raised regeneratively and organically. Because clothing and food have similar supply chain dynamics and eating and wearing clothes are two functions consumers do every day, it makes perfect sense that a number of emerging regenerative products are food and fashion brands. However, the R doesn’t stop there.
“Other regenerative possibilities include beauty products, personal care products, medicine, hemp and CBDs, cleaning products, accessories (think leather bags, cotton totes, and rubber sneaker soles), home goods (sheets and mattresses), plus wine, beer, boocha, and spirits,” says Elizabeth Whitlow, executive director at Regenerative Organic Alliance. “Basically, if it comes from a plant or animal, it can be regenerative organic.”
Major brands such as Patagonia and Anheuser-Busch are pushing regenerative agriculture into the mainstream. Through a partnership between Anheuser and the agriculture firm, Indigo Agriculture, rice grown beer saved farmers two billion gallons of water and reduced greenhouse emissions 26.6% in one growing season.
Patagonia, a founding member of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, participated in the organization’s Regenerative Organic Certified™pilot program in 2019, and is pursuing the certification, which is based on three pillars: soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. It’s the only certification currently on the market that addresses all three areas. A number of other brands and products have earnedROC™ or are on the regenerative journey, including Dr. Bronner’s, Grain Place Foods, Tablas and Creek Vineyard, to name a few.
Some additional considerations for businesses aiming to go regenerative include regional and local capacity, collaborative culture, long-term thinking, and intergenerational equity. If all businesses followed the Seventh Generation Principle, which states that humans should be making decisions based on how they will impact the future of the next seven generations, we’d likely be living in a thriving, restorative environment.
Imagine that world. Imagine a world where the general population gives back to the planet more than it takes and where leaders and businesses set that precedent. That world is possible through Generation R.