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Regenerative Design

If I had to summerise regenera ve design in one sentence, I would choose one from Lyly’e book: ‘living on the interest yielded by our natural systems rather than on the capital.’ At the beginning, when I heard the term regenera ve design, I thought that the principle was to design some clever laboratory/ar ficial technologies that would allow us to mimick and recreate the natural systems to generate sufficient material and energy to meet our needs. I had it completely wrong didn’t I? Regenra ve design is basically about le ng nature do what it does best, and our role is just create the favourable condi ons that 1. would not hinder the natural processes and 2. help those natural processes be more efficient. This is why I chose this image from the compos ng beds of CERES. It basically shows Nick, our guide, who is holding organic wastes that have been broken down to a soil-like compound by worms. How does it show regenera ve design? First of all the organic wastes are not wasted. They are naturally converted into a useful form and refed into the system. Then, besides being just nutrients, worm-generated nutrients and worms themselves actually improve the soil. Some benefits of worms: • • • • • • •

backyard worm compos ng can poten ally convert up to 60-70% household wastes into nutrient-rich vermicast (worm poo). Vermicast is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium (elements present in petro-chemical NPK fer lisers that are added to soils) Worm eggs in vermicast will hatch by the thousands in the garden. More worms = more worm poo Worms loosen the soil, making it easier for plants to grow roots. Worms dig channels in the soil which increases the soil’s capability to retain water and help proper drainage. Worms produce natural an bio cs which help plants fight diseases.

So with the simple prac ce of compos ng wastes with worms, we can poten ally reduce the amounts of wastes sent to landfills, reduce the amount of fer lisers that need to be imported, and actually improve the soil quality (thus the life support capacity of this system). And the best part is that we don’t need to do anything except ini ally inpu ng some worms in the equa on. And we don’t even need to feed them. In my opinion, this is a perfect example of regenera ve design - only needing to create favourable condi ons and allow nature to do the rest.

All the environmental strategies we have studied so far have all called for paradign shi s in the manner of approaching problems, social responsibility, economic sustainability and experience, and in a certain way, all of them are very similar. The major dfferences lie in the the way these strategies are implemented, and which ones of the abovemen oned aspects of sustainability are priori sed. According to my reflec ons of the past few weeks, I have come to understand the different environmental strategies as illustrated in the diagram below. This does NOT represent the actual a ribute of each strategy, but only how I understand them. Environmental Economic Technological



Regenera ve

Cradle to cradle

LBC +ve Devt. Biophilic Experience

The diagram only shows what aspects of sustainability are given more priority by each strategy. It does not mean that, for example, +ve development does not account for the technological aspect. Rather, it is placed lower on the list of priori es. Moreover, the fact that the LBC considers all the different aspects does not necessarily mean that it is a be er strategy. LBC: Living Building Challenge +ve Devt.: Posi ve Development

Honestly, it is easier to find similari es than differences between regenera ve design and the other strategies, but if I had to pick one aspect of regenera ve design that would clearly demark it from the others, it would be Lyle’s first principle: let nature do the work. All the other philosophies are quite pro-ac ve in achieving different levels of sustainability. Regenera ve design similarly demands human input in the form of crea ng op mum condi ons, but its basic principle remains to get out of the way. But again, there is no clear demarca on and more o en than not, these strategies overlap on many of the aspects they are addressing.

This week, I am going to be very specific in how to apply regenera ve design in QVM. The thing is, I think that worms are such an awesome idea and such a great way to illustrate regenera ve design that I am going to focus on these to illustrate a way to apply regenera ve design, instead of trying to turn Victoria Market into an en re regenera ve hub. So how can worms be useful there? Well, the amounts of organic wastes generated in a market is quite important, and too o en these wastes are sent to landfills. Worms could be used to convert these wastes into compost. Where can compost be used? Why not create a community garden there, where this compost could be used to grow vegetables locally? In Vic Market, worms could thus allow us to reduce wastes, produce vegetables and fruits locally, and create an engagement with the community. Amazing how such small creatures can poten ally be the catalyst towards changing the environmental iden ty of an ins tu on like the QVM into a regenera ve one. Worms for the win!!

Literally applying worms in a prac ce might be a li le more complicated. How to be regenera ve then? Simply not get in the way of natural systems would be a good place to start. What can worms teach us? It does not take a lot to be regenera ve, that the answers are present in nature itself and that the smallest things can make the biggest differences. Regenera ve design could possibly not only be limited to building projects, but also in the way the office is run, eg. in the way paper wastes are treated or the way the office building is supplied with energy or water. “Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” John Lubbock 1. 2.

Lyle, John T., ‘ Sustainability in the Neotechnical Era’, RegeneraƟve Design for Sustainable Development. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Kerrie Salo, 2006. Home ComposƟng With Worms. [Online] Available: h p:// Accessed: 21st April 2012.

Regenerating Sustainability Week 7