Rethinking regenerative sustainability: contradictions, transitions and creativities

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Session chairs:
Dr. ZHANG Xiaoling, Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.

Prof. Donald Huisingh, Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, University of TN, Knoxville, TN, U.S.A.
Dr Dominique Hes, Melbourne school of Design, the University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

The regenerative sustainability paradigm is emerging out of the transition from a ‘mechanistic’ to an ‘ecological’ or living systems worldview (du Plessis, 2012). This view helps us to re-conceptualize relationships among human’s technological, ecological, economic, social and political systems. Through exploration and questioning of developments in the context of ‘net positive’ or ‘regenerative’ and more traditional sustainability literature, and through application of the classical Chinese concept Tian Ren He Yi as it was applied to ancient Chinese buildings, a new paradigm of sustainability is evolving. It relates to approaches that support mutually beneficial co-evolution of humans and natural systems in a partnered relationship (Cole, 2012).

Traditionally, ‘green building’ concepts were primarily directed at ‘doing less harm’ or, ‘reducing the degenerative consequences’ of human activities on human health and upon the integrity of ecological systems’ (Zhang et al., 2011). These approaches were criticized by Cole (2012) in that the notion of ‘green building’ is not only an insufficient requirement for charting an ecologically sustainable future but is also an insufficient aspiration for challenging and empowering design professionals and their clients to be increasingly creative. The heart of regenerative development is the concept of place and humanity’s role in it. It promotes co-evolutionary, partnered relationships among humans and natural systems rather than a managerial one and, in so doing, builds, rather than diminishes, the social and natural capitals to ‘grow the caring’ required to make sustainability real (Cole, 2012).

During the past few decades, the trajectory of ‘regenerative development’ (Reed, Mang and Reed, Cole, DuPlessis) and ‘positive development’ (Birkeland, 2008) has attracted increased interest as a means to reframe and re-conceive ‘green building’ practices. Evidence from several research and development themes motivate us to shift from addressing issues such as climate change, green buildings, regional carrying capacity, infrastructure design and development, urban community planning, and social justice, in isolation to working with them simultaneously and holistically from a system’s perspective.

Therefore, instead of seeking to solve individual problems with the objective of causing ‘less harm’ or even ‘net zero’ solutions that ‘minimize’ or ‘mitigate’ harmful human activities, we need to seek to engage and to empower actors, institutional ideologies and governance strategies throughout the world to focus upon integrated, system’s approaches for creating and re-creating multi-scaled foci from individual buildings to neighborhoods, to urban areas and regions through a ‘net positive’ or ‘net-regenerative’ lens. 

This is a call for abstracts and subsequently for papers for a workshop that is designed to focus upon multiple dimensions of regenerative sustainability (e.g. regenerative design, regenerative development, positive development, etc) applied to the urban built environment at scales, which range from individual buildings, neighborhoods, urban development to integrated regional and national sustainable development. The questions that this workshop will address include: 1) how these theories, approaches and development practices are evolving, 2) how they can help us to prevent or adapt to climate changes, 3) how these theories, approaches and practices are likely to evolve in the next two to three decades and 4) Are there any contradictions, transitions and creativities occurring in transforming from ‘traditional sustainability’ to the ‘net regenerative sustainability’ paradigm and the practice of it?

Therefore, we invite participants to develop abstracts and papers based upon comprehensive/integrative reviews and theory development, as well as papers that provide detailed case studies, which document best practices, use effective indicators to document their effects via proper monitoring and assessesments of their impacts in making the essential societal transitions.  Papers are solicited that document the evolution and supportiveness of appropriate governmental policies, ordinances and codes. In this context, participants of the workshop are invited to address aspects including but that are not limited to the following questions:  

  • What are the definitions of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in the context of net-regenerative, sustainable, equitable, post-fossil carbon urban developments?
  • What visions, policies, strategies, concepts, indicators, education and other approaches need to be changed in the realm of urban planning and development in order to truly support net-regenerative,  sustainable, equitable, post-fossil carbon urban developments?
  • What are the barriers and opportunities that must be addressed to achieve, net-regenerative, sustainable, equitable, post-fossil carbon urban development?
  • What factors affect the successes or failures of net-regenerative, sustainable, equitable, post-fossil carbon urban developments, which are also designed to be net-regenerative?
  • How can the eco-city’s development processes be designed/formulated to improve the perceived quality of life (QOL) of residents, to reduce the metabolic flow rates and to increase the life support systems of the wider urban communities, eco-systems and bioregions?
  • What alternative frameworks or approaches can be developed, to more effectively, support adapting and implementing the ecological design and development principles in different institutional, cultural, geographical and temporal contexts?
  • What are the theoretical and conceptual frameworks, foundations and origins of the ‘net regenerative sustainability’ paradigm, including related concepts of ‘regenerative design’, ‘regenerative development’ and ‘positive development’?
  • What is evolving in the process of documenting, distribution and application of information on ‘definitions’, ‘characteristics’, ‘purposes’, ‘criteria’, ‘scopes,’ ‘governmental policies,’  emphases  and results of  “net-regenerative sustainability”?
  • How can we more effectively develop the language to be albe to effectively compare ‘sustainable buildings’ with ‘net-regenerative sustainability buildings’  or developments or regions?
  • What new, more effective trans-disciplinary approaches need to be developed to holistically involve social scientists (e.g. geographers, political ecology, etc.), ecologists, economists, design professions (e.g. architects, landscape architects, & engineers,) and public policy & public health experts, to increasingly, help to catalyze implementation of the emerging knowledge of net-regenerative sustainability?
  • What needs to be done to improve the net-regenerative sustainability assessment approaches based upon multiple capital models, which have their foundations in practical and academically sound performance metrics?
  • What are appropriate economic, social, cultural and biophysical thresholds and targets for net-regenerative sustainability at all scales of development from the individual buildings to global development?
  • What are useful definitions and targets for quantifying and qualifying the  results of net-regenerative and ‘net positive’ sustainability at the levels of individual buildings, planned neighborhoods, urban developments, and at regional sustainable developmental scales?
  • What are the pathways, partnership frameworks, governance and policy regimes, models, support tools and approaches that are needed to catalyze and support the emergence of net-regenerative urban development practices in transformative scales and in reasonable timeframes?
  • How can society increasingly, effectively engage diverse societal inputs in co-developing and in co-implementing actions and movements with stakeholders in exploring ecological, economic and social practices of regenerative sustainability and net positive developments, at various urban scales?
  • Are there case studies, which document the contradictions, challenges, transformations, transitions and needed innovations for the development and adoption of net-regenerative practices at the neighborhood, urban or regional scale?
  • What are the barriers, benefits, enablers and opportunities to implementation of technologies that may support regenerative sustainability at the building, neighborhood, urban and regional scales?
  • How can we increasingly effectively identify, document and build upon the ‘co-benefits’ as a result of the new approaches associated with net-regenerative sustainability, including but not limited to, human health, eco-system and economic benefits in the short and long-term?

Net-regenerative development is different from other approaches to sustainability as it specifically and purposely engages the mental issues of our engagement with the earth and each other. It outlines that working on the mental level is as important as working on the physical level, what research, case studies and practice is there that shows how this can be done?

Format and Procedures for Submission of Responses to this Call for Papers

We invite authors to prepare and submit extended abstracts in response to this “Call-for-abstracts”, which are to be prepared in English.

Please submit your abstracts and/or proposals for illustrative eco-town planning formats, panel discussions, simulations, and other interactive activities, via the conference website:

Note: Abstract submission is now closed.


 Du Plessis C. (2012) Towards a regenerative paradigm for the built environment. Building Research & Information. 40(1): 7-22.
Raymond J. Cole. (2012). Regenerative design and development: current theory and practice, Building Research & Information, 40(1), 1-6.
Raymond J. Cole (2012): Transitioning from green to regenerative design, Building Research &
Information, 40:1, 39-53.
Reed, W. (2007). Shifting from ‘sustainability’ to regeneration. Building Research & Information, 35(6), 674-680.
Littman J. A. (2009). Regenerative architecture: a pathway beyond sustainability. Thesis submitted to the Department of Art, Architecture and Art History of the University of Massachusetts in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture.
Mang, N. (2009) Toward a Regenerative Psychology of Urban Planning, Seabrook Graduate School and Research Center, San Francisco, CA (available at:
Shen, L. Y., Ochoa, J. J., Shah, M. N., & Zhang, X. (2011). The application of urban sustainability indicators–A comparison between various practices. Habitat International, 35(1), 17-29
Zhang X., Platten A., and Shen L. (2011) Green property development practice in china: Costs and barriers. Building and Environment, 46(11): 2153-2160.

Zhang, X. et al., 2013. Delivering a low-carbon community in China: Technology vs. strategy? Habitat International, 37(C), pp.130–137

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