The Restorative 20s

By Kevin Boon

REAL Sustainability attended the 13 January Sustainable Brands webinar “The Restorative 20s: Why and How the 2020s Can Be the Decade of Regenerative Business” introduced by regeneration expert Dimitar Vlahov from Sustainable Brands and featuring speakers from Timberland, HowGood and General Mills.

Dimitar gave an introduction to the topic of Regenerative Business. He believes we have the opportunity to make this decade a regenerative one and reverse some of the environmental and social damage we have done to the world as well as addressing some of the major risks faced by business, communities and countries.

Regeneration can be defined as

  •  Restoring, renewing and/or healing systems we all depend on whilst also
  • Improving the ability of systems to restore, renew and/or heal themselves more effectively.

Systems related to all six vital capitals – natural, social, human, intellectual, financial and manufactured – can be regenerated. Regenerating natural capital would include rewilding urban areas and regenerative agriculture. Social includes greater inclusion and regenerating culture and community. Regenerating human capital would include transformational leadership and employee engagement.

 Regeneration always supports sustainability but not all action on sustainability is regenerative.

Zach Angelini is Timberland’s Environmental Stewardship Manager. Timberland’s path to regenerative thinking began with agriculture since their main materials are natural; leather, rubber and cotton. Life cycle assessment indicated this was where the greatest impacts occurred. Their research indicated that, through regenerative agriculture, these materials could have a positive impact.

Timberland believes there is the need to go beyond sustainability and restore. The fashion industry should not just make beautiful products but expand its purpose to making the world more beautiful through the way in which products are created. The company has set the goal that all of their products will have a net positive impact on nature by 2030 starting with a focus on climate but also extending to other impact categories such as biodiversity and water.

To achieve this, they have a strategy with two key elements – sourcing all their natural materials from regenerative agriculture and designing all products for circularity. They are piloting supply from regenerative, often indigenous, farmers which is influencing their traditional suppliers in that direction as well as educating consumers through tangible products. They are looking to replace synthetic materials with natural ones such as using sugar cane in the production of soles. They are also investigating vegan options to replace leather. For all materials, regenerative agriculture is key.

Timberland is also looking at applying the thinking in regenerative agriculture to their business. This will include viewing suppliers as partners to provide uplift not just extracting and through collaboration more than competition.

Ethan Soloviev is the Chief Innovation Officer at HowGood where he manages the world’s largest product sustainability database with a focus on food and beverages. He stressed that regeneration is not just another word for sustainability. It is not about doing less harm; it is about potential not existence. There is no preset approach with a checklist for doing regenerative business. It should be reflected in both external and internal processes and should not be done to provide personal benefit. Ethan suggests three core aspects to Regenerative Business – impact, approach (the way we do it) and effect (not just your business but the system).

Danielle Andrews is Director of Sustainability, Business Integration and Human Rights at General Mills a US multinational food company. As for Timberland, the company’s path to regenerative thinking was catalysed by seeing the potential of regenerative agriculture.

The company has also been piloting regenerative thinking with a team of employees to develop themselves, improve effectiveness and apply disruption to how they design and implement projects. Danielle talks about concepts that have been beneficial to her. She talks about how the company’s regenerative perspective has changed its approach. Danielle refers to two principles of systemic thinking in regenerative business used by Carol Sanford. These are nestedness (the interactions between nested systems or different elements within a business eg employee, team, business, industry) and nodal intervention which involves inputting to places in the system which will have the greatest ripple effects. The company has found that the ability to integrate sustainability into the brand has accelerated from changing the dynamics of the team.


In terms of certification, Timberland currently relies on practice-based certification or an outcome-based verification with the goal of moving entirely to the latter. Ethan believes there is huge value in certification but points out that certification consider impacts but doesn’t generally allow us to evolve our approach or the effect we’re having.  He suggests we need to go further than certification.

There was a discussion around what it takes to become regenerative. Danielle observed that this needs to be a continual process and needs business leadership that is prepared to learn. Zach explained that for Timberland it was a combination of big picture inspiration and small-scale pilots. The most successful action was inviting regenerative farmers to the headquarters to speak to internal teams.

Challenges identified include the so-called intent to action gap of consumers which requires informing consumers so they can take action to live sustainably. Zach also referred to having scalable and credible ways to measure outcomes.