Regenerative Business Models: 8 Steps for Existing Companies

Not all companies have the guts to start from scratch, here is what you CAN do to speed up.


Desiree Driesenaar

2 years ago | 9 min read

If you want a purposeful business and have decided to go the path of ‘regeneration’, starting from scratch is easier than transforming an existing company. Yes, I realize that. And I often say to people that building a regenerative business model IS easier when we are a startup. Blue Economy works best if we do it right the first time…

Let me remind you of some of the features of a regenerative business:

  • Our company gives a solution for basic needs
  • We design our business model systemically, creating multiple benefits for people and the planet. This includes multiple income streams…
  • We use synergy in the model to unleash the multiplier effect
  • We choose the right materials. Local, abundantly available materials out of rest streams perhaps. Or abundantly growing in a biodiverse way, such as thistles, nettles, industrial hemp, bamboo or algae...
  • We make sure all products are biodegradable in soil, freshwater ánd saltwater
  • We make sure the production process is nature-based, low in energy consumption and uses no toxic materials whatsoever. Physics and biology are great inspirators here
  • We make sure reciprocity is big in our business model. If we want to take from nature to live our lives, to build our businesses, we need to give back!

Well, you get the idea… Here is the full set of Blue Economy principles to read through if you want to get deeper into it.

And you can also read through some of my earlier articles. It might help to get the bigger picture of regenerative business models.

Business Models: from Linear to Circular to Regenerative

How can we create regenerative business models? How can business models benefit from synergy and create abundance for…

How to Scale a Regenerative Business Model

To scale or not to scale. Whatever you choose, ask the right questions…

So, yes, it’s easier if you can start from scratch. But don’t despair, it is definitely possible to take lots of viable steps towards a regenerative future for your existing business as well. Business is change, is transformation, is transition. So, every step counts and the path is what’s important.

Well, let’s get practical. What can we do?

1)We can make a clear goal for a positive impact and communicate it in inspiring ways within our companies. Involve all stakeholders, such as employees and partners. Challenge them to make the connection between the big goal and their own contribution. Let them make it tangible for their job, for their puzzle piece

2)We need to create experimenting ground within our companies. If we want to change our company, everybody should be allowed to experiment. We should create an atmosphere in which mistakes can be made, owned and discussed, so everybody can be inspired and find ways to do it better next time

3)Educate ourselves on the subject of regeneration. There is sooooooo much to know and to experiment, and to ask ourselves questions about. It is a subject that’s never finished.

It is vast, just like nature itself and that’s what makes it so mighty fascinating… Let’s use your heads, our hearts, and our human spirit in our understanding and let’s really be present in the moment when interacting with others on it

4) Educate our employees, partners, and all other stakeholders on what direction we want for the transition. Sustainability is a container word. Please realize that many people still think we are on the road to solar panels and windmills. Full stop. Most do not look further yet.

Most people don’t know yet what regeneration means. And as said, the subject is vast, so we are all learning and asking questions all the time. Don’t blame. Educate and discuss, allowing other viewpoints with love and care. Experience reciprocity. And build it into our businesses. Allow our hearts and the natural environment to be brought into the workplace

5 ) Create an experimenting mentality within our companies. And build our teams with diversity and lots of interaction. Let’s not define solutions yet.

Brainstorm about the things we want to change, the challenges. Then brainstorm about what is already available, within our local reach. Think broad here. Think talent, materials, rest streams, partners, environment, culture, buildings, etc. etc.

If you have those two big mindmaps of challenges and opportunities, link the parts. See what will emerge. Sometimes on the edge of connecting challenges, a solution might already show its potential. Define projects.

Prioritize on maximum impact, minimum effort. And keep on observing to see if maybe adverse effects will emerge and the ideas need adaptations still. Find the synergy in the projects and keep things as flexible as possible. Ready for change, for the next steps…

Gunter Pauli, the founder of the Blue Economy, describes this method of practical systemic thinking in case 100. He calls it Scan, Screen, Implement.

And then one of the most important aspects in my opinion.

6 ) Focus on opportunities, not on problems. Create value upon value upon value. I don’t mean only money here, within the regenerative field we think in values, clean air, clean water, health… Do not focus too much on costs.

When you create enough value, you can carry the cost without squeezing your employees or your suppliers dry… Sharing is an important aspect of regenerative businesses. Focus on effective, not efficient. Find synergy. Find complementing partners you trust and you can experiment with comfortably

7) Keep the fun in our companies. Keep the love, the patience with different viewpoints. Make diversity all-encompassing! Involve our hearts. And one thing that helps here is keeping the connection to nature. The trees will innovate with us when we brainstorm outside…

About motivating our teams, I want to share this great quote from the author of ‘Le Petit Prince’:

“ If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Okay, in many of my articles I give real-life examples. And this time I want to mention Interface. It’s a billion-dollar company on the stock exchange. It’s a company that changed its goal from being a ‘carpet tile manufacturer’ into being a ‘purpose-driven flooring company of sustainable designers, makers, and storytellers’. The late Ray Anderson (CEO) and Geanne van Arkel (ambassador) have been inspiring for me from early on in my own quest ‘how to create a life of purpose and love within the boundaries of our planet’.

This quote shows a glimpse of their history, as written about in their free downloadable report outlining their journey.

“In 1994 our company began an awe-inspiring journey. We set out to transform our business to have zero negative impact on the planet by the year 2020, something we called Mission Zero®. This was a bold step for a billion-dollar carpet tile manufacturer that had never thought about the environment” — Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, who sadly died in 2011

Interface’s journey is one of succession. Where did you hear that term before? Was it in nature? Smile…

When 2020 came closer and their goals of ‘Mission Zero’ came into focus, they reinvented their path. ‘Climate Take Back’ was born. Instead of ‘Live Zero’ they are now on the journey towards ‘Love Carbon’. In short: they are on the path to regeneration and I’m becoming even more inspired.

Geanne van Arkel talking about Interface’s journey on the path to regeneration.

Interface is not a pure Blue Economy example. In Blue Economy thinking everything needs to be biodegradable, it’s just a matter of time. Interface still uses synthetic materials for their carpets. They are e.g. using discarded fishing nets in the ocean as a resource. And they have not drastically phased out all toxic production processes (yet). So, they are more circular than blue.

Personally, I think we need reciprocity, we need to give back to nature. Don’t get me wrong. I applaud Interface, I admire their journey. But I just wonder. If we need our business to fit within ecosystems, will it be enough? Will circular production alone keep us within the boundaries of our planet? I personally think products being biodegradable and toxic processes not allowed, are necessary elements.

So, let’s ask ourselves questions. Some useful questions to ask ourselves as existing business owners, can be:

  • Can only biodegradable products fit within ecosystems?
  • Do we need to stop toxic production processes completely if we want to be regenerative?

Additional questions will come up after the first one. How long do our products need to live? Can we extend the lifetime by using natural conservation methods?

After the second one, I cannot think of more questions, because in my opinion, the answer to this one can only be yes. We need to stop toxic production processes completely…

Maybe Interface will find the answer to these questions in their new quest ‘Love Carbon’. I will definitely be following their progress with great interest and admiration. I do know for a fact that after their long journey of asking questions and taking action, the journey towards being regenerative is in their hearts. They do practice reciprocity in their own way. And they take huge steps, again and again

Interface started out with the Natural Step Framework, mixing in elements of Circular Economy, Biomimicry, Blue Economy and other holistic approaches. They added their own flavor of bold entrepreneurship.

What I admire about them as well is that they openly communicate about their struggles, their experiments, their mistakes. And let’s be honest, it is a challenging journey. Mighty interesting, very necessary, but we all get scared at times…

Interface is an inspiration for many existing businesses trying to make the transition. So maybe after this being said, I can add one final point.

8Let’s be radical. Let’s be daring. Constantly asking ourselves questions. If we want to continue business as usual for now, let’s create one division for radical change. Do not make it completely separate, make sure it interacts with all other parts of your company so the positive regeneration virus can spread widely

The more that part of our company will grow, the less frightening it will be to let go of some of the stories we told ourselves about our business as usual. The more energy we will create, the more fun we will have in this regeneration business, the more daring we will become. Who knows what will happen next…

One book that will trigger us with all the questions we might ask ourselves on our journey is the one by Daniel Christian Wahl: ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’. It needs a mindset change, a culture change…

Designing Regenerative Cultures

Manual for a new paradigm. Excellent overview of possibilities and enthusiastic encouragement for transition. A great…

Last but not least. My message to all CEOs of existing businesses is: study, inspire and be daring. Throw some bold, radical decisions into the recipe. Show entrepreneurship here! Show leadership! Go full flow! And share your experiences in the comments. Let’s learn from each other…

And for the really bold entrepreneurs, I cannot resist adding one more option.

9For those who are not afraid to leave ‘business as usual’ behind. Put your entrepreneurship where your passion is. Join us in our league of really regenerative changemakers. Design your business model from scratch and create a business that will change the world as we know it. Be bold, live your entrepreneurial life with passion…

If you want to connect, you can find me on LinkedIn or somewhere in a food forest putting my hands in the soil, feeding the planet and having fun in the process…

This article was triggered by a response from Dan Beam, BEAM, inc on my article “How to Scale a Regenerative Business Model”. Thanks, Dan for making me think about existing businesses and articulate my thoughts. Keep up the good work in guiding these companies towards a regenerative future…

Thank you, Mike, for adding your wise, heart-felt energy to my business words.

Original article on Medium. More about the author, Desiree Driesenaar.


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Desiree Driesenaar

Rewilding your soul gives you a completely different perspective on business. It's how I create my regenerative business. With attraction instead of pushing and pulling. No forcing, just making space in my head and heart. Manifesting. Creating multiple life values and money.







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