Historically, sustainable living has been the goal of the eco-conscious movement, but with climate change affecting our daily lives and the planet rapidly heating, it’s no longer enough.
Sustainability is all the rage right now. According to Kanstar’s Sustainability Sector Index 2022, 97% people are prepared to take action to live in a more environmentally conscious way. As we endeavour to live a more sustainable lifestyle, businesses rush to create products that fulfil these desires (at best) or use the word as a display of greenness (at worst). But what does sustainability really mean and how does it apply to a modern day context.
In simple terms, to ‘sustain’ is to maintain. The problem with that is that it presumes the current state of things in any given system is good enough to begin with. When you consider that 75% of earth’s land areas are degraded - meaning fertile lands have become deserts, highly polluted or deforested thanks to human activity and consumption - you suddenly realise why it is no longer feasible to simply ‘sustain’.
Business as usual isn’t working. With the planet more devastated than ever, it’s time to take a more aggressive approach, to be proactive rather than reactive and to fight to replenish our environment while simultaneously ensuring a fair and equitable society for all. And, there is no doubt that this will take significant sacrifice, from all of us.
This is why we are giving sustainability the flick and shifting our efforts to regeneration.
So what’s the difference?
If sustainable practices look to maintain systems without degrading them further, regenerative practices aim to renew, regrow or restore what has already been lost.
Take trees for example. Replanting one tree for every tree cut down is sustainable because it stops further depletion, but replanting three for every one cut is regenerative as it not only reverses the damage done, but creates a more resilient environment that returns wildlife, increases biodiversity, and is better placed to withstand future challenges.
The Corner Store Network way: For us, this means partnering with community forestry program WithOneSeed to plant a tree for every kilo of coffee roasted. With a 75% survival rate, due to annual payments to subsistence farmers growing the trees, the Corner Store Coffee you drink actively replants forests to reverse land degradation in Timor-Leste. We’ve also made the switch to home compostable bags, as opposed to products that require industrial composting, which give back to the earth at the end of their life. Finally, we work on a carbon emissions model where we review, reduce and remove before offsetting. For emissions that can’t be removed, we purchase Gold Standard certified carbon credits from WithOneSeed, making sure that we pay to offset double what we create in a year.
Applying it to agriculture
Now consider farming. Sustainable agriculture addresses issues like water, waste and pest management to sustain the economic viability of the farm. On the other hand, regenerative agriculture uses farming practices that increase biodiversity, enrich soil, enhance ecosystems and captures carbon. The result is increased productivity, more economic benefits for farmers and the rehabilitation of entire ecosystems. In fact, through healthy soil alone, The Rodale Institute found that regenerative agriculture could sequester more than 100% of human-related carbon emissions.
The Corner Store Network way: In Timor-Leste, our coffee farming partners have implemented regenerative farming practices such as planting different crops in the shade of coffee trees (to increase biodiversity), growing coffee in the wild rather than in plantations (to conserve natural farming systems) and using coffee cherry pulp as compost (to alleviate waste and the need for chemical products).
Volunteers collaborating at a community preserving session in our Oakleigh roastery
Looking beyond the planet
Making the shift from ‘less bad’ to ‘more good’ has the potential to improve systems that extend well beyond our environment. Regenerative principals not only apply to the natural world, but to business and social landscapes too. If we want to leave the world better than we found it, we must strive for continual social improvement over generations.
For businesses, this means looking at entire processes and supply chains to ensure practices are progressing towards a better future for all. If selling a product, its entire lifecycle needs to be considered - how it's made, who produces it, how it travels, how it's consumed and how it's disposed of. When it comes to operations, action must be taken to ensure the business is inclusive, supports marginalised groups and strengthens communities.
The Corner Store Network way: For us, this starts with cutting out middle people at farmgate to ensure earnings go directly to the smallholder farming families, reducing their need for charity and aid. At our Timor-Leste hub we focus on providing women with skill oriented employment. In Australia, we strive for a diverse and representative team. A sense of community and collaboration is facilitated at our weekly volunteer preserving sessions, helping combat social isolation and loneliness, while a portion of preserves goes to food banks to help feed those facing food insecurity. It’s about supporting people and communities, and leaving no one behind.
A Corner Store Coffee bag decomposing in a home compost before being put back into the earth
Making the switch to regeneration
Knowing the principles of regeneration is all well and good, but how can we apply these to our everyday lives? If we consider that regenerative systems span three areas - environment, agriculture and people - here are some tips to start the journey towards regenerative living.
Look for products that give back at the end of their life - home compostable packaging can nourish soil while hemp stimulates biodiversity (just be aware of terms like biodegradable and commercially compostable which are simply greenwashing)
Look for brands that have positive (rather than ‘sustainable’) environmental impacts - restoring ocean habitats, reforestation efforts, increasing biodiversity etc
It is impossible to generate zero carbon emissions; therefore, offsetting is a viable approach to achieving carbon neutrality. But it is notoriously difficult to calculate so look for organisations that demonstrate they not only offset more than they estimate they use, but reduce emission-heavy practices in the first place (the model of reviewing, reducing and removing)
Research or ask growers directly what regenerative agricultural practices they are implementing at their farms to improve biodiversity, soil conditions and local ecosystems
Buy direct from local farmers at farmers markets and farm gates - small growers are much more likely to use using more natural and environmentally regenerative processes than big growers so buy direct from local farmers where possible
Do what you can to lift up and be an ally to marginalised groups - attend rallies, donate, buy their products, share information and most importantly, listen!
Consider those making the products you buy - at the very least are they being paid fairly and being supported to achieve economic independence?
Look into volunteering - meeting new people and giving back is a great way to strengthen communities and you’ll feel great after!
While major businesses are largely responsible for the current state of the world, we know that the vast majority of small businesses ARE committed to change, and taking care of both people and planet.
As citizens, we influence others through our visible choices. Ideas spread, values spread, habits spread; we are social creatures and both good and bad behaviours are contagious. In our own journey towards regenerative practices, we acknowledge that we are far from perfect! But information is power, and if we can ignite awareness or interest in this more impactful way of living (for individuals) or operating (for businesses), together we might just be able to leave the world a better place than we found it.