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Posted December 2nd, 2020

By Auliana Poon

2 Minutes Read


Sustainability was Yesterday – Regeneration is Now

Move over sustainability.  Here comes regenerative,
responsible and resilient development. 

For decades, sustainable development was the ‘buzz’ word for travel and tourism. Destinations, donor agencies, companies, consultancies, and countries around the world, all geared themselves for sustainable development. 


The essence of sustainable development is the ability of current generations to satisfy their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy theirs.  The idea of triple bottom line – the balance between people, profits and planet, and increasingly social justice, was developed by Elkington, 1997. 


Today, John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development, and the ‘godfather’ of sustainable development, in his new book, Green Swans (2020), makes the case that we need to move beyond sustainability. Triple bottom line reporting is just enough.  And we need businesses to lead the charge, he claims.

Regenerative Development is Active and Deliberate

The essential idea is that resilient and regenerative development are the only options for addressing disruptive challenges to the global economy – technological, climatic, political, social, economic, environmental, ethical, existential. 

While sustainability refer to the maintenance of the status quo and has a somewhat static feel to it, regenerative development is more active, deliberate and consequential.  Drawing from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swans,  Elkington sees a major role for businesses, and big business, in securing regenerative development.  The idea of regenerative development is closely linked to the concept of the Circular Economy which represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation.

The ideas of resilience (ability to bounce back, and bounce back better), regenerative (ability to constantly regenerate itself) and circularity (restorative, responsible and regenerative), have a great deal of merit for the travel and tourism industry – one of the main resource-users of all times.  Indeed, Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Anti-Fragile, refers to the fragile concept of touristification (mass tourism).

Move Away From Destructive to Regenerative

The idea today is to move away from the linear, destructive ‘take, make, break, throw away’ economy to one that is circular, restorative and regenerative, where closed-loop system is created through reusing, repurposing, recycling, sharing, repairing, refurbishing, etc.. Not only is the travel and tourism industry resource-dependent, it is also closer to customers than many other industries such as oil, chemicals and automobiles. Travel has a truly transformative power – it can transform customers and travellers. But first, travel and tourism needs to transform itself. Our industry needs to come clean; to end its touristification; to move away from the destructive to the regenerative!

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