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Regeneration: A New Hope for the Urban Environments – Moving beyond ESG

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.. the principles of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) dominated the global real estate universe, much like the Empire ruled over the cosmos in the Star Wars saga. The ESG Empire was all about minimizing harm, but this approach hit its limits, failing to dig deep into the real problems plaguing our urban places. Is there hope to realign the force?


Right now, we're on the edge of something huge. Change is echoing not just through the real estate industry but through every part of our lives. It’s like we are living our epic, one that could rival any space odyssey. Current ESG frameworks, remind us of a lot of an old empire, are being called out for their flaws. What is kicking off is not just a little tweak here and there but a complete game changer. We are talking about a radical shift that aims to revamp how we interact with our cities. This new vibe is not about just dialling down the bad; it is about pumping life and energy back into our communities, restoring ecological balance, and bringing vitality back to where we live. At this pivotal moment, we remember Master Yoda’s words: “Do or don't. There is no try.” The message is clear – we cannot just stick to the old ESG ways. We have got to leap into a whole new holistic, regenerative strategy that not only keeps us going but helps our urban areas thrive. The time for change is now. Let’s push forward, fuelled by the legendary tales of the past, and step into the era of regeneration and hope.


Facing Down the Old Empire

Back in the '60s and '70s, the push for socially responsible investing sparked the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) movement. Starting to dodge sketchy investments, ESG has morphed into global frameworks backed by heavy hitters like the UN's Who Cares Wins initiative and the Principles for Responsible Investment. Despite these big moves, ESG's focus has often been too narrow, stuck on ticking boxes instead of digging into the bigger impacts on society and our planet. This echoes Obi-Wan Kenobi’s take: “Who is more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?”—pointing out that just following ESG rules without challenging the deeper issues could lead us off track.


Today, the cracks in this approach are showing, especially as urban areas balloon and evolve. Traditional ESG methods are more about compliance than actual change, like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Master Yoda put it best: “In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way,” reminding us that real change needs deep understanding and commitment. The global real estate industry is at a crossroads. We need to push past old-school ESG methods to create a life-affirming urban environment. Yoda’s advice to "Train yourself to let go of everything you fear losing" is spot on – we need to ditch outdated linear, siloed-centric, volumetric methods and embrace new values and principles that completely rethink our relationship with nature, our Planet Earth as a whole. If we stick to just doing the bare minimum with ESG and focusing on short-term profits, we’re just widening the gap in social and environmental issues. We need to realign the force.



A regenerative approach that doesn’t just cut down on negatives but actively improves and rejuvenates our urban places. This is a page out of the Mandalorian's playbook: "This is the way." It's about being proactive and holistic in how we can develop regenerative capacity in our cities. Despite the urgency, breaking free from the old paths laid by traditional ESG isn't easy. These familiar methods offer a false sense of security, and stepping into the unknown can be scary. But as Yoda says, "Do or don't. There is no try." We need to fully dive into this transition. We must move beyond just complying. By adopting a regenerative approach, we’re not just avoiding harm—we’re actively fuelling the renewal and revival of our urban environments. This isn’t just about survival; it's about thriving. That’s the real change we need, and honestly, it’s the only way forward.


Emperor Palpatine's grim warning, "Stand together, die together," turns into an ironic battle cry against unsustainable customs. This push for regeneration (living systems thinking) is all about smashing old barriers and championing fresh innovations that tackle the root of our problems, unlock potential, and build long-term resilience. Poe Dameron hit the nail on the head: "First Order wins by making us think we are alone. We are not alone. Good people will fight if we lead them." This underlines the power of sticking together and sparking transformative change. The road is packed with hurdles. Facing off against an Empire that's stuck in its ways is no small feat. The resistance has been met with opposition from all quarters: stakeholders clinging to the status quo, governments wary of new avenues, and an industry concerned about the shift toward regenerative practices. Yet they did not fight alone. They gathered allies from innovative real estate and technology companies, progressive cities, and communities hungry for a transition. Together they test their new strategies in living labs of cities and neighbourhoods. As we work to advance innovations that get to the heart of our challenges, we must leap beyond the old boundaries. As Poe Dameron said, we are not alone in this. There are good people who are willing to stand up and fight if we take the lead.


Rising Forces

As the Rebel Alliance gained momentum, they focused on the core of the Empire: the age-old systems and structures that kept the status quo alive. They are ready to challenge entrenched practices and pitch new ideas, insights, frameworks, use cases, and system value models for change. The rebels have made their most daring move yet: a plot to take down the 'Death Star', the symbol of the outdated mechanical ESG system. Their goal is to show that regenerative practises can not only connect to urban environment, but also drive it forward. They risked everything and implemented their strategies on small and large scales to prove the feasibility and benefits of their vision. This moment was the ultimate test: could they dismantle the 'Death Star' of outdated business practices by using our unique capabilities to tackle the problem at its root, reduce negative impact and develop regenerative capacity?


Taking the path towards regeneration in the urban environment is a risk but also offers massive opportunities. It requires letting go of the 'business as usual' mentality and focusing on innovation, creativity, teamwork, perseverance, and leadership. It begins with a new consciousness and embracing the nine living principles*: interdependence, dynamic balance, decentralization, diversity, optimality, zero waste, limited growth, uniqueness, and continuous creation. Furthermore, tapping into the rhythm of the seasons can guide personal, organizational, urban, and environmental transformation. Here's how we can bring about change:


  • Winter (Hoth): A time for reflection and building resilience, like the Rebel Alliance's gritty standoff on Hoth. It's about consolidating our strength, facing challenges boldly, and gearing up for new growth.

  • Spring (Naboo): This stage is all about renewal. As new ideas sprout, they take root in the fertile ground prepared during winter. It's a time of optimism and growth, allowing both environments and communities to thrive.

  • Summer (Tatooine): Here, our initiatives and efforts face the heat. This phase is about hard work, perseverance, and adapting to bring about real change.

  • Autumn (Endor): We celebrate our achievements, learn from the journey, and prep for another cycle. The Battle of Endor, leading to the Empire's fall, symbolizes the victory and onset of a new era of rebuilding and renewal.


In addition to these principles and seasons, you can draw inspiration leading cities, companies, and people who have already taken the path of regeneration. Cities like Copenhagen, Nairobi, Curitiba to Seoul, and companies like Patagonia, AXA Climate and Interface to Vivobarefoot are showing how embedding regenerative principles can lead to significant benefits. These examples provide a roadmap and motivation for us to forge ahead in transforming our urban environment. As we undertake this challenge, let’s embrace the spirit of regeneration, unlocking its potential, and spearheading a movement toward sustainable urban futures.


A New Hope

Strengthened by their regenerative experience and their multi-stakeholder partnerships, the Rebel Alliance watched cities grow into thriving ecosystems. Businesses thrived by embracing sustainable practices, and communities became stronger, balanced, and more inclusive. These success stories became blueprints for others and proved the real benefits of regeneration. With these victories under their belts, they now face the challenge of spreading this success worldwide. The focus has shifted to advocacy, education, and policymaking to weave regeneration deeply into the fabric of urban planning and development around the world. Back in their communities, enriched with new insights and strategies, we are ready to build a resilient future together. Despite facing a comeback attempt by traditionalists clinging to outdated methods and techniques, the rebels were ready, and their victories fuelled their determination. By choosing regeneration, they have ushered in a new era of urban development, making our cities beacons of innovation and hope. The transformed urban landscapes are a testament to our journey from merely reducing negatives to actively regenerating them. Cities have become vibrant centres of innovation, well-being, and ecological harmony. Remember Yoda's quote: "Do it or don't do it. There is no try”. It realizes that half-measures will not help. Full commitment to living systems value model creation is the only way forward.


As we stand at the crossroads of sustainability, the choices we make today will determine our legacy. By applying regenerative practices – living systems thinking – we can transform our urban areas into vibrant ecosystems that benefit everyone and everything. Achieving this vision will take courage, a break from old business practices and a concerted effort to rethink, reconstruct, and rejuvenate our cities. Our journey goes beyond doing less bad, it goes beyond ESG. It is a journey towards a responsible, resilient, and regenerative future. As we face these challenges, let us fully commit to this urban environment rebirth and embracing a transformative paradigm that restores and regenerates the urban environment. Let's write a new chapter together, developing places for life. This mission is both our challenge and our hope. May the force be with us!


Author: Menno Lammers


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* I apply the principles taught during the course 'paving the way for regenerative business' by AXA Climate’s Butterfly School


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