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What if our century were defined not by the ascent of hyper-technology, but by a rediscovery of our own humanity and a deep re-connection with nature?
Regeneration takes root
In 1980, convinced that conventional agricultural practices were endangering the health of our soils and ecosystems, Robert Rodale advocated for an approach based on ecosystem regeneration, restoring soil fertility and biodiversity while reducing the use of chemical inputs.
Fast-forward to 2023. Now, the principle of regeneration is taking root worldwide as concepts such as biomimicry - which involves drawing inspiration from nature to solve technological and environmental challenges, such as using the structure of bird nests to design more energy-efficient and weather-resistant buildings - are also gaining popularity.
This topic is fascinating in many respects, as it has the potential to profoundly transform not only our approach to nourishment but also large-scale agricultural practices. Already, we are witnessing early signs of change, exemplified by products like Varietal Crop Crackers. These crackers are crafted from a blend of wheat, legumes, and seeds, all cultivated through crop rotation. The outcome? Products with diverse recipes, each showcasing a seasonal crop, paving the way for a new era of sustainable food production.
Regenerating... beyond the soil
However, this phenomenon extends far beyond our soils; it encompasses a movement of much greater magnitude. While the 19th and 20th centuries were characterized by industrialization and the adoption of a mass production and hyper-consumption economic model, we are now witnessing the emergence of fissures in this paradigm. Sociologist Remy Oudghiri even speaks of a significant reversal, stating, "Today, everything has changed. The symbol of progress is no longer the arrow; increasingly, it is the circle." Moreover, we find ourselves questioning our intrinsic relationship with technology, trapped in an unceasing cycle of one-upmanship.
In parallel with these technological advancements, concerns regarding mental health—already impacted by the proliferation of smartphones and social media—have reached new heights. As Weber discussed disenchantment, Camus pondered the absurd, and Lukács contemplated reification, are we now ensnared in the grips of "digitalienation," encapsulating the consequences of overconnectivity, technology dependency, and the ensuing social disintegration?
"The more we try to control the world, the more it eludes us."
As a new pandemic, that of loneliness, looms on the horizon, humanity is in dire need of reconnecting with itself, or more precisely, cultivating its resonance, as emphasized by sociologist Hartmut Rosa. The call is clear: we must learn to listen to the world, perceive it anew, and respond to it, recognizing that true connection goes far beyond mere control or possession.
Practices that speak volumes
Will this quest for resonance involve, at least partially, a technological disconnection? Recently, I came across this chart by Chartr based on data from the Pew Research Center. It depicts the penetration of broadband connection at home, in the United States. One particular figure caught my attention: the 18-29 age group is where this type of connection is declining.
According to Chartr, this trend can be explained by the fact that this generation relies more on smartphones. But paradoxical as it may seem, a movement seems to be emerging among younger people, one that involves abandoning sophisticated smartphones in favor of simpler phones. Commonly referred to as "dumbphones," these mobile devices - typically without internet connection - are limited to their primary function: making calls and sending texts. And this trend goes beyond being a mere phenomenon, as evidenced by the 8.8 million views of the hashtag #dumbphone on TikTok and the tenfold increase in subscribers to the corresponding subreddit in less than three years. This phenomenon should not be taken lightly, as it is part of a broader context, the rise of low-tech.
A technological step back that goes hand in hand with a growing need for reconnecting with nature. The subreddit r/GuerillaGardening is a good example, inviting people to cultivate neglected urban spaces to breathe life and beauty into them. We are also witnessing a resurgence of outdoor activities, particularly among the younger generation, such as fishing (with 120 billion views on TikTok!), birdwatching (1.1 billion views), urban farming (250 million views), and forest bathing (250 million views). In a similar vein, new disciplines are emerging, like primal workout or "animal flow," a sport inspired by the primal movements of foragers and hunters. Concurrently, organizations like ParX are dedicated to "nature prescription." In 2020, the British government allocated four million pounds to a pilot project in four regions affected by Covid. In Canada, doctors even have the option to prescribe time in nature to their patients, granting them access to national parks. And what about the rise of regenerative tourism, where travelers come to "repair" their vacation destination? I use quotation marks around the term "repair" because regeneration distinguishes itself by not aiming so much to "repair" an environment as to (re)create the conditions that allow it to flourish according to its own intrinsic dynamics.
In the retail industry as well, signs of change are emerging. And I'm not talking about the rise of the circular economy, but rather about the human aspect. A telling example is the closure of eight out of twenty-nine Amazon Go stores, these cashierless stores bustling with technology. As for Apple, the company is introducing video shopping sessions, but with a genuine human expert. This example illustrates a broader trend that I have already mentioned: the rise of conversational e-commerce, where the check-in/check-out process transforms into a chat-in/chat-out interaction. Intriguing, isn't it?
But "retailtainment" is just one facet. I firmly believe that commerce holds a much deeper power: the ability to revitalize individuals. By embracing regenerative dynamics, commerce goes beyond the act of purchase by offering individuals much more than a mere physical product. It provides them with a symbiosis that redefines the very concept of experience.
Example: I previously mentioned the rise of forest bathing, which involves immersing oneself in nature and benefiting from its therapeutic effects. To capture the essence of this experience, beauty brands are incorporating forest-inspired fragrances into their products. Tatcha takes it a step further by organizing a temporary pop-up in London to promote their new collection inspired by the Japanese forest bathing tradition. The epitome of hyperphysicality?
This phenomenon is also observed through co-evolving and actionable brands that place the ecosystem at the center. They go beyond mere rhetoric to concrete action, empowering consumers to become agents of change themselves. For instance, Patagonia's "Action Works" platform connects customers with grassroots organizations. Beautycounter advocates for stricter laws on cosmetic products and offers an SMS service to mobilize its customers. Oatly, on the other hand, focuses on tangible actions by naming their blog "Things we do." In short, no more empty talk, it's time for action.
The regeneration of humans must also and above all start in the workplace, as it is where we spend a significant part of our time. However, true regeneration goes beyond superficial perks and requires a systemic approach.
As explained by Lumia, a research and training center dedicated to regenerative enterprise: "A company will truly become regenerative when it creates the conditions for its socio-ecological systems and subsystems to thrive, enabling it to thrive in return. In other words, what is good for the ecosystems and stakeholders on which it depends and with which it interacts is also good for the company in return."
In addition to the "circadian office" concept I previously mentioned, another measure, in my view, to foster a regenerative enterprise is to limit excessive remote work. While remote work offers various benefits such as flexibility, reduced commuting time, and increased productivity, it is crucial to strike a balance that also promotes social interaction and a sense of community. By encouraging in-person collaboration, organizing team events, and fostering cohesion through activities, we can cultivate stronger human connections within the company.. As Jake Wood, CEO of Groundswell, aptly points out, work is not just about our individual contribution but also involves uplifting those around us.
To support these transformations, it is essential to rely on regenerative leaders rather than simply recruiting wellness officers, a trend that has gained popularity in recent months. Regenerative leaders go beyond individual well-being and recognize that it represents only one aspect of their mission. According to Wayne Visser, these regenerative leaders exhibit six key habits. They embrace systems thinking, acknowledging the interconnectedness and interdependence of systems. They prioritize inclusion, empathy, and emotional intelligence, fostering collaboration and dialogue. Coaches are already diving into this niche - which is not so niche after all - like Giles Hutchins, a leadership coach, podcaster, and author of "Leading by Nature," who has developed a process to support this journey. He offers a two-day immersion in nature at Springwood Farm in West Sussex, including a night spent alone, peer sharing sessions, and reflections grounded in scientific knowledge, developmental psychology, and ancestral traditions. Quite an agenda.
Closer to nature, to oneself, to others: ushering in a new Age of Enlightenment where inner light surpasses that of screens?