aim to introduce you to a new way of looking at business, in which the entrepreneur is a development actor, part of an ecosystem in which they can play a transformative role.
This is regenerative business: “a business that acknowledges its place in the entire system — its community, its industry, its resources — and uses that interdependence in decision-making. … All parts of the system work in unison to support life and growth” (Really Regenerative).
Regenerative business allows us to redefine growth away from gross domestic product, efficiencies, or happy shareholders.
Rather, growth is reframed as development, from personal transformation to building a community. This can be formally accounted for by looking at the resulting improved social and environmental capacities.
Normal businesses try to be a part of a community but competition pushes prices down, and money and power is directed to shareholders.
The regeneration approach is inspired by ecological systems, interdependence and abundance, which is a positive way to function within a community.
“Poor quality products dominate at the cost of supplier income, the environment and people’s health”
I don’t run a corporate social responsibility outfit or a charity, I run a business. I represent a way of thinking about businesses through systems thinking, building social capacity, building connections within communities and essentially reducing government through a process of “internalised economics”.
Google “regenerative economics” and you will find a world of highly enterprising people; hugely successful businesses; and ambitious, forward-thinking, frugal governments. If you learn more about regenerative business, you will be accessing the thinking behind companies like Patagonia, Doughnut Economics Action Labs, or the Welsh government.
I came on this journey, because I found myself at odds with “business as usual”.
Have you ever considered the morality of this scenario: It’s the 21st-century and we have created an economic system that makes it easier for poor quality products to dominate markets, at the cost of suppliers’ income, the environment and people’s health.
We pretend it’s the power of the free market, but this is convenient for people in power. Given the problems we face, the usual processes of creating a business simply won’t do. I am an entrepreneur, and my inspiration has come from trying to get the most marginalised products to market.
My experience lies in understanding the huge potential of local food systems, to which I can say I’m becoming an experienced beginner in the field. SCOOP, the Sustainable Cooperative is the second regenerative business I have co-created, the first was in Hyderabad in India.
“Earning 1p in the £1 farmers are now expected to save the planet, with no shift in the value chain”
SCOOP supports a minority group of farmers and create a biodiverse and truly sustainable food system. SCOOP is embedded in an ecosystem of autonomous local groups cooperating to generate positive environmental, social, and economic impacts for the whole system. SCOOP has been open for three years.
We are a consumer owned cooperative with 350 members and a turnover of nearly £700K. We sell unpackaged organic ingredients, supported by over 90 suppliers; have a production kitchen; waste management scheme; and an education programme. The local farmers are key to our resilience and understanding their needs is key to our progress.
Farmers are the most targeted group in the climate action outside the oil and gas industry.
Following 50 years of stripping back costs and maximising production, farmers are now expected to use the 1p in the £1 which they earn to save the planet, with almost no discernible shift in the value chain to do so.
In this absurdity, I sat and thought of every nodule in the supply chain from when the produce leaves the farm to waste management and I found that not one has a feedback loop that supports better practice on the farm within a conventional food system.
My research highlighted over 40 structural and systemic barriers to organic diverse farming on Jersey alone (Andersson). It’s not the farming, it’s the system. We have to consider how to put the farmer at the centre of the supply chain, so the system can structurally support their practice.
“We always aim to buy what the farmers bring”
In SCOOP, putting the farmer at the centre means many things. We guarantee them at least 75p in the £1, while not negotiating on price because only they know what it costs.
We implement processing infrastructure so surpluses can go through a process of added value and diversification for our local market.
Environmental health systems are set up to cope with seasonality for our standard products. We always aim to agree to buy what the farmers bring.
We don’t demand exclusivity and actively encourage farmers to find new and better markets for themselves.
We build community relationships and push supplier visibility. We educate our customers on different ingredients and heritage grains. Packaging is roughly 35% of food costs, so we got rid of it.
“How much do you know about those who brought you the food on your plate?”
We talk about how everyone in the farming community is different and that farming is a sliding scale of practice. We welcome diverse suppliers who share our values or are transitioning toward our values. I would add, we don’t always get it right, but regenerative practice is always about transformation.
Aside from setting out corporate objectives to support suppliers, creating the infrastructure that facilitates our organisational goals is key.
We have to ensure that it makes financial sense for the longevity of our system. As a Consumer Cooperative, the board, on behalf of our members, has to decide whether we consider the specific community of suppliers as a function of the corporate structure, as opposed to a written policy.
This decision is about future proofing integrity and building in potential for more social responsibility within Ltd by Guarantee companies. As a founding board member, I think about future board members and how to tie them into the purpose but ensure them the freedom to weather the storms. Regenerative business practices allow you to think like this, and offer opportunities to create a highly dynamic economy.
To close, I invite you to practice a short meditation. The next time you’re in front of your dinner, take a few minutes to think deeply about the ingredients. How much do you know about the processes and people who got them there? When you set up a business like SCOOP, the unique selling point gets embedded deeply, and that’s how the “marketing” unfolds.