Regenerative Economies for a Regenerative Civilization

Author: John Fullerton

“There is nothing more difficult to plan, nor more dangerous to manage, than the creation of a new system. For the creator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old system and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.”
— Niccolo Machiavelli

Einstein once said, “It is the theory which decides what we can observe.” i

I believe this assertion holds both truth and great wisdom. Its macro importance is trivial when the world operates according to a theory that fits the context of the times. Its importance becomes paramount when the world is running on a theory that no longer fits the realities at hand. NOW is such a time.

The so-called “practical people” who dismiss theory as being “academic” (by which they mean unimportant) have missed this critical distinction. We are in trouble now precisely because such “practical people” run the world today. As a result, we are literally flying blind. And the consequential turbulence – the complex and interconnected political, social, economic, financial, and ecological crises swirling around us – is accelerating.

Now I’m a practical person by training, a former Wall Street banker. But I have been obsessed for over a decade now with the many fundamental incongruities and paradoxes that inhabit our modern, highly reductionist, finance-driven, economic ideology (of both the left and the right). The list is long: the exponential function at the heart of finance-driven economic growth on a finite planet; the shareholder-value principle taught at most leading business schools and driving most corporate decision-making; the discount rate that discounts the value of a hospitable planet for our children whom we love more than life; Modern Portfolio Theory that is the basis for most investment allocation decisions, and Value at Risk as the guiding metric of financial risk, despite the well-understood limitations of both and their track records of failure. And the one that got me started down this path: how to reconcile the invisible hand with the Golden Rule.

My obsession with these incongruities led to the creation of Capital Institute. Since our founding in 2010 we have been collaborating on this journey with a determined and growing network of fellow explorers, including the courageous pioneers who have been on the case for decades. Our work has culminated in the theory that informs “Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy,” ii and our forthcoming Regenerative Finance white paper due out later this year. This theory is more rediscovery, synthesis, and extension than it is genuinely original insight. But rest assured, this theory has also been experienced first hand in working models on the ground both through my own direct investment practice and then via our story telling initiative, The Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy.iii Not only theory informing practice, but practice informing theory.

My premise is that the history of economic thought did not end with Keynes and Hayek, or Minsky and Friedman, leaving us nothing to do but shout our ideological beliefs across the public square. I believe this early stage of understanding regenerative economies is the natural next step in the evolution of economic thinking, bringing economics into alignment with our latest scientific understanding of how the universe actually works, building upon the profound advances of ecological economics as developed by Herman Daly and colleagues. The potential and structure of regenerative systems applies to both ecological and humanistic values; it is not simply a “green” idea. We already see expressions of regenerative efforts emerging all around us, although they are often invisible to those observers still trapped in the outdated reductionist paradigm. Until now, this transition has been hampered by the lack of an effective story.


Organic techniques can help conventional growers boost margins

Can farmers make more money by growing food using regenerative, or agroecological, practices?

Yes, say the innovators behind the Agricology, a UK-based website launched last November, to help farmers transition away from conventional farming practices. Agricology, an online resource, translates scientific research into practical farming advice to help farmers increase food production while maintaining biodiversity.

So it’s in the UK. And it’s designed for farmers. Why should consumers care?

Because in a world where the population is growing, biodiversity is shrinking, modern farming models are polluting the environment and producing pesticide-contaminated nutrient-poor food, and global warming threatens us with extinction, consumers—the people who choose which food to buy and which to reject—hold if not all, at least most of the cards when it comes to reversing these trends.


Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past

Author: Stephanie Storm

When Mark Anson came home with his hair on fire after a seminar on the seemingly soporific topic of soil health, his younger brother, Doug, was skeptical.

What had Mark lit up was cover crops: fields of noncash crops like hairy vetch and cereal rye that act on soil like a nourishing facial after the harvest.

Mark, 60, and his two brothers, together with assorted sons and sons-in-law, run Anson Farms, a big commercial soybean and corn operation in Indiana and Illinois. Concern about the soil quality of the family’s fields had nagged at him for some time. “Our corn was wilting when temperatures hit 103 degrees,” he said, and such heat isn’t so unusual in the summer. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my shoulder.” What he learned about the benefits of cover crops gave him hope.

But to Doug, planting some noncommercial crops seemed an antiquated practice, like using a horse-drawn plow. Cover crops had long been replaced by fertilizers. Still, he shared his brother’s concern about their soil. Its texture was different, not as loamy as it had once been, and a lot of it was running off into ditches and other waterways when it rained.

So in 2010 the family decided to humor Mark by sowing some 1,200 acres, which Mark describes as highly eroded farmland, with wheat cleanings and cereal rye. Additionally, they spread some cover crops to eroded areas in a few fields.


Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050

Author: Drew Hansen

Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

• Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

• Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

• The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections).

How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?

Human activities are behind the extinction crisis. Commercial agriculture, timber extraction, and infrastructure development are causing habitat loss and our reliance on fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change.

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Main Street Project

Our food and agriculture system is not working. Consumers experience declining nutritional quality and increasing health risks; agricultural workers endure long hours and low wages; rural communities are declining economically; and the environment suffers from soil depletion, chemical inputs and toxic waste.

The current structure of ownership and control of our food and agriculture system concentrates power in the hands of a select few, regards consumers merely as a source of revenue, and treats the environment as nothing more than the source of the products that capture that revenue. And we all pay the price.

We can do better. And at Main Street Project, we are. Main Street Project is developing a regenerative agriculture system that can equip farmers to solve our nation’s food crisis and has the power to change how food is produced around the world.

Learn More About Main Street Project

An Investor Presses His Case Against Industrial-Scale Farming

Author: Andrew Martin

Environmental and animal-rights groups have spent decades arguing against large-scale, intensive livestock facilities, arguing that these so-called factory farms are bad for the environment, farm animals, and human health. A private equity investor is taking a different approach to the same fight.

Jeremy Coller, who founded London’s Coller Capital, is warning investors that ignoring animal welfare and other risks associated with industrial livestock farms can be bad for their bottom line. He created the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return Initiative to create a network of  like-minded investors who consider animal welfare and other factory farm issues in their decisions. Coller, a vegetarian, said the effort is “about materiality,” not morality. “It’s about being a bad investment risk.”

Coller has just released a 31-page report that includes “killer stats investors can’t ignore” about intensive livestock farming. The report doesn’t single out companies for investors to avoid. Instead, he outlines more than two dozen environment, social, and governance issues related to industrial livestock farming that he says pose financial risk. For instance, the report notes that livestock produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, threaten human health by creating antibiotic resistant bacteria, and consume vast natural resources, such as land and water.

Consumers, companies, and regulators are already making changes to the market, leading to reductions in reducing antibiotic use and the phasing out gestation crates for sows and battery cages for hens. But he believes investors have been slower to consider the consequences of factory-style farming as part of a responsible investment strategy. “There is a huge knowledge gap for investors,” Coller says. “What we are trying to do is start this network to fill this knowledge gap.”

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How Regenerative Agriculture Can Go Large-Scale, with the Help of Chickens

Poultry is a staple of most peoples’ diet. It’s one of the least expensive meats around, and a good source of high quality animal protein (provided it’s non-CAFO and raised on pasture with a natural diet).

But while most are aware of the importance chicken plays in the diet, few are likely to be familiar with the ways poultry production can be optimized.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, an innovator in the field of regenerative agriculture, has developed an ingenious system that has the potential to transform the way food is grown.

You might be familiar with Joel Salatin and the way he raises pastured chickens. I visited him on his Polyface Farm in Virginia, but Reginaldo has massively improved the method of raising chickens naturally, without the use of any cages.

Reginaldo was born in poverty in Guatemala, just before the beginning of the 36-year long civil war that finally ended in 1996, and overcame tremendous struggles to obtain the finest agriculture education in Guatemala — at the Central National School of Agriculture—where conventional agriculture is the primary focus.

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Carbon Markets and Agriculture: A U.S. and International Perspective

Authors: Ben Lilliston, Renata Brillinger, and Katie Merritt

Carbon markets and cap-and-trade programs are increasingly being used as a mechanism to mitigate climate change by reducing net greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., there are already two large carbon markets in play—one in California, and one in the Northeast. There will likely be an expansion of U.S. carbon markets in the coming years as the Clean Power Plan is implemented. Internationally, the European Union has the world’s largest carbon market, and the United Nations has outlined rules and guidelines for carbon trading. Agriculture has the capacity to sequester—or emit—large amounts of carbon, and will therefore be greatly impacted by cap-and-trade and carbon markets.

On this webinar we will hear from two experts: Renata Brillinger, the Executive Director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network, and Ben Lilliston, Vice President of Programs at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Renata will share lessons learned from the current California cap-and-trade program and principles to improve the effectiveness and equity of carbon markets as they relate to agriculture. Ben will discuss international carbon markets and concerns for agriculture.

Learn More on Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Pension Funds: Key Players in the Global Farmland Grab

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Large scale agricultural land acquisitions are generating conflicts and controversies around the world. A growing body of reports show that these projects are bad for local communities and that they promote the wrong kind of agriculture for a world in the grips of serious food and environmental crises. 1 Yet funds continue to flow to overseas farmland like iron to a magnet. Why? Because of the financial returns. And some of the biggest players looking to profit from farmland are pension funds, with billions of dollars invested.

Pension funds currently juggle US$23 trillion in assets, of which some US$100 billion are believed to be invested in commodities. Of this money in commodities, some US$5–15 billion are reportedly going into farmland acquisitions. By 2015, these commodity and farmland investments are expected to double.

Pension funds are supposed to be working for workers, helping to keep their retirement savings safe until a later date. For this reason alone, there should be a level of public or other accountability involved when it comes to investment strategies and decisions. In other words, pension funds may be one of the few classes of land grabbers that people can pull the plug on, by sheer virtue of the fact that it is their money. This makes pension funds a particularly important target for action by social movements, labour groups and citizens’ organisations.

The size & weight of pensions

Today, people’s pensions are often managed by private companies on behalf of unions, governments, individuals or employers. These companies are responsible for safeguarding and “growing” people’s pension savings, so that these can be paid out to workers in monthly cheques after they retire. Anyone lucky enough both to have a job and to be able to squirrel away some income for retirement probably has a pension being administered by one firm or another. Globally, this is big money. Pension funds are currently juggling US$23 trillion in assets. 2 The biggest pension funds in the world are those held by governments, such as Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, Korea and the US (see Table 1).

Table 1: World’s top 20 pension funds (2010)




Total assets (US$ millions)

1 Government Pension Investment Japan


2 Government Pension Fund–Global Norway


3 ABP Netherlands


4 National Pension Korea


5 Federal Retirement Thrift US


6 California Public Employees US


7 Local Government Officials Japan


8 California State Teachers US


9 New York State Common US


10 PFZW (now PGGM) Netherlands


11 Central Provident Fund Singapore


12 Canada Pension Canada


13 Florida State Board US


14 National Social Security China


15 Pension Fund Association Japan


16 ATP Denmark


17 New York City Retirement US


18 GEPF South Africa


19 Employees Provident Fund Malaysia


20 General Motors US


Source: Pensions & Investments, 6 September 2010, P&I/Towers Watson World 300      

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