Regenerative Vs. Sustainable: What’s the Difference?

Most people are familiar with the term “sustainable”. We know it’s better for our planet than unsustainable practices because it helps sustain the environment. So what does “regenerative” mean?

A regenerative movement is a form of sustainability that can either complement sustainable practices or include them.

The main difference between regenerative and sustainable is that regenerative practices are designed to restore rather than sustain. Sustaining an environment reduces further damage but doesn’t always revitalize the environment.

What is the difference between regenerative and sustainable?

Sustainability seeks to maintain our environment and world without causing damage or degrading the ecosystems. Regenerative practices seek to restore the environment and ecosystems to improve them.

For example, sustainable agriculture involves loose guidelines on how to avoid further damage to the soil, while regenerative agriculture uses research to guide how to restore the soil.

The regenerative movement involves building or rebuilding systems to restore and regenerate nature instead of minimizing damage.

That isn’t to say that sustainability isn’t good! Instead, the regeneration of nature is the next step for sustainability.

Is regenerative the same as sustainable?

Regenerative is not the same as sustainable but they share many similarities and crossover. Sustainability is a fundamental part of regenerative systems.

You may come across the term “regenerative sustainability” or “regenerative design”. Both terms encompass essential aspects of sustainability while defining the practices that restore, renew, and revitalize environments.

What does regenerative mean in sustainability?

Regenerative sustainability is a holistic philosophy that aims for thriving ecosystems, particularly in agriculture. It aims to consider the whole picture of the local environment.

The larger regenerative sustainability movement seeks to be less broad than sustainability, promoting restoration of the environment. The movement aims to be proactive in promoting “a more resilient environment that can withstand natural challenges“.

By promoting restoration, we can help nature recover and self-regulate itself instead of sustainable practices that are ultimately unsustainable.

The most well-known form of regeneration is regenerative agriculture. By using regenerative practices that are researched thoroughly and restoring nutrients in the soil, regenerative agriculture avoids causing soil depletion.

What are regenerative practices?

Regenerative systems use research to guide actions, like using ecological practices that rejuvenate the soil.

Regenerative practices work to increase biodiversity, enrich soils, and capture carbon. These techniques don’t just do less harm – they actively restore the ecosystem to sustain itself and return to natural states.

Not using synthetic fertilizers isn’t enough to be regenerative, though it’s an important sustainable practice in farming. Instead, regenerative agriculture considers natural pesticides and herbicides and decides which are best for the ecosystem, especially if they can self-regulate, like rebuilding natural pest cycles.

Other regenerative practices include:

  • Reduced or no tilling
  • Increasing plant diversity
  • Crop rotation
  • Cover cropping
  • Composting
  • Treating greywater
  • Collecting rainwater

Regenerative programs utilize natural resources that restore environmental health. By increasing plant diversity, the environment can support more biodiversity that connects together to sustain itself with minimal interference.

For regenerative agriculture, farming multiple crops imitates the natural environment they would otherwise grow in. This creates a new ecosystem and can reduce pests by providing a habitat for creatures that eat pests.

What is a regenerative system?

Regenerative systems are processes with principles that are interconnected.

In agriculture, a regenerative system could seek to restore and revitalize soil in fields. The farmers would then use a combination of regenerative practices that work together: no tillage, crop rotation, cover cropping, and increasing plant diversity.

Each of these practices would produce benefits alone. Together, they would promote more benefits for the soil and the environment.

Is sustainability a regenerative system?

Sustainability is not a regenerative system because the broad practices of sustainability and the goal of reducing damage are not promoting regeneration.

Many regenerative systems involve sustainable practices to maintain parts of the environment, but ultimately regenerative practices are more purposeful.

Is regenerative agriculture bad?

Regenerative agriculture is far from bad.

The regenerative practices used in agriculture have the potential to replace conventional farming with advantages including more nutrient-rich soil, increased plant fertility, and improved water infiltration.

Regenerative agriculture is likely to reduce crop yields but this doesn’t mean that we won’t have enough food to feed everyone.

According to Food First, in 2012 we were producing enough food to feed 10 billion people. World hunger and food poverty are largely social problems that need to be tackled politically, so can we afford to lose out on the higher yields associated with synthetic fertilizers and unsustainable farming?

The answer is yes – especially if we can promote more locally-grown food sources instead of relying on imports.

Regenerative agriculture has a lot of benefits but adapting from conventional farming still poses problems.

What does regenerative agriculture mean?

Regenerative agriculture means to farm in a way that actively increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances the health of livestock and wildlife.

Making farms sustainable isn’t enough. We need to increase the resilience of farms in the face of extreme weather and ensure the vitality of crops, especially for local and rural communities.

There are five principles of regenerative agriculture:

  • Minimize soil disturbance
  • Minimize the use of chemical inputs
  • Maximize biodiversity
  • Keep soil covered with crops as long as possible
  • Adapt to the local environment

What are regenerative agriculture practices?

There are many regenerative agriculture practices. These adapt to the type of farm, what crops are used, and what livestock is available.

Some of the more fundamental practices include:

  • Collecting and using rainwater and greywater
  • Reducing or rejecting tilling
  • Rotating crops
  • Planting more diverse crops and plants

Other regenerative agriculture practices look at the specific challenges and natural resources of an area.

These include:

  • Composting
  • Integrating livestock
  • Managing to graze
  • Cultivating trees

A farm with both crops and livestock may use regulated grazing. Allowing livestock to graze fields can encourage plant growth naturally and distribute nutrients back into the land with manure. Poultry in fields can eat pests and weeds while fertilizing the land.

This creates a circular ecosystem of the plants sustaining the animals and the animals nurturing the plants.

What does regenerative agriculture do?

Regenerative agriculture helps build healthy soil, combating soil depletion and poor water filtration while promoting biodiversity and nutrients. Soil health is essential to regenerative agriculture.

By doing this, regenerative agriculture can help soil store carbon, hold and filter water, support and sustain wildlife, and produce nutritional food.

Some crops have lower yields as a consequence of the focus on keeping the soil nutrient-rich, but other crops flourish in this environment.

Healthy soil is the backbone of a healthy ecosystem. Microorganisms, fungi, and insects rely on healthy soil. Everything has a purpose in the ecosystem. This can reduce plant diseases and share more minerals and nutrients between crops.

With a healthy soil ecosystem comes a healthy farm and more biodiversity.

Learn more about sustainable lifestyle on our website – how do pollinators affect the environment, do carbon offsets make a difference, or will we run out of sand, and many more interesting topics!

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