The “what” to do of regenerating fractured biophysical systems is simple – at least when referring to the outer, physical world we inhabit.

We know how to green deserts, purify air, plant the rain and create an abundance of food. We know how to build soils rapidly, grow forests of food and build healthy and completely natural shelter. Some might say we are drowning in the knowledge capital of regeneration.

We (the human species) have even made large strides regarding what to do for regenerating our ‘invisible’ systems. We can and have created regenerative economic models, equitable and non-violent forms of self-governance, and embraced healthy ways of communicating, deciding and being with one another. Much of what we now seek to do has already been done, sometimes long ago and sometimes quite recently or even is being done currently.

So, if we know and have known how to do all of these things that we need to do so urgently right now, how on earth did we end up where we are?

How have we come to accept empty oceans as an acceptable trade for a tuna melt?

How have we come to accept the beheading of mountain tops as an acceptable trade for being able to bump up the thermostat?

How have we come to accept a home built of toxic materials amalgamated from destroyed ecosystems far away and paid for with 30 years of our life energy as the “responsible” choice of home ownership?

Before we are mistaken, this post is not meant to ridicule or judge these outcomes – we have benefited (at least in the immediate sense) from all of them. Instead we endeavor to paint them as vivid yet mundane examples of how misaligned our “normal” is with living a truly regenerative lifestyle.

Knowing that we can regenerate the land upon which we dwell, and knowing that we can choose to relate to one another, ourselves and our environment in regenerative ways once we make up our minds to do so leads to the question…

How is it that we separated ourselves from the regenerative lifeways of our past and transitioned to the degenerative lifeways that dominate our everyday existence?

Attempting to answer such a question is like going back to the scene of a traffic accident and re-enacting it – reviewing video tapes of closed circuit cameras, interviewing bystanders, and measuring skid marks to determine impact speeds and the resulting G-forces experienced by those directly involved. While it may help us to determine who was at fault in this one particular instance, does it help us to prevent future accidents of a similar nature? Perhaps if we frame the question differently, it can yield some useful points to prevent future tragedies. Re-framing that question in the positive might look something like this…

How can we re-establish regenerative lifeways and reconnect our ecological umbilical from our current place of degenerated inner and outer ecology?

History is replete with examples of prosperity giving way to ruin, freedom giving way to tyranny, and steady-state eco-social societies giving way to overconsumption and collapse. Many times throughout the history of our species it seems we have lived in Eden, only to let it decay into chaos.

What is that common thread that runs through human beings that explains our seeming inability to recognize a good thing when we have it, how we came by it, and how we might continue to come by it?

How can we, the Regeneration Generation, ensure that the work that we must do in our lifetimes to mend the torn eco-social fabric we have inherited will be carried on and upheld as something worth not just preserving, but strengthening with each ensuing generation?

Put succinctly, how do we increase the potential for intergenerational transmission, integration and embodiment of regenerative values?

That’s what the 7th Generation Principle is for – designing regenerative systems today that will enjoy continuity of stewardship through the generations.

In this post we offer an in-progress prototype of a design principle that is almost an ethic in and of itself. The 7th Generation Principle is a lens through which to measure a design’s effectiveness at maintaining continuity through time. It is a lens through which we can evaluate our design and all of the life that happens around it, and ask if it will be performing its intended functions 150 years from today when our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s children are born. Here it is.

The 7th Generation Principle

A 7th Generation system creates socially and economically fulfilling lives for its inhabitants, whose daily activity patterns regenerate natural ecosystems and increase living capital year over year, such that the economic and social value of natural ecosystems is always increasing, and the value-ing of those systems is transmitted intact across generations.

The Bridges Of Meghalaya – A Living Example Of 7th Generation Design

One example of intergenerational transmission, integration and embodiment of regenerative values that exists today are the Bridges of Meghalaya and their stewards, the Khasi people, located in Northeast India. High in the mountainous plateau near the border with Bangladesh, this matrilineal society has been growing and stewarding living root bridges grown from the roots of the banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis). These bridges over their high mountain gorges and rushing rivers actually grow stronger with time, unlike our modern day concrete and rebar structures. It takes 15 – 20 years just to train a root to cross one of these gorges, and maybe another decade before the bridge can bear the regular weight of a passing human. Many of the bridges are planted by people who will never walk on them in their lifetime. They are planted and tended for the future generations. Below is a brief video documentary about Meghalaya, the Khasi people, and their famed root bridges and ladders.

Application In Design: Unpacking The 7th Generation Principle

When our design, implementation and habitation of systems is congruent with the 7th Generation Principle we successfully operate in the black with regards to the triple bottom line: Economic, Social and Ecological well being. Below we unpack each part of the Triple Bottom Line – what it means and what is happening.

The Regenerative Triple Bottom Line – Start With The Knowns

1. Economic Knowns

  • All human economy is dependent upon surplus generated by natural ecology.
  • Human economy must be based on the use of resources that increase with use, stay the same with use, or degrade if not used.
  • Patterns of resource use which permanently reduce yields of otherwise sustainable resources are shunned.
  • Every product/output must responsibly provide for its own replacement (i.e. whatever we take, we must return).
  • The goal of economic activity is to increase prosperity (i.e. quality of life, not to just to grow bigger).
  • Economic health is a direct measure of the health of the population (physical, mental, spiritual).

2. Social Knowns

  • The natural state of human beings is one of freedom.
  • Self-knowledge is the primary pursuit of education systems.
  • Self-ownership (ownership of one’s physical/mental/spiritual self and the actions/thoughts/feelings one chooses) is a primary value furthered by increased self-knowledge.
  • Human beings will always act out of self-interest (this can be constructive or destructive – our design should make constructive self-interested pursuits an obvious, logical choice).
  • Intergenerational transfer of values and ethics happens when culture is intact.
    • Intact culture develops when people continually inhabit the same land base and sustain themselves from it.
      • In order to continually inhabit the same land base and sustain the population, daily activity patterns must always and by default enhance ecological function.

3. Ecological Knowns

  • Ecology grows increasingly diverse, anti-fragile and resilient at a more rapid pace with human interaction than without.
  • Living capital in the system increases year over year as a result of actions taken to create social and economic fulfillment.
    • Social and economic fulfillment is optimized by a web of capital flows that feed one another constructively.

From the list of knowns presented above we can generate qualifiable criteria that any design, project, group process or societal structure must meet in order to be regenerative. From these criteria we develop a list of questions to ask about our design as it progresses to test if we are designing towards intergenerational transmission, integration and embodiment of regenerative values.

You can of course adjust these knowns to your context and experience – just make sure to perform the next two steps of establishing design criteria and generating guiding questions from them to see if your knowns are leading you in the direction that you want to go.

7th Generation Design Criteria

1. Economic Design Criteria

  • Human economy must be based on the use of resources that increase with use, stay the same with use, or degrade if not used (p.16 Permaculture Designers Manual).
    • Resources that are irreversibly reduced by use (i.e. fossil fuels) must be used only to increase the above three types of resources.
    • Resource use which permanently reduces yields of otherwise sustainable resources is banned.
  • Products/outputs of a system must result from cyclical processes instead of linear ones.
  • Quality of life must increase as a result of additional economic activity (i.e. increase prosperity instead of increasing size).
  • Economic activity must promote health (physical, mental, spiritual).

2. Social Design Criteria

  • Freedom to live as one chooses so long as those choices do not preclude other from doing the same.
  • All association and participation is voluntary (non-coercive).
  • One keeps what one earns through voluntary commitment of their labor and knowledge.
  • Opportunity is open to all, but is not owed to any one person at the expense of another.
  • Continued maintenance across generations of systems that support life requires intact culture.
    • Intact culture requires an intact land base capable of providing for the population.
      • Every inhabitant is a steward of the land base, and thus a steward of the culture.
  • Education (unlike schooling) is voluntary and begins with an understanding of natural laws.

3. Ecological Design Criteria

  • The ecology is stewarded such that it grows stronger and healthier with disturbance – this is an anti-fragile ecology.
  • Actions that promote the health and prosperity of the individual must increase living capital.

From the design criteria above we can derive a list of questions that, when honestly answered, can help steer our design towards regeneration.

7th Generation Principle – Guiding Questions

1. Economic Guiding Questions

  • What type of resources are going to be used in implementing, inhabiting and maintaining the finished system/element?
    • Type 1: Those which increase by modest use.
    • Type 2: Those unaffected by use.
    • Type 3: Those which disappear or degrade if not used.
    • Type 4: Those reduced by use.
    • Type 5: Those which pollute or destroy other resources if used. (NOTE: This resource category has no place in a sustainable design).
  • If resources are Type 4, can the process be done differently with a Type 1-3 resource? If not, how will you manage the use of Type 4 resources to a constructive end?
  • What is “enough” of a given resource? How will you decide what is “enough”?
  • Oversupply of a resource (more than can be used productively) is a form of chronic pollution. What resources are in oversupply? What system/element/enterprise can utilize this oversupply as a windfall to create abundance?
  • Are the inputs required by this system provided by the outputs of other elements on-site? Map the connections.
    • Where are there energetic leaks (inputs that must be sourced from off-site, outputs that cannot be utilized on-site)?
    • How can off-site inputs be minimized and/or eliminated over time?
    • How can currently unused outputs be put to productive use? What additional opportunities do they create?
    • Does the input/output/interaction increase, decrease or have no effect on prosperity (quality of life) of those tending the system?
      • If decrease, how can the process, elements involved, or inputs/outputs used be changed to make it at least neutral or ideally prosperity-enhancing?
    • Does the input/output/interaction increase, decrease or have no effect the health of those involved?
      • If decrease, how can the process, elements involved,  or inputs/outputs used be changed to make it at minimum neutral to one’s health and ideally health-promoting?

2. Social Guiding Questions

  • How will the system be responsible for its own continuity of management across generations?
  • By what means will values and ethics be communicated and instilled in the next generation?
  • What anchors the education of the next generation?
    • How will this anchor be transmitted across generations?
    • How well is the study of natural laws integrated within and embodied by the culture?
  • What traditions, celebrations and ceremonies will be used to help increase connection with the land base across generations?
  • How will elders be able to interact with younger generations within the system? What will their roles be? How does the system create a cherished place for elders amongst the community?

3. Ecological Guiding Questions

  • What rules will govern human interaction with natural resources?
    • From what do these rules draw their legitimacy?
      • ***How can we design the system to eliminate the need for “rule enforcement” and instead make regenerative choices emotionally and logically irresistible?
  • How will a given system and the elements within be operated such that they maintain or expand their resource base?
  • How do the economic and social pursuits of inhabitants (a.k.a. system stewards) increase living capital?
  • How will you know if living capital (i.e. ecological health) is increasing in the system? How will you measure it?

 This entire post is a working draft and will likely always be. We hope the 7th Generation Principle, the integrated design criteria and the questions aimed to spark innovative thinking towards meeting those criteria will be of service as you go about your work in regenerating our world.

Constructive input, ideas and additions are always welcome. Please leave them in the comments below or reach out at the Contact page to continue the discussion. Thanks for reading! Let’s get after it.

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