The regenerative cooperative – this is not a buzzword or another attempt to explain old structures into something new with a few additions. In this context, “regenerative” is meant in the literal sense: reconstructive, revitalizing. This distinguishes them from traditional-style cooperatives.
The regenerative cooperative (reGen) is a business model with a focus on the sustainable development of their respective region. It not only preserves, but regenerates the nature of its surroundings and the quality of its community and understands the individual development and health of its members as additional relevant balance sheet values.
Managing the little is not enough
For years, sustainability has been a term that is used as a matter of course when it comes to meaningful projects and treating nature fairly. Nevertheless, the term in its original meaning “only” expresses the insight that no more should be taken from nature than can grow back.
But in Central Europe we have been using our forests, soil and natural resources so extensively for centuries that stabilization at a low level is ultimately not enough. So an ecologically and economically sensible approach should no longer be the stability of the few, but the restoration of abundance, the rebuilding of natural resources and nutrients in the surrounding world. (Apart from this, contaminated sites such as garbage dumps, contaminated soil or sealed areas are still increasing by 60 hectares every day in Germany alone.)
If you consider that it takes 2000 years for 10 centimeters of fertile soil to develop naturally, it quickly becomes clear that, even if the word sustainability is mentioned endlessly, development is still going in the wrong direction. How can we change direction? How can the building up of substance and the creation of living values become a binding part of mankind’s economic activity?
Take public services into your own hands
In order to ensure better conditions for workers in the textile industry, cooperatives were developed in England more than 175 years ago. They arose from the idea that moral and economic values should have equal weight in an organization. Admittedly, moral values at the beginning of the industrial revolution had little to do with the planet and its resources, but at least with the people and fair conditions to be able to survive with their hard work. Cooperatives can nevertheless serve as a model for success, because more than 1 billion people are now organized in cooperatives in over 100 countries around the world. With more than 20 million cooperative members, Germany is – at least quantitatively – a stronghold of cooperative ideas.
The social sciences recently examined whether the population in Germany feels well cared for and whether the state still has the confidence to ensure this care at a good level for the coming years. The answer is no, because in many places people are seeing their local basic services and jobs being lost, and hospitals, care homes and other public services are on the decline where people live in villages and regional communities. In the research context, the question also arose as to whether citizens would like to be part of the provision for the future and be more actively involved in finding a solution to secure their local livelihood. The answer was “yes” – more and more citizens can imagine getting involved in such communities of general interest. However, opinions are often divided as to what the most urgent issues of public services are on site. For some, the supply of electricity and heat is most important, for others it is about caring for the elderly and housing suitable for the elderly, and for others it is about regional food and a healthy environment around them. So services of general interest would be ideal for citizens if they knew and considered all community issues, but still specifically covered the need that is currently greatest? “Hard” parameters such as kilowatt hours or square meters of living space are not very suitable for this.
Going back to common tasks with joy
A decisive “soft” parameter could be the “good life”, which has been considered a good basis for motivated action in social science discussions for decades. But of course everyone understands this good life a little differently. A basic human need offers an ideal basis for a lively discourse on this: community.
Community was the basis for our civilizational development as a society, because it gave rise to the division of labor and the first school and social structures. So could the joint conversation of people from the same neighborhood – a village or a district – help to strike the spark to start enjoying common tasks again?
The discussion should not only be about solving problems. Because if you start a community just to solve a problem, once the problem is solved, the impetus for the community disappears. So there needs to be a common understanding of what is meant by a good life and how this can be implemented for the different groups in a regional community. This dialogue is also important because it makes all the worries and difficulties visible that people no longer know about, even if they live very close together.
Life service – a binding cooperative value
Regenerative cooperatives arise from the desire for better living conditions and from the awareness that each member of the community brings individual values and effectiveness. How the community aligns itself and which intermediate steps are right and sensible for joint success is shown in the current joint action – in this way there is no desired, normative final state, but always the pragmatic and jointly agreed next step.
This is where the special concept of the regenerative cooperative comes into play, in which soft values such as quality of life, usefulness and individual development of potential are striven for with the same commitment as hard values. In most German cooperatives, the economic promotion of the members is the focus and thus a purely economic and material orientation. Although this is an existentially important basis for every form of business, it only provides a limited motivating basis for a social and emotional structure. This is currently also evident from the problems faced by many energy and citizens’ cooperatives in Germany, where the initiators have great difficulty in finding new members and successors for their own activities. Many of these cooperatives are handed over to larger organizations or dissolved when they could actually provide stable value and revenue for their local community.
Classic cooperatives benefit from the regenerative cooperative impulse
Can the conversion to a regenerative cooperative also offer classic cooperatives and other forms of organization a perspective in order to be revived and become more effective?
The answer is yes, because the conversion alone and the associated social process is an opening for new dialogues, topics and thus members. The urgency of many issues has increased in recent years and are having an increasingly negative impact on people’s lives. Confidence in financial market products is dwindling and many social supply gaps are becoming increasingly apparent.
Regeneration creates a new dimension of added value
Regeneration is an important target here, because it takes the individual feel-good factor just as seriously as ecological and economic goals. It creates a new dimension of added value by merging the reconstruction of natural habitats and the development of individual potential into a striving and making success visible to everyone involved. It creates new substance in people’s immediate living environment and enables money to be invested in values that create a stable existential basis for the community. Independence from international sources of goods and energy promotes sovereignty and creates a strong local identity. Local food, educational and cultural offers help the young people to open up new perspectives in their home region. Older people can secure a dignified old age in familiar surroundings and meaningful support can be created for families. A regenerative cooperative is a very good basis for meeting the needs and demands of a community with and for each other. As many parts of the local assets as possible are then used in such a way that they create the best possible added value for everyone.
Because everything that we know today as a global economy, states or alliances emerged from small, local communities. Communities are the places of origin of our modern industrial culture and unfortunately have not been honored enough or protected from them. Now they can become the birthplace of a new “(G)loCal” movement that combines the best of both worlds and places the good life at the local level at the center of its aspirations, fully aware of global connections and technologies.