Elina Kalliala, Rikke Bjerregaard Orry, Veronika Petrova

February 20, 2024

Regenerative thinking: Collaborating to find new ways of revitalising nature and communities

A diverse group of 130 professionals convened to explore the concept of ‘doing more good’ while moving beyond sustainability to solve challenges within the built environment.

Regen conference
Aiming to foster awareness and collaboration around regenerative thinking, Ramboll Buildings and Transport Markets organised a two-day conference last October in Copenhagen, Denmark. The participants included Ramboll’s global experts, industry partners, and clients, with additional attendees connecting online. The conference agenda was filled with presentations by inspiring keynote speakers, offering attendees a unique interdisciplinary platform for discussion and networking, and the opportunity to collectively create and identify pivotal steps and recommendations for the industry.
What is regenerative thinking and why is it so important?
Regenerative thinking is a way to reimagine our impact and responsibilities toward nurturing the Earth’s wellbeing, which includes ecological and social systems. It involves understanding the systemic characteristics of society and the environment, where everything is interconnected and reliant on the health and welfare of each other – both positively and negatively. For example, this could entail creating value with stormwater management using nature-based solutions – in this case, the solution not only solves the problem of managing excess water after a storm, it also supports ecological systems, including water systems, and supports social wellbeing for everyone involved.
As we get closer to a potentially irreversible tipping point with the climate and biodiversity crisis, we must shift our paradigm. It is no longer enough to mitigate negative impacts – we need to strive to achieve positive impacts. Sharing this belief, the conference keynote speakers: Laura Storm - Founder, Regenerators, Martin Brown - Vice President of Living Future Europe, José Luis Blasco - Global Sustainability Director, Acciona and Dr. Hossein Rezai-Jorabi - Global Design Director, Ramboll Buildings, each shared a similar message; that we need to be more ambitious in all aspects of the built environment using a systemic approach; from carbon neutrality to carbon negativity, from nature restoration to nature positivity.
Hossein Rezai-Jorabi stressed that the application of regenerative thinking offers us the opportunity to pursue excellence by reversing climate and ecological collapse, while Laura Storm encouraged us to act as acupuncturists, pointing out that we must be leading examples of the change we want to see. Jose Luis Blasco shared examples of how this approach is already implemented in existing projects, and Martin Brown recommended that we each consider how to take action and turn our plans into reality. Sounds interesting? We certainly think so!

Ramboll’s guiding principles to put regenerative thinking into practice:

  • :

    Nature as a partner

    • Being ecocentric
    • Observing and learning from nature
    • Bringing nature forward
  • :

    Future generations

    • Consideration and empathy
    • Building up resilience
    • Respecting planetary boundaries
  • :

    Everything as a nutrient

    • Making conscious choices
    • Thinking in systems
    • Fostering innovation and creativity
Putting regenerative thinking into practice
One of the important aims of the conference was to accelerate the co-creation and discussion around this topic and come up with tangible recommendations for the industry to get started on their regenerative journey. In the quest to find these actionable ideas, the participants shared insights to put regenerative thinking into practice through an interactive workshop.
In summary, the resulting key recommendations for the industry were:
1.See the bigger picture
When approaching projects, we need to think in systems, reflecting on the local nature and culture and identifying the connections with the wider area. When we consider the impacts and relevant stakeholders, we need to include end-users, nature, and generations to come.
2.‘Old’ is the new ‘new’
It’s time to focus on repurposing buildings and materials, transforming structures, and revitalising our infrastructure.
3.Work as one system
We need to recognise our ecosystem of stakeholders – remembering to include nature – early in each process and strive to influence by identifying the impactful holistic goals to support the process and the systemic change through co-creation.
4. Influence and interact
Through interacting with industry peers, we can create stronger awareness and shared visions. We can initiate new ways to influence change, such as through experiments and workshops with partners and clients.
5. Progress over perfection
Let’s get started on our regenerative journey; experimenting, learning, reflecting, sharing, and trying again.
What do you think? Could any of these suggestions help you and your team transition to a more regenerative mindset?
After the workshop, Martin Brown reflected on the discussion, saying, "It is inspiring to note the enthusiasm to implement nature as a Ramboll stakeholder, being the butterfly in boardrooms, in teams and projects. This speaks to the inner development for all, a key theme over the two days, that should give inspiration to all.” Markku Kemppainen, Director of Land Acquisition at JM, one of the leading developers of housing and residential areas in the Nordic region, said “We have the responsibility to repair the damage that we have caused to our planet’s biodiversity. One good recommendation that was raised in the workshop was that we need to redefine what we mean with value.”
Unlocking a regenerative future
At Ramboll, we understand that there is still a long way to go before we reach truly regenerative design in our industry. But we need to forge our way towards it together, at all levels and from all angles. A fundamental shift is needed to ensure a good quality of life for generations to come, and we need to use systems thinking while focusing on every opportunity to positively impact our natural and social environments.
The industry has knowledge and solutions to support the regenerative approach, but it is up to us to find innovative ways to apply them as guiding principles. The good news is that we already have some essential tools for our regenerative journey; we just need to use them more wisely within this approach. Let’s get started!

“As regenerative approach is still a somewhat new concept and ambition in the industry, we don’t have all the answers yet. This can make it difficult and overwhelming to know, where to start and with whom. However, it's what we need to learn to do, together as an industry.”

Elina Kalliala
Global Sustainability Director, Ramboll Transport

Want to know more?

  • Elina Kalliala

    Sustainability Director, Transport

    +358 50 5111866

    Elina Kalliala
  • Rikke Bjerregaard Orry

    Sustainability Director

    +45 51 61 32 00

    Rikke Bjerregaard Orry
  • Veronika Petrova

    Sustainability Manager, Buildings

    +46 73 416 87 31

    Veronika Petrova
  • Debbie Spillane

    Global MarComm Lead

    +45 53 67 10 43

    Debbie Spillane