4 Returns

Healthy landscapes offer tremendous opportunity for business, society and people. But restoring landscapes takes time. In order to make large-scale landscape restoration a reality, we have to think about what a landscape looks like in 20 years’ time.

4 Returns creates a lens to imagine what is possible.

By focusing on 4 key returns over the course of a single generation – or 20 years- it becomes possible to transform degraded ecosystems into flourish and abundant landscapes. 4 Returns offers a common language. Diverse stakeholders – farmers, land users, governmental bodies, businesses and conservationists – work together to co-vision the future of their local landscape.

Listen to Willem Ferwerda, Commonland CEO, explain the 4 Returns Framework.

Giving people hope and a sense of purpose

Today, many people are disconnected from nature and the landscape around them. By inspiring people through engagement and awareness, a sense of hope and purpose will return. This can be pursued by deeply understanding local and indigenous ownership and wisdom, grasping the meaning of long-term commitment for governments, companies and investors, and taking time for inner reflection.

Bringing back jobs, business activity, education & security

We rely on healthy ecosystems to provide us with our basic social needs. A loss of productivity of the land leads to a loss of economic activity, jobs, income, security, social cohesion, education, social services and healthcare. Landscape restoration provides a solution by attracting investment in the land. This brings along renewed economic activity and opportunities for social development.

Restoring biodiversity, soils, water quality and capturing carbon

The world’s landscapes and ecosystems are degrading rapidly. It is becoming a threat to human well-being in many aspects. We are experiencing problems in health, agriculture, forestry, water and migration. It is becoming a threat. Fortunately, the restoration of large-scale ecosystems can be done. This will return essential ecosystem services on which we are heavily depending, including fertile soils, water, biodiversity, biomass and carbon storage.

Realising long-term sustainable profit

Our economy is based on the maximization of financial returns per hectare.  This is, what we call, a ‘degradation industry’. This approach initially yields a lot of profit, but soon results in degradation. This is now a severe threat to human well-being, the global economy, and society. Our challenge is to develop business cases from landscape restoration which are viable and sustainable in the long term. These business activities produce financial benefits to all stakeholders.

3 Zones

Imagine a landscape in which economy, agriculture and nature co-exist in ecological balance. Where biodiversity and natural abundance go hand-in-hand with sustainability managed farmland and regenerative business. And where vast natural areas act as an ecological engine for a resilient society.

To deliver 4 returns in landscapes, it is necessary to define a holistic and mosaic landscape approach. 3 zones identifies interconnected zones– a natural zone with forest and nature restoration; a combined zone with mixed agriculture and nature; and an economic zone with sustainable production.

Making the right investment within each zone results in rich returns.

Regenerating a landscape’s ecological foundation by restoring native vegetation, trees, and biodiversity


  • Restoring vegetation
  • Planting native trees and clearing invasive species
  • Natural restoration
  • Limited maintenance


  • CO2 capture, water, soil
  • Restored biodiversity
  • Forestry, hunting
  • Tourism

Restoring the topsoil and biodiversity, delivering sustainable economic returns through regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, & rotational grazing


  • Restoring landscape
  • Regenerative (perennial) agriculture, agroforestry
  • Planting usable trees
  • Polyculture, silvopasture, fodder banks
  • Improved grazing and pasture management
  • Restoring perennial vegetation and soil
  • Limited maintenance


  • CO2 capture, water cycles restored, soil health restored
  • Partially restored biodiversity
  • Agroforestry
  • Regenerative crops and products; fruit trees, timber, non-timber forest products
  • (eco) tourism

Delivering sustainable economic productivity with dedicated areas for value-adding activities like processing, typically concentrated in urban areas


  • Regenerative (annual) agriculture, forestry, aquaculture
  • Real estate, infrastructure that fits the landscape
  • Ventures with positive impact on landscape


  • CO2 capture, water holding capacity improved, soil health improved
  • Regenerative crops and products
  • New businesses, new collaborations
  • Economic development

20 years

Landscape restoration requires long-term commitment. It takes at least 20 years – or a generation – for a landscape’s ecological foundation to return. And we are still learning about ecosystems. Practices and processes for regeneration are always in development. So, diverse partners need to come together, find faith in the process, learn from each other and commit for 20 years.

4 Returns shows us that by making the long-term investment, we can all profit from healthy landscapes.

Aligning people on the land

To do systemic work of restoring large scale landscapes, there needs to be a commitment from stakeholders involved to a long term process, as experience shows it takes a minimum of 20 years to restore a landscape. When we approach land restoration from the mindset of 4 Returns, we change the way we manage our land, produce our food, finance businesses in the area, and might even change the way we look at the relationship between ourselves and the ecosystems we are a part of.

The first step in landscape restoration is co-creating a common vision for the landscape. In the 4 Returns community we use a process based on Theory U as developed by the Presencing Institute. These landscape vision quests with farmers, landowners, local NGO’s, governments, and entrepreneurs raise awareness amongst all in a way that allow them to see their own blind spots and opens their minds, hearts and efforts. It provides the relevant touch points needed throughout the years to identify and prioritize activities and realise long lasting landscape restoration partnerships.

For more, check out this story and the process work and tools of the Presencing Institute.


Do you want to get started? Then check out the 4 Return Theory of Change template. This is a great tool to get your own large-scale landscape restoration initiative in motion.

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