This story is part of a series on business-driven landscape restoration. If you’re just joining, go back to the intro story to learn more.
A regenerative standard for products would help, because it creates a uniform set of principles for farmers (and prevents re-inventing the wheel), while at the same time a uniform set of principles is a much stronger marketing tool. In our network we have experienced that it is particularly helpful if you scale: bigger clients need a label (rather than working with a business at face value and a self-developed system) to be able to sell something as ‘regenerative’.
The question then becomes, how do you take the best of certification and prevent overregulation and costs for farmers and others involved. Instead, we are more interested in finding other ways to create short and transparent supply chains that are credible for farmers, markets and consumers. Recently, Climate Farmers organized a farmer-focused conference with some great proposed ways forward in their manifesto. A good reminder that whichever impact measurement or quality standard system you choose should steer clear from being:
“[…] dogmatic about farming practices and systemic approaches, but rather embrace the diversity of pathways towards regenerating in different contexts. No practice should be seen independently as harmful for ecosystems, before being assessed in relation to the specific context and the long-term regenerative impact. We respect and celebrate the effort put in by farmers to steward their land.”
Tell and sell your story
In that same vein, how can we move beyond conventional (“dogmatic”) certification, realizing that consumer trust in the plethora of labels is waning – they want authenticity and stories. This provides an opportunity for new regenerative farming ‘standards’ – to see how you could convey the message that regenerative farming brings to the consumer in a more inspiring way than just another ‘icon’ on the packaging of a product. For example:
- Invest in informative videos – like AlVelAl’s series from Head, Heart and Hands.
- Work with interactive storymaps – such as these birds-eye views on a Spanish landscape and the Dutch peat meadows
- Bring the consumer on board in the transformation journey – the good and the bad, like these stories from Grounded
- Use social media; for example this great day-in-the-life example
- Use transparent technology like explorer.land to bring landscape restoration closer to the customer
In addition, consumers are increasingly aware and interested in the health benefits of products, realizing that healthy food contributes to healthy people, which in turn contributes to healthy & beautiful landscapes. Successful regenerative entrepreneurs have a product or service that puts emphasis on the story: beautiful healthy products from a healthy agro-ecosystem fixing a landscape problem using a short supply chain. However, a good story is not a guarantee, especially when trying to enter a niche market.
We discovered during the online learning journey on Regenerative Agriculture that there is a mismatch between diversified farming systems and current market infrastructure. Similarly, there is also a mismatch between diversification of farm products and consumer awareness and openness to this diversity in brands and products.
“It is hard to offer a large range of products. There are tea brands, not rooibos brands. There are spice brands, not turmeric brands. So as a landscape company you are always at a disadvantage to sell directly to consumers.” Gijs Boers, Co-founder Grounded
Your multiple roles, network approach and interventions as a regenerative business (creating multiple returns) are all part of being a 4 Returns business and this is also part of your story. You have to tell a layered story to different consumers and buyers. With time, you will have to consider some form of transparent standardization. Meanwhile, we will keep our eyes and ears open for future possibilities on that front such as Regenerative Organic Certification, Participatory Guarantee Systems, payment for ecosystem services and self-developed regenerative standardization systems from around the world.
We hope that you have enjoyed going through our harvest of 7 years’ worth of lessons in business-driven landscape restoration. We regularly post content and run webinars on 4 Returns landscape restoration, be sure to become a member of the 4 Returns Platform and keep an eye out for more landscape-based learnings.