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Amanda Little

Introducing 'Regenerative,' the New Climate Buzzword

Industry is widely embracing this hefty term, but not everyone will live up to its meaning: to repair the harm we've already done.

Regeneration isn’t just for lizards anymore. 

Regeneration isn’t just for lizards anymore. 

Photographer: Ben Stansall/AFP

"Regenerative" is the new "sustainable." Or maybe it's the new "renewable" — whatever. It's the latest ubiquitous catchword in climate speak. Solar companies are now tagging their business as "regenerative energy." The building industry is buzzing about “regenerative concrete.” Tourism offices are trumpeting “a more regenerative way of thinking.” Economists are calling for new metrics to track a wholesale transformation to a “regenerative economy.”

Perhaps the most notable attempt to commandeer this cumbersome, five-syllable term — which, until recently, was limited to the narrow domain of agronomists and cellular biologists — has come from Doug McMillon, chief executive officer of retail behemoth Walmart Inc. To an audience of investors this week, he touted his goal of building a “regenerative company,” even as he sells more than $500 billion a year of consumer goods, a great deal of which are produced with extractive petrochemicals and eventually end up in a landfill.