June 16, 2021

What’s Behind the Rise in Regenerative Building Design?

What’s Behind the Rise in Regenerative Building Design?

Regenerative building design is one of the fastest growing movements in the construction industry. You’re probably wondering where this movement came from and how it grew in popularity so quickly.

Regenerative building is a movement within green building that focuses on thinking ahead for the future. At its core, regenerative building is about taking responsibility for greenhouse emissions and putting into action plans to mitigate the harmful effects caused by large-scale building. The movement is based on the concept that humans and the environment we have built exist inside of a natural system, and ecological principles should be integrated into all built environments.

Although engineers, architects, and planners have been investigating ways to reduce the environmental impacts of building for decades, the urgency to address these issues reached a fever pitch in 2020 and 2021. Now, as issues related to social justice and the environment continue to escalate, even more companies and organizations are making the commitment to act by dedicating resources to regenerative building design.

Regenerative Building Reduces Emissions

Regenerative building is fundamentally very different from green building and sustainable building, although each of these three movements has its unique place within the industry.

Green design is achieved by reducing the damaging impact of building on the environment and humans. Green design is aimed at a broad market, and green building frameworks are usually generic in nature. Sustainable building, on the other hand, is about using the minimum resources necessary to reduce emissions. Architects and engineers involved in the regenerative building movement have flipped the script by designing buildings with a net-positive impact on the environment. Regenerative building is about actually reversing the damage that has already been done.

Regenerative building, green building, and sustainable building are all aimed at protecting people, the planet, and profits.

Future Goals for Regenerative Building

Despite aggressive goals and substantial growth in regenerative design, the building sector is still behind where it needs to be. According to data from UNEP and the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, emissions from the building sector are currently at their highest levels ever. Globally, buildings represent 35% of all energy use.

Engineers and architects currently are looking for new ways to increase sustainability and design buildings that have less impact on the environment. One of the most well-known organizations to lead this charge is The International Living Future Institute, which runs the Living Building Challenge, one of the most rigorous green building standards in the world. The International Living Future Institute is also behind the Living Product Challenge and the Living Community Challenge.

Fundamental Elements of Regenerative Design

What makes a building regenerative? All regenerative designs should benefit the surrounding systems (both socioeconomic and ecological) and serve stakeholders beyond the project site. Regenerative design is about using built environments to help larger living systems thrive.

As this movement expands, engineers, architects, and planners are beginning to come up with a framework with the design strategies that make a building regenerative. Some of these fundamental strategies include:

Green Roofs

Green roofs can be designed to actually clean the ambient air and cut emissions by sequestering carbon.

Storing Stormwater

Buildings designed in a way that captures and stores rainwater naturally can replenish underground aquifers.

On-Site Wastewater Treatment

On-site water treatment plants have a major impact on water conservation. Despite a high initial building cost, an on-site water treatment plan can result in significant long-term resource savings.

Energy Production

Regenerative buildings are designed to produce and store energy so the owner has decreased reliance on the traditional utility grid. Energy is typically stored on-site, and it can be drawn from during the nighttime hours.


One of the newest trends in regenerative design involves biodigesters. Biodigesters convert solid waste into energy. This energy can be used by the building, or it can serve as a small scale energy resource for the local community.

Thermal Efficient Construction

Thermal efficient construction techniques make buildings run more efficiently so there is less energy waste. Curtain walls that create a thermal barrier between interior and exterior walls can help with thermal efficiency and decrease the load on building mechanical systems.

Putting Regenerative Building Principles Into Practice

Putting the fundamental strategies of regenerative building design into practice in the real world can take some creativity and a willingness to think outside the box. Many architects and engineers have been trained to separate their building techniques from any broader social context. It’s only in the past few years that topics like social justice and climate change have been incorporated into mainstream building practices.

Building with the regenerative design approach means working with experts who are committed to designing with the future in mind. KMB believes in the benefits of regenerative building and sees this approach as the way of the future. Our experts are passionate about developing buildings that incorporate the latest green building techniques, including sustainable building and regenerative principles, and working closely with clients to bring their concepts to life. To learn more about incorporating regenerative design into your next project, contact KMB.

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