Driven by the belief that we need to work with nature based solutions that are embedded in whole-systems thinking, we launched the Lush Re:Fund to support regenerative design in the areas of disaster & displacement, permaculture & agroecology, and rewilding & biodiversity.
What is Re:Fund?
Re:Fund is Lush’s regeneration fund, focussed on supporting groups working with regenerative principles to create solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Re:Fund raises money through our Bags to Branches scheme in the UK.
Through Re:Fund, grants are made to projects working in three different areas: disaster & displacement, permaculture & agroecology, and rewilding & biodiversity. The Lush Spring Prize is also part of Re:Fund, a biennial prize run in collaboration with Ethical Consumer, helping to raise the profile of regeneration globally and reward the people behind this important work.
What’s the purpose of Re:Fund?
Due to human action, the planet’s capacity to sustain life is being eroded. If humans got us into these conditions, then we believe that humans can co-evolve with nature to get us out.
Besides supporting projects that are putting regeneration into practice, Re:Fund also aims to raise awareness that humans can become agents of regeneration. It is time to give back more than we take from natural systems, and to develop deeper connections to all life.
Why does Re:Fund focus on three different sectors, as well as the Spring Prize?
We support groups in the areas of disaster & displacement, permaculture & agroecology, and rewilding & biodiversity.
We feel that these three areas of focus are important leverage points of intervention, meaning that by focussing on these three areas we can have a greater benefit than the sum of our parts - effectively creating a ‘multiplier effect’. That is because these are very key areas (eg. the humanitarian and aid sector, and the agriculture sector and forestry) where currently in a conventional setting, massive harm and degradation can occur to the planet and people. For example, Project Drawdown lists the food, forestry and agriculture sector as one of the top contributors to the climate catastrophe.
By supporting groups which showcase integrative, holistic, regenerative responses, we can help shift the patterns of degradation toward regeneration.
What is regeneration, and why is it important? Why is sustainability not enough?
Sustainability initiatives could be defined by ‘doing less or no harm’, which is massively important in today’s dominant culture of over-consumption and destruction. However, sustainability initiatives are no longer enough to undo the decades of ecosystem collapse and biodiversity loss that the planet has endured.
Alongside sustainability initiatives, we now also need to start repairing the damage that has been done, and reshaping our relationship with living systems. That’s where regenerative design comes in.
Many groups who implement regenerative design define it differently, but there are a number of key concepts that crop up repeatedly.
Regeneration is about taking a holistic approach and seeing the bigger picture of how everything in a system, or more widely - on the planet, is connected. It is about restoring and regenerating the health of Planet Earth and every single part of that system, be it soil, water, plants, air, animals, fungi, bacteria, economies and human communities. And beyond this, these elements need healthy connections between them. A strong system is one that is diverse and has a better ability to recover aftershocks.
Another difference between regeneration and sustainability is that regenerative design is often led by the process of how things are done, whereas sustainability initiatives are often driven by outcomes. For example, a common sustainability initiative might be cutting down waste. Instead of simply cutting down on waste, a regenerative design practitioner might instead ask, how can we work within the community to provide our collective needs locally, eliminating any need to bring ‘waste’ into our community? Beyond this, how can we re-frame our relationship to waste, to see it as a resource and an opportunity?
Regeneration could be seen on a spectrum, ranging from conventional destructive practices, through sustainability and ‘green’ initiatives, to regenerative design or development. Regenerative design asks us to shift our mindsets, attitudes and ways of being - not just our practices - so we understand ourselves as a part of nature.
What do you mean by holistic, or whole-systems thinking?
Systems are made up of complex interrelationships between many different parts. When projects that we support use a ‘whole-systems thinking lens’, it means that they are taking time to observe and map the patterns which are occurring in nature and designing accordingly.
Regenerative design is place and context based, so each design is tailored to the uniqueness of the situation, and the local culture.
Why does Lush care about this?
First and foremost, because we should all care about this, and it feels like the right thing to do. Climate scientists tell us that we could soon be at a crucial tipping point, where our ecological destruction has passed the point of no return. Businesses, governments, policy-makers, non-profits, individuals - all sectors must come together to take action, now.
Secondly, Lush as a business relies so much on having fertile soils, stable rain patterns, predictable weather, peaceful and cooperating societies, and a thriving green economy. Without this, there is no Lush.
What was SLush? Why did it change?
The ‘Sustainable Lush’ fund, or SLush, was founded in the UK in 2010, with SLush North America launching in 2014.
SLush was developed to help set up and fund permaculture and regenerative agriculture projects from the ground up, around the world. In the past, some of these projects also supplied ingredients for Lush products, and many were recipients of grants and financial support. In North America, SLush has historically been more focused on supporting Lush’s raw materials suppliers.
SLush was a very bold experiment. Some of the original SLush groups became suppliers, others only recipients of donations, and other projects slowly came to an end. So it was the right time for a revamp.
Now, Lush’s regenerative supply chain investments have been separated from our Giving streams. SLush evolved into two separate identities: Buying Investments and Re:Fund.
Funding granted through Re:Fund is not focused on supplying ingredients to Lush, but is instead centred around supporting the vital work of projects working in areas of ecological and social regeneration.
In North America, SLush continues, as it operates a little differently.
What are buying investments?
Buying Investment projects involve setting up structures which means Lush can grow and process materials in regenerative ways. That could involve setting up business entities or creating partnerships with organisations. There’s a focus on experimenting with alternative ecological agriculture methods and adding value to the communities on the ground which grow the materials.
Some examples of Buying Investment projects include patchouli oil from The Gayo Permaculture Centre in Sumatra, our cork shampoo pots, and neroli oil from Lebanon. But whatever the case, these groups are always putting regenerative design into action.
Is Re:Fund different from Charity Pot?
Charity Pot is a completely separate fund. The money from the sales of Charity Pot continues to fund grassroots activism through capped donations in the areas of animal protection, human rights, and environmental protection.
Like Charity Pot though, Re:Fund focuses on areas where small amounts of money can have a big impact.
Re:Fund is a separate fund that supports regeneration, and usually works with medium-sized projects over a period of one year, with the ability to provide ongoing funding.
Aren’t all Lush’s ingredients regenerative?
Lush’s ingredients come from over 300 suppliers, and although they comply with our buying policies, it would be a big statement to say they are all regenerative.
Getting full traceability on some ingredients can be very tricky, others are still farmed under conventional agriculture methods, and we also use some safe synthetic ingredients.
If the way an ingredient is grown and processed brings multiple positive benefits to the community and life in that area, then it could be considered to be a regenerative ingredient. Does it protect and increase biodiversity? Does it enrich the soil, improve the watershed, or sink carbon? Does it enhance the health and prosperity of the community?
The list of ingredients employing these values is only growing.
What about old SLush funded projects?
While Lush may continue purchasing ingredients from some groups that have previously been funded through SLush, this will now be done through the regular buying channels. Previous SLush funded projects may also be supported through Buying Investments.
Where appropriate, some projects may also be eligible for grants through Re:Fund.
Why is SLush North America continuing?
North America has a different social and political climate to Europe, and as such businesses there need to be operated differently. The Lush North American business has a few different structures and processes compared to Lush in Europe, and so SLush is the right model to keep using in Lush North America.
How do I apply to Re:Fund?
Because Re:Fund involves a close relationship with groups, at the moment it operates by invitation only, usually through the networks of trust that have been built over time. The Lush Spring Prize offers an open application process and takes place once every two years.
Photo: Joyce and Margaret are farmers in Uganda working with YICE, a project supported by Re:Fund.