Regenerating capitalism one cow at a time

Thursday July 18, 2013

A regenerative enterprise is like an apple tree whose main function is to produce offspring, except besides just producing offspring (seeds) it also produces an abundance of fruit, wood, mulch and shade from its leaves, and micro-environments amongst its roots. It is meeting its main function of propagation and providing other functions as well. The apple tree however, can not achieve propagation alone, it needs the bees to fertilize its flowers and make viable seeds, worms and insects to turn its leaf mulch into compost for its roots, and water and sunlight to grow.

An example of a regenerative enterprise is Green Mountain Power's (GMP) Cow Power program which uses customer financial support to help equip dairy farmers with anaerobic digesters that convert cow manure into methane gas which is fed into a gas engine that spins a generator, creating electricity and heat. The heat is repurposed to keep the anaerobic digester warm and the electricity is fed into the grid for use by GMP customers. Last year a dozen farms with thousands of cows participated in the program which was funded at a rate of four cents per kilowatt hour by individual GMP users and large Vermont companies such as Middlebury College, Drew's All Natural and the Killington Resort. An example of a farm's regenerative output is seen in Green Mountain Dairy in Albany, Vermont which has 1,050 milk cows producing over 20 million pounds of milk a year and generating about 1.828 million kilowatt-hours of electricity (

Like the apple tree, a regenerative enterprise cannot do it alone. GMP relies on the contribution of farmers, customers and conversion technology to support Cow Power. Unlike mono-capitalist models where financial gain is the main objective, regenerative enterprises must exist within a regenerative capitalism system where outputs are as varied as the apple trees'. GMP individual and business participants are losing financial capital to support this model by voluntarily paying a few cents extra per kilowatt, farmers are losing financial capital through unreimbursed labor, time and space, and converter technologies are gaining financial capital as their conversion systems are purchased and used.

However like apple trees growing within a complex natural environment, regenerative enterprises operate in capitalism system that encompasses more than just financial capital. A regenerative capitalism system is composed of eight forms of capitalism, according to authors Ethan Roland and Gregory Landau ( Besides financial capital, there is also materials capital or raw materials, social capital or relationships, spiritual capital or a connection to a greater whole, intellectual capital or ideas and knowledge, experiential capital from personal experience, cultural capital seen in community, songs, story and art, and living capital seen in our natural environment.

Ironically the way in which these systems are visually presented in a circle around the nucleus of capital, mimics the parts of the Andean Cross. I wrote about the Andean Cross in a previous article about Suma Qamana, a South American model of living well where needs are met for all. This is a parallel model to regenerative capitalism. The Andean cross is made up of yachay or knowing, munay or loving, ruray or doing, ushay or power. Superimposing the regenerative capitalism model on the Andean Cross creates clusters of similarities. Experiential and intellectual capital become yachay (knowing), spiritual and social capital become munay (loving), financial and material capital become ruray (doing) and cultural and living capital become usay (power - meaning the power of past histories, place based stories and beliefs). The commonalities of these two independently created models, Suma Qamana with its roots in indigenous ways of being and regenerative capitalism with its roots in permaculture, speak of our shared humanity and place on a single planet.

Understanding GMP Cow Power as regenerative capitalism broadens the way one is able to understand the role and importance of the players in the model. Where at first there seemed to be solely financial capital winners and losers now there is more. The individuals and businesses financially supporting the program gain living and material capital as they help support the creation of new energy saving resources and protect the environment. Farmers gain experiential and social capital as they share farm management skills and participate in a project with a greater community. The companies that supply the conversion systems gain financial and intellectual capital as they are paid for their expertise. GMP gains material, social, living, intellectual, and experiential capital as it uses its expertise and direction to support the project. There is no financial capital gain for GMP because surplus earnings are redirected to an independently managed Renewable Development Fund used for education, grants and incentives to support renewable generation technology and methods.

A purely financial capital growth based model is degenerative instead of regenerative, it creates goods and services solely for financial gain resulting in drained resources, communities, and environments. To be regenerative, the eight forms of capital need to be valued and incorporated in to our ways of being. When companies think regeneratively, new possibilities open up. Waste can be transformed into usable goods, partnerships form and technologies are shared. To engage in further conversation about regenerative enterprises, eight forms of capital and Suma Qamana, please join me for a tea and a chat at the Twilight Tea Lounge on 41 Main St., Brattleboro, on Aug. 1, from 6 to 7 p.m. during the monthly Fair Trade Towns discussion.

Dr. Tamara Stenn is a professor, scholar and trainer of sustainable development. Contact her at


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