Permaculture and the 8 Forms of Capital
Building on top of last week's foundational discussion of permaculture, this week's podcast explores how the permaculture approach can be applied to creating value -- aka, capital -- across the full spectrum of our lives.
It uses the ethos of permaculture (how dynamic systems naturally operate and can work in concert with other systems) to design models for creating prosperity. They key is not to focus on just a single area (e.g., making money), but to work within several areas at once in order to create positive feedback loops that will accelerate and magnify progress to your goals (e.g., developing skills you can apply for the benefit of your community, which in turn leads others to support you professionally as well as provide valuable reciprocal services free-of-charge).
Chris and I consider this framework be quite consistent with the lens we use here at Peak Prosperity, and are finding it a useful tool for categorizing the many topics covered under "building resilience" in a way that's intuitive for many folks to understand.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Ethan (47m:00s):
Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson. Do you ever wonder about resiliency and how to increase it in your life? Of course you do. You are one of those people paying attention to what is happening in the world, and at Peak Prosperity we guide people towards four quick actions to take right away once they have decided to do something. First: Get out of debt. Second: Invest in your physical preparations. Third: Maybe buy a little gold. And have, fourth, excellent care taken of what financial wealth you have left after all of that. Okay, but what do we do then after those relatively shallow steps are taken? How does one build true resiliency, given the magnitude of what's unfolding?
We recently began using a new model for adding depth and structure to the way we think about building and the deploying capital, and it comes to us from a couple of practitioners from the field of permaculture. Now, what does permaculture have to teach us about resiliency? Well, a lot. Maybe everything. Today I am very pleased to introduce you to one of the designers of this new model, Ethan Roland, who is going to talk with us today about the eight forms of capital. Ethan’s a permaculture designer, a teacher and researcher based in the Hudson River Valley in New York. He has studied and practiced regenerative design across the world, from the wild apple forest of Kazakhstan to the tropical ecosystems of Thailand. Welcome Ethan.
Roland: Great to be on.
Martenson: So, we have not had a chance to talk since we first used your material at the Rowe Seminar this year and I have to tell you, based on the feedback forms, it was a huge hit. People really liked the framing, they got a lot out of it. We are thrilled to have used it, so let's start at the beginning for people listening here. What is capital? And more importantly, why do you feel we needed an expanded framework for thinking about it?
Roland: Capital is this thing…it was almost like a bad word that was around when I was growing up. It was this thing that was used to do environmental degradation, that was used to fuel the kind of businesses and corporations and economies that did the kind of things to the world that I did not like to see. But as with so many things, and in taking the permaculture principle of "the problem is the solution," at one point in 2009 my colleagues and I—as we were working on the financial permaculture event—started to think about capital and begin to say, "well, what if we could expand it beyond just the basic financial capital, which is most of what we had experienced it as, and what if there were more and what if we could articulate and lay out other forms of capital that were transacting and moving all around us? And it was out of that thought, out of that question, that the eight forms of capital grew.
So we just began to think about and see—what else were we exchanging? What else was moving between us as we hosted courses, as we did permaculture designs, as we worked to grow businesses in the world—it was not just money that was flowing, it was also social capital. It was the exchange of influence and connections between people. It was the growth of intellectual capital as we learned new things, new ways to design, new computer programs, new solutions. We grew our intellectual capital as we thought about them and then we grounded them into actual felt experience and so we named that, "experiential capital."
As we began to see these flow, we noticed that everybody really seems to focus on financial capital, as if it is the only form, but it turns out that we cannot eat money—even gold. And so we realized that, actually, the real basis for life, for human survival and human thrival was actually living capital. It was the food that we eat and the water that we drink and it is the air that we breathe that has come from the trees and the plants that are all around us. So this living capital is actually the foundational pool, the real basis upon which life on earth depends. Living capital can sometimes be transformed and extracted and turned into material capital. Material capital is totally important for work and survival. I am sitting on a chair made of material capital. My computer is material capital. When I am working to build a house or an outdoor kitchen, I am using wood and stone and these are also forms of material capital.
And so we realized that financial capital is a medium of exchange, but that also other forms of exchange were happening. People were trading in social capital in order to have support building their material capital, so that they could more effectively grow their living capital on their land. And there are other forms of…there are other models that are out there that talk about different forms of capital, but most of the usually stop somewhere in the range of what I have already talked through here. And there are two other forms of capital that seemed really important for us to articulate and name, because to not do so would, I do not know, take us a step away from sustainability, a step away from resilience, because they only really look at and value the external world. And the reality is that each of us has an internal world as well.
And so the seventh form of capital that was named was actually "spiritual capital." And spiritual capital—it is something that individuals can grow and develop and many people have different experiences of spiritual capital. Some people call it faith. Some religions even have real, defined systems of spiritual capital that can be accumulated over one lifetime or over many lifetimes, like the concept of karma. And some other people, some indigenous spiritual traditions actually articulate that when humans are born into the world they are born with a great spiritual debt; a spiritual debt to reality, to everything that is living and holy and beautiful around us, and that people spend much of their lives working to feed or not ever really pay off, but working towards sort of servicing that spiritual debt in the most beautiful way. And all of the forms I have named so far are types of capital that individuals can grow and develop inside themselves.
And the last form of capital that we named and articulated is one that can really only be held and grown by a group of people, by a community. We have called that, "cultural capital." And cultural capital is the ability of a group of people to step into ceremony together. To have shared stories and myths and songs. And one of the fascinating things we realized, once all of these were laid out, was that along with the degradation and degeneration of living capital that we see all over the world currently as the result of industrial agriculture, as the result of material and financial capital focused development, is that cultural capital is being eroded as well. So just as we are losing species of plants and animals at a rapid and frightening rate, we are also losing languages and cultures. And so we saw that the current global system, which is based solely in financial capital, its main way of operating is that it extracts living and cultural capital from the land, from the places, from the people and transforms it into this fast-moving financial capital.
Martenson: Fascinating. Let me start with that last one, the cultural capital. An example—the way we translated that when we were at Rowe was to think through what happened in response to fairly significant natural disasters, so Katrina being one example and the earthquake in Japan in 2011 being the other. What we noted was that, in New Orleans what happened was that after the disaster came, people…there were a lot examples of looting, of murder, of rape, of helplessness, of people just waiting to be assisted. And what we took from that was this idea that there was relatively thin cultural capital. The culture did not know how to respond and be resilient within itself. And then you look at what happened in the earthquake and the resulting tsunami in Japan; it was orders of magnitude worst and more destructive in terms of deaths, in terms of overall damage. And we could not find, when we searched, any stories of looting, any stories of violence.
And so we took that to be an example of different culture, but with a much more resilient cultural capital when it comes to dealing with situations like that. And part of that, I am sure, is deeply enmeshed in their culture through a variety of other means. But let’s face it, Japan has been dealing with these sorts of natural disasters for a very long time. They live in a very, let’s say, active part of the world and it is a very old culture. So that to me was an example of like an old growth forest that has dealt with a variety of insults over time, kind of knows what to do versus a relatively new ecosystem with not a lot of depth to it that really got its first sort of learning moment, and maybe the cultural capital is now deeper in New Orleans as a result. But is that a fair example of a way to use that?
Roland: I think that is a fascinating approach to looking at it. And yeah, I think one of the great things about this is that the eight forms of capital is not a model per se, I think of it more as a framework. I think of a model as giving answers and prescribing certain things for certain situations, whereas a framework acts to me like a lens that we can look through to observe and understand and develop new understandings ourselves. So I think what you talked about with Japan and cultural capital is fascinating. It sounds right-on to me. I guess one thing that is interesting is that, basically everybody has in their not so distant past a really strong beautiful supply, a reservoir of cultural capital. But so many people in the so-called developed world—or I like to think of the "over developed" world—the industrialized world seems to have lost that connection to the cultural capital that their ancestors had in the not-too-distant past.
And so I think that one of the things that I have found in exploring permaculture for myself and supporting my clients all around the world in developing permaculture systems is that, there is an invitation to look back into time to understand what was the cultural capital. What was the fabric of this place or of this place where my people lived that kept us really alive and thriving and kept us resilient? And that exploration has been fascinating for me and it is certainly one that I recommend to anybody who is seeking a greater sense of resiliency in their life is to look back in time, not to repeat, necessarily, what happened in the past, but to find bits of inspiration. To find new pathways just like we find new gardening techniques when you look at the indigenous land management practices of the people in a certain place. If we look back in our own cultural past and history you will find stories, you will find songs, you will find bits of knowledge that can be very, very useful because a lot of our ancestors have been through a lot of tough things on the way to getting us to where we are now.
Martenson: Oh, absolutely. And I love that idea of this being more of a framework. I love "framework," so thanks for that distinction. And one of the ways that I have used this framework…so here is how I think about the eight forms. So let’s imagine, for most people, they measure their resilience in their financial capital, right? And I think that is fine. Probably it is a workably good model for somebody to say "oh okay, I have got my financial capital, I am okay." Obviously, there are points in history where we might say it could become less okay. But I think everybody listening…everybody has experience and knows at least one person or maybe more in their lives who are very, very rich in financial capital, but otherwise poor. They are not very resilient in their lives, they are fragile and it just goes to show that even some people who have literally have more financial capital than any one human could ever really need access to, they are still not happy with it, they are not resilient with it, they may even be very, very close to the edge, even with that.
And so financial capital is interesting. What I like is this ability to swap between the forms of capital. So for me, one of the first things that I started doing here at my own little corner of the world is I started swapping out financial capital for living capital. One of the examples for that is every year I will spend maybe, I do not know, 400, 500, maybe 1,000 dollars on compost. And that is taking my money and I will turn it into compost and what I am doing—my goal is to build up the richness and the diversity of the soil around where I live, because…for a lot of reasons. And I am planting more and more fruit trees and I am taking out species of plants that do not provide a lot of habitat, do not provide a lot of food. And so I spend my financial capital. I am slowly building up the living capital and I am swapping it out with the idea that I am more resilient if I have those two forms. If I have got good financial capital and I have got living capital I am now more resilient than if I had either one of those alone.
Roland: I think that is exactly right. I also invest thousands of dollars annually into living capital and I think of it not as a spend, I think of it as an investment, because yes I am transforming that financial capital into a form that is not as "liquid," I guess you would say. Although, it might be more liquid if you think about water and how water is the lifeblood of living capital. But I think that investment that I am making is going to have huge returns, even beyond the current financial capital system—when I plant chestnut trees, these are trees that can live for 200 years, provide thousands of pounds of protein and starch-rich food per acre with no fertilizer, no inputs. You do not even have to buy the compost! And at the same time that same tree that I planted can be the mother of 1,000 more chestnut trees.
So I think there is an interesting distinction here that we could look at between resilience and regeneration. The name of the book the Gregory Landua and I wrote is, Regenerative Enterprise, and it lays out the eight forms of capital and then it uses this framework as a basis to develop a more whole definition of regeneration, of sustainability, of resilience. And I guess the distinction I like to make there is that, if you think of a continuum with degradation and degeneration on one side and regeneration on the other, what do you think would fall right in the middle between those two?
Roland: Birth perhaps. What I usually put in the middle is sustainability, because when I am sustaining it is true I am doing no harm. I am not degenerating a system I am sustaining and maintaining that system. But if I just aim for sustainability it is never quite enough, because we cannot just sustain what we have going right now. We cannot sustain climate chaos. We cannot sustain peak oil. This is a not a place for sustaining, we actually have to step beyond sustainability and head into regeneration. And that regeneration is actually growing and restoring the health of the ecosystems and the cultural systems around us. And so when I think of resiliency, I think of resiliency not as a goal that I am trying to get to, but as a baseline; a foundation that I have to get to if I am ever going to get towards regeneration and restoring the damaged ecological and cultural systems around us.
Martenson: Well, none of us can know how the future is going to unfold and, for me, what I look at in this framework is: if I have got a richness in my living capital, which we discussed, but also can start to help repair and tap back into and rediscover and deepen the cultural capital that is around, obviously experiential capital is everything in this story, because I actually do not know anything until I try and do it and then I find out just how much I do not know about it. The intellectual capital is important of course and all of us…this is amazing what the internet allows us to. You can get as much intellectual capital in a flash today compared to any other time in history, it is just extraordinary. And spiritual capital—my translation of that for myself has been: the more I get to know my inner self and map my inner self and not become more of an understanding rather than a reactive individual. That has been a huge, very important growth area for me.
And social capital is obviously incredibly important in this and many people I think discount what they truly already have where they are. I get into this conversation with people all the time who get to this idea that they will have better financial material, and maybe living capital, somewhere else. Whether that is another state or it is a different community—sometimes, a whole different country. And that is where I found this framework, being able to say "well, hold on. First of all, do you really understand the cultural capital of the place you are stepping into? And second of all, will you have any social capital when you get there?" And so when I look at this—if I am rich in the living, the cultural, the experiential, the intellectual, spiritual, social and then the material capital; if I have all of those—if my financial system all of a sudden decides to have a gigantic banking accident a la Cypress only more extended and a little bit worse, I am going to be reasonably okay in this story if I am rich and resilient. I will be more resilient if I am rich in all of the forms of capital.
And so that is how I have been looking at it and I am really excited to begin to really flesh these out and add more details underneath them. Because I think that, honestly, the first place people come to when they come to awareness that the old narrative is unraveling, there is some new world coming. It is a little bit frightening when you start adding up some of the things that you have touched on—peak oil, climate chaos, species loss, things like that. And without really knowing how to control those things, which we honestly cannot, and on some levels this gives…this framework gives an idea of places to really start and if you are already rich in one of these, find one that you are not rich in and go there and do something. And so for many people it is: take your financial capital and get some more material capital, get some more living capital, all good. And then there is a good chance of being far more resilient.
Roland: It is interesting, I am actually thinking about…I am seeing that same continuum that I laid out from degeneration to regeneration, and I think an important point to make here is that all of us are on that continuum in each of our forms of capital at any given point. And there is no point where I am done developing living capital, just as there is no way currently you might want to be done developing your financial capital. It is a continuum and we want to engage, not just in a "check off all of the things on this list and I am done, now I am resilient…" I actually need to see that there is a longer term developmental pathway for growing, like you said, your internal spiritual capital and everything that goes inside of that.
So it is not like single steps; this is a whole pathway. And I think, more important than making any individual choice is to actually commit to a longer term process wherein I continually take a look at the eight forms of capital and how they are living in my life right now, see, just like you said Chris, which ones are weak right now. Which ones can I develop more? Which ones do I have an abundance of that I might share in order to support other people to shore up their weaknesses? I think that really heads to some of the keys of this book, Regenerative Enterprise, which notices that it is actually quite hard in the current society to develop all eight forms of capital as a single individual or even as business—as an enterprise. And so, because we are based in permaculture design and permaculture is based in mimicking ecosystems and understanding how ecosystems work—whether I am designing a farm or a homestead or a financial portfolio, I want to think about how do I mimic the ecosystem that I live in that is around me in order to make this more resilient.
And so we realize that financial capital and any individual form of capital—it is hard to develop it on your own. What you can do is you can work with a group of people or a group of different businesses and you can consciously design not just individual enterprises, but whole enterprise ecologies or enterprise ecosystems. And in that you can say that each person or each enterprise might specialize or optimize in developing one form of capital and share that with the rest of the system. Not everybody has to be real good and grow all of the different forms, but if you can get together and think about how you can functionally interconnect and support each other, then there is not as much of a burden on each individual person, so that capital can be grown and shared amongst the whole system thereby creating a web that is way more resilient than any individual person or enterprise.
Martenson: Well, you say it maps into ecosystems and what we know about ecosystems. I think it maps into humans and our blueprint, how we are wired. I am imagining now that if you had a group that you formed with and there were eight people in it and each person was holding one of these pieces—one of the things that I know I love doing as a human is going out and gathering good information. Maybe I would be the intellectual capital guy and I'd like to go out and grab it and I would love to bring it back to my group and the group would know I would be holding that space. I could be that guy and maybe we could swap roles as time goes on. But it seems like a good organizing principle is to say, if you are going to have a really effective group of eight as a minimum or a larger community you would have people holding these roles at least for some period of time, but you would not ever have a complete hole in your social capital side of things at any point. You would want to make sure that was attended to in some way.
Roland: Yeah. I think that is really right on and I have begun to develop this in my life through—both in personal life and where I am living and who I am engaging with, but also in the business world we are having more and more success actually bringing this concept out to larger organizations and corporations and having them start to think about their entire workings, their entire supply chains, based on this eight forms of capital model. So actually I think what might be interesting is if I just briefly, as an example of an enterprise ecosystem, lay out a couple of the different enterprises that I am working with and how they functionally interconnect and support each other.
Martenson: Yeah, that would be great. Do that.
Roland: Cool. So I run an AppleSeed Permaculture, which is a mostly local permaculture design, consulting and installation firm. So this firm looks at 100 acre property or 1,000 acre property or a 1 acre property and does detailed permaculture design to figure out how to create 100 percent sustainability within that site based on the goals of the client, whether it is a person or an institute or a farm incubator that we are working with. And we will also go out and we plant the fruit trees and plant the chestnut trees and install the photovoltaic panels and the water harvesting systems and really make it work sustainably. But we only do that 100 miles from home, because it is too far to go otherwise and actually that ecosystem is growing and we have begun the process of franchising AppleSeeds, so that there can be these little AppleSeed Permaculture design firms all over the world doing the same work in a relatively local radius.
Along with that, in order to train and support especially the agricultural side of permaculture and regenerative design we host a course that is the carbon farming course, which is really about especially intellectual, but also experiential capital. And that course is full of the top trainers and farmers who are growing regenerative agriculture that captures carbon out of the air and puts it into the soil, which increases the living capital of the soil. So that course—many of our clients from AppleSeed will go and take that course and then they will have intellectual capital to transform into experiential capital in growing the living capital of their own land. And then what we found is that it is great to be working with people, working with our clients 1-on-1 and developing these really excellent sustainable farms and doing the business modeling and profit analysis that goes along with these permaculture farms, but that a real leverage point would be to go beyond that and start working with larger and larger flows of financial capital.
And so in order to do that, my college Gregory Landua and I who wrote this book, Regenerative Enterprise together; we began consulting with international corporations especially to help them look at their whole supply chain. So for example: there is an international cosmetics company we are working with right now that spends millions of dollars every year purchasing over 400 different ingredients, raw ingredients; everything from blueberries to cocoa butter to Jojoba oil to bananas from all over the world to create these really excellent high quality products.
And so what we are doing with them is we have actually…they have agreed to have a fund that is set aside that is a percentage of their buying budget every year and we are directing that fund into resilient permaculture farms and communities around the world. And in so doing, we are improving the living capital and the cultural capital in all those places, but we are also making the supply chain of this entire global company that much more resilient, because when the floods come, when the droughts come, when the earthquakes come, sites and communities that have cultural capital intact and who have been designed with permaculture throughout, will be more resilient in that situation.
And so through that we are really now getting the sense that more and more financial capital is flowing into regeneration. It is flowing into living capital, into social, cultural and spiritual capital all around the world and as we do it the companies that we are working with—they actually seem to be transforming themselves, so that the people inside of it are shifting how they move and do things based on what they are seeing out there in the permaculture effects they are having on their supply chain. So you can see that will all these different pieces together there is so much opportunity for the connection and flow of multiple forms of capital, and that is really what we need for regeneration. We need flow in all these different forms of capital and the constant growth and development and adding the quality of these different forms of capital all around the world.
Martenson: Ethan, I love the examples and I am imaging there is somebody sitting at home right now going, "huh, that is cool, and how would I begin to build this in my own community?" So imagine somebody, whether they are in Brooklyn or they are in Iowa, how would they go about beginning to think about building these eight forms in their lives?
Roland: That is a great question. I think I would say a couple of different things. We have laid out a set of principles in our book that speak to, really, how you can start out and it is not so much step-by-step actions you would take, because the actions I would tell you to take might not fit for your exact circumstance out there, and so we thought it would be more useful to articulate some principles that would guide you to choose the direction actions that you would take wherever you are. So for starting out, I think probably the key one that we have spoken to a little bit is we call it, "Inter-educate Yourself." And that basically says: whatever form of capital you are really functional and skilled with right now, go get educated in a different realm.
So if you are already a financial manager and you know everything about the stock markets and the bond markets and mutual funds and REITs and how everything works there, that is great and now would be a great time to go and get nature-connected—to go do a wilderness awareness school course or something in primitive skills. Or even go apprentice on a farm for a year and learn how ecosystems and living capital really work. Or say you are an activist and really excellent at organizing people and getting things moving in the social and cultural capital realm—what would be really useful for you, potentially, would be to go out there and take a small business course. Go get an MBA. Try out investing as best you can and get some mentoring and support around that, because as we kind of jump across the line and start to connect with another realm of capital that we have not really worked with, all these connections start to appear. So I think that is really the most important step to start is in educating yourself.
Martenson: Inter-educating yourself.
Martenson: No I like that. That makes a lot of sense. And one of the things that really came up for us at the Rowe weekend was giving people the opportunity to really start to understand where they were already deep and strong and starting to figure out how to put some value around that; not dollar value, but how do we compare across these different forms? And our measuring stick in many cases are dollars and so often people come with that framework pretty well steeped in it. But it is interesting to be able to broaden that conversation out and really articulate that there are lots of—so for me I do not know how to articulate the value of the living capital. I just get so much out of healthy trees and plants around me, and I know it is a complex melange of the soil and the PH and the little critters I cannot see and how I fertilized and what the weather is doing this year and all of that.
So for me there is an ineluctable quality to that. I just love that. But for people who are…I think our society, the one I live in, the culture I live in here in the United States really, really highly values financial capital and really highly values it from a masculine perspective. You got to go out, you got to get it and it is very linear and it is all of that. And so many of these other forms of capital are…this is not a gender; I am using these words probably too carefully in the way I understand them. But nature is about flow and it is about form and formlessness and all of these other pieces, and so there is a sense here too that this framework gives the opportunity to begin to value things that in my perspective are undervalued or not even on the radar map to be valued in many parts of our culture.
Roland: I completely agree. This framework puts all forms of capital on equal footing and helps us to realize that every single one of them is constantly flowing in the world and is required for a healthy thrival, survival, functioning, healthy resilient communities. And so I think it is really important to look at which forms of capital you are currently working with and transacting with and strong in, and start from there as a permaculture principle of "start small and build from success" and to focus in on whatever that form of capital is that you are really working well with and grow outwards from there. And I guess a fast track—if anyone wants to know the fast, difficult track to rocketing forward or, rather I should say, to sprouting very quickly out of the ground into more complex and healthy multi-capital profits is, I believe, to become an entrepreneur. It is super hard and you will end up with a lot more mistakes, hopefully you will end up with a lot more mistakes faster and faster and faster, because if you fail faster you will grow faster.
And so much of what we think about and talk about within permaculture, within resiliency does not…you cannot go get a job in it. There is not a lot out there where you can just go find full employment. You cannot just go out there and find a job that is in regenerating multiple forms of capital. And so what that means to me is, you are going to have to go create that job. You are going to have to be entrepreneurial and find a way to make the—even in the current financial capital dominated business world—to figure out a way that you can have a viable business model that flows financial capital and yet also increases living, social, cultural, intellectual, experiential capital. And in my experience, being an entrepreneur, stepping into that world is the fastest way to grow quickly.
Martenson: Oh, boy I am so glad to hear you say this, because the one thing that I am advising my kids to do is to become an entrepreneur. And this really came after Adam and I spent some time with Robert Kiyosaki's organization, just a weekend, but he really impressed on me this idea that there are a number of things that entrepreneurship really does bring to the table. You mentioned one of them, which is you get the opportunity to fail and fail fast. It is not about failing, but it is about failing fast and learning from that. You would much rather figure out that a partnership is not working in a month than drag it out for five years and then finally have to cut a much more complicated cord.
And likewise the key thing that I think an entrepreneur does is they see an underperforming asset and they know how to improve it. That means they know what they can bring to the table, they failed early and often so they also know what they do not bring to the table, so that is where they have to partner up, right? There is something that maybe they do not really like to do or they are not really organically good at. They could get good at it, but why bother? Go find somebody who loves that and just excels at that. You bring your stuff. And that is where I think you are absolutely right. There is no clear model for how we are going to put these pieces together. We are working our way as a culture through to figuring out maybe we should value these other things. How would we value those in our dollar based world at this point and time?
But ultimately, an entrepreneur is going to be somebody who is going to know what they bring to the table, know how to form a team and can spot an underperforming asset. And whether that is a real estate investment or whether that is a piece of land that could be used to a much higher value, however we define that. I think that is really the key, because listen, we know that there are economies in prison. There are no dollars there, but there are fully functioning economies and some people are thriving in that environment, some are not. And so if the world comes to a place where somehow our forms of capital become impinged, if for some reason; we do not know what form, but they get impinged, the entrepreneurs are going to be the people who know how to build those forms of capital back up and they will know how to do it very efficiently compared to other people. So I am in total agreement. I think that is just the right way to look at it.
Roland: Yeah, you have to be resilient to be an entrepreneur and so stepping into it, working with whatever form of capital you currently have in abundance will give you the chance to develop resilience around the other forms of capital. And I think especially if you are able to step into an entrepreneurial role that is in some way connected to living capital—that is in some way connected to growing and evolving the health of ecosystems around you, I think there is so much opportunity there? Because the world, especially the agricultural world, is really beginning to run up against the edge of depleting its living capital. And so I think one venture I am working on is called Regenerative Real Estate and the basic concept there is that we look for, exactly like you said Chris, that underperforming asset, that degraded farmland that has been overgrazed, over tilled, over herbicided, over pesticided, just really beat up yet has a lot of potential, but people cannot see it right now.
Through permaculture and carbon farming we have an understanding that land can actually be regenerated. And so the basic business model is that we purchase undervalued farmland, use permaculture and holistic management grazing systems to repair the soil, to repair the ecosystem, and then in some way or another return the land to productive use—whether that is through sale to a farmer or to a community—and recoup our financial capital investment that way. But the real thing—we are not looking to get huge amounts of financial capital; we are looking to flow financial capital into living capital, into the regeneration of the ecosystems around us.
Martenson: Now Ethan, as somebody who has been at the frontlines of this, what trends have you seen? Are you noticing that people are opening to this? Are there more people who want to engage in this—well, I would have said triple bottom line, but the proper one that says…
Martenson: The octo-bottom line. I will tell you from my vantage point. I see younger people really disconnecting from the current narrative saying "I do not understand that story I am supposed to live into—student debt, homeownership, consume, and that is it? What? There has got to be more." What are you seeing?
Roland: I see that trend, and I both appreciate that trend in young people and I guess I put out a warning to young people that it is useful to question that dominant narrative and I think that if you do that at the expense of—basically if you try to run away from money and you try to run away from financial capital and profits I think you are doing yourself a disservice. Because financial capital itself is not evil, it is just an instrument, it is just a pathway through which to create what you want in the world. So that is an edge I am sort of working when I am working with the younger generation is: how can you have your vision and goals about a positive future and yet use financial capital and business systems to achieve that. Because there is so much more flexibility there than in many of the other paths you could go.
Martenson: I agree. So this idea that it is not pro or con, it is not evil or good or any of that, but if we just go along your spectrum, is my financial capital that I am earning and spending—where does that fall in this degenerative versus regenerative line? And it could fall on either end or in the middle, and so the idea though is that people can go out and find occupations which are fundamentally tilted on the regenerative side of things. Because guess what, there is a lot of degeneration out there. Lots of stuff to fix, right? Insurmountable opportunity out there?
Roland: I will be honest, we have our plates full in all of our enterprises right now. One of the things we are lacking is competent people who have enough training in permaculture, have enough training in business, that they can effectively become part of our team. Because the other trend that I am experiencing is that there are really intelligent, brilliant people who are at the top of the corporate ladders all over the world are actually beginning to shift and see the resource depletion, resource scarcity, as you said the impingement upon various forms of capital from various known and unknown potential uncertainties that are coming up. And we are seeing more and more folks in the corporate world pivoting very quickly, which is part of what is awesome about the business world is you can shift and change based on what you see, and coming and asking us to help them start thinking about permaculture in their business and in the effects that those businesses have on the world.
So that is a really exciting movement for me. It feels like a bit of a wave coming and I am just hoping enough of us can wax our surf boards down to really be able to make that a beautiful opportunity. And there are people out there—some of my mentors are working in the business world and have been for a long time and actually I think—there is a book that is coming out soon from one of my mentors, Carol Sanford. She wrote a book called, The Responsible Business a number of years ago and there is a new book coming out called, The Responsible Entrepreneur. And Carol gets regeneration. She is 50 years ahead of me in the depth of understanding about how regeneration and resilience works in the world. And I think that book is going to be really inspiring for both corporate folks and entrepreneurs out there to see how they can begin to take the developmental steps in the pathway towards regeneration, regardless of what their field of work is.
Martenson: We love getting new ideas for podcast guests, so thank you for that, because that sounds like somebody we absolutely should be talking to. And this is—we get back to this idea that you have to become the change you wish to see. To put it into good and evil terms: either you are a force for good at this point or you are not. And this is a think I love about permaculture is the core message—sure the problem always has the solution in it, but the thing that really resonates for me is this idea that if humans choose to, they can use their intelligence to really be a force of amazing abundance and accelerated regeneration. We can. We can choose. It is a choice. I love that option.
Roland: Yeah, it is a real mistake and confusion that sort of…it is in an acronism, I do not know. It is sort of…it is a confusion that I think has happened in the last few hundred years, and understandable confusion, because we have seen humans do a huge amount of damage to the ecological and cultural systems around us. That is definitely true, but there is a way…there was a way in each of our indigenous ancestry, whenever and wherever that was, where our people were living in a co-creative, positive role in their ecosystems and managing the landscape and managing the culture and society in such a way that the resilience and the health of the place actually increased.
And so I think it is really important that we be weary of the sort of preservationist or conservationist, you know, "Do not go in the wetlands?" or "Do not go by that water, because humans are bad!" We totally have to shift that perspective and understand that, if we are moving with consciousness and training and skill we can actually be regenerative in the landscape. And that is huge. My friends and mentors at the Regenesis Group are doing huge work right now to shift that perspective in the world of landscape architecture and architecture and design and really helping people reclaim their role as positive co-creative participants in the ecosystem.
Martenson: Love that. I love that. So I see we have come up on our time here. Thank you so much for your time. I want to ask you though, is there anything that you might want to point people towards here where they can follow your work or maybe sign up for a course if they want to take something like that and also where to find your book?
Roland: Absolutely. To find our book the website is 8forms.org. Regenerative Enterprise is the name of the book. You can order a hard copy or you can download the PDF right from the website. That is an awesome place to start to stay tuned to what we are developing. What we have released is version 1.0 and we are actually going around interviewing, finding regenerative enterprise ecologies and preparing to write the next version of the book. So that is a great place to stay tuned for that. 8forms.org.
And then there are so many places you can go to find permaculture courses. One kind of clearinghouse, free global directory of permaculture education is called Perma Courses. That is just Permacourses.com. You can search that by location or by date and find permaculture design courses all over the world. And then if you are on the agriculture side or are interested in really how to flow larger amounts of financial capital into regeneration, into living capital, then the upcoming Carbon Farming course which is in February 2015 is going to have a lot of great stuff, including a one-day conference on financing regenerative agriculture. And you can find more about that at Carbonfarmingcourse.com.
Martenson: Well, fantastic. Maybe I will attend that, because I live on 62 feet of sand. [Laughter] It is always a fight for organic content where I live, but I am sure that is something that applies anywhere people live. So with that, I really want to thank you so much for putting this framework together and for your time today and allowing us to use it in the course and it has been very helpful so far. So Ethan, thank you so much, and all the best in your efforts.
Roland: Thank you so much Chris. I look forward to being here again.
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