Storm Cunningham coined the term “Restorative Development” in his 2002 book, “The Restoration Economy”

Note to Reader:

The term ‘restorative development’ was coined by the writer Storm Cunningham in his first book The Restoration Economy, published in 2002. It was the first book to document the new disciplines and fast-growing industries that are renewing our natural, built, and socioeconomic environments. Now, Storm Cunningham has produced an online Resilience Strategy Guide:

“Visionaries, designers, planners, policy makers, and project managers abound. Strategists are rare. As a result, resilience and revitalization efforts often fail due to 1) bad strategy, and 2) no strategy,” says Storm Cunningham. “What we destroy, destroys us. Since strategies are our path to success, they become our primary interface with our world, and thus determine in large part how the world responds to us. Thus, what we restore, restores us. What we revitalize, revitalizes us.”

The program for the Nanaimo Water Symposium on April 11-12 caught Storm Cunningham’s long-distance attention for two reasons. First, he has made multiple presentations to British Columbia audiences over the years, and has a particular affinity for Vancouver Island. Secondly, a vision for restorative development that revitalizes watershed function and health provides a philosophical backdrop for the Symposium.

On the eve of the Symposium, Storm Cunningham shared his reflections (below) in an interview with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. The Symposium is a call for action because adapting to climate change requires transformation in how we value nature and service land. An informed stewardship sector can be a catalyst for action on Vancouver Island and beyond, through collaboration with local government.

Storm Cunningham’s insights provide useful context regarding the challenge of moving from awareness to implementation.

RESTORATIVE DEVELOPMENT: “The process of restoring our planet and revitalizing our communities is finally becoming a rigorous discipline, with the proper education and tools,” says Storm Cunningham, author & futurist

Ecological Footprint /Restoration Footprint

“A long time ago, I had a conversation with the University of British Columbia’s Bill Rees. He is known world-wide for creating the ecological footprint concept,” recalled Storm Cunningham. (The book by Bill Rees on the human ‘eco-footprint’ has arguably become the world’s best-known sustainability indicator.)

“The whole idea of reducing our footprint is great, I said to Bill, but what about the flip side? Shouldn’t we also be measuring the restorative effects that our society, and our economy, are having? My point was that, at the same time as we are decreasing our destructive footprint, we can also be increasing our restoration footprint. That is a core message of restorative development.”

Genesis of the Vision for Restorative Development

“I have been an amateur herpetologist all my life and I just love reptiles and amphibians. I am also a scuba diver. The combination of the two passions led me to the restoration focus that has defined my career,” continued Storm Cunningham.

“My Aha Moment occurred around 1990 when I volunteered to assist a German scientist with a project in Jamaica. He was working on a really unique and effective technology for restoring coral reefs quickly. He needed volunteer scuba divers to help him place the experiments on the ocean floor. So I went down there for a week.

Make Less Worse or Make Better:

“During that week, I saw his experiments in action, and they were really eye-opening. That was when it struck me that we do not have to be satisfied with the normal kind of sustainability paradigm – which is merely slowing down the rate of damage and reducing the amount of pollution and destruction.

“At that moment, I realized that the goal of making the world “less worse” does not go far enough. Rather, we have it within our power to undo previous damage and make the world better. That’s when the idea of a restoration economy hit me.”

The Challenge for Engineers is to ‘Design with Nature’

“In my experience, the engineering profession has trouble adopting the restorative mind-set. And why is that? Simply put, their problem is an inability to come to terms with this reality-check – almost all of their work in the 21st century needs to be based on undoing, or re-doing, all of their work from the 20th century. That is what it will take to restore natural systems, and to revitalize cities,” emphasized Storm Cunningham.

“A decade ago or so, it did look like there was a ‘design with nature’ movement underway in the engineering profession. Maybe there is hope, I thought at that time, that a few leaders would create a nice wedge in the practitioner consciousness that could lead to better things. But it was not to be. It seemed that the engineers crawled back into their old ways and forgot about a new way of doing business.

“Some years ago I attended a seminar at the headquarters of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The guest speaker was from American Rivers. He was eloquent and quite funny. He told a wonderful set of stories that provided a window into the civil engineering mind-set. They are unable to grasp the inherent complexity and unpredictability of working with natural systems, he explained. Civil engineers are always trying to shove nature into some form that would make it predictable and controllable. And that is not real world,” concluded Storm Cunningham.