Capital Institute, a Greenwich-based nonpartisan think tank founded by a former J.P. Morgan managing director, is announcing a worldwide collaborative effort to address escalating global crises driven by what it believes are unsustainable economic practices.
The initiative, called The Regenerative Communities Network, is designed to be a collaboration among some of the world’s leading place-based regenerative practitioners and thought leaders. The network is organized by “hubs,” aimed at building an economy that utilizes nature’s laws of sustainability to unlock prosperity for humans and the environment. Seven hubs have been established so far. The nearest are in the Hudson Valley, the Buffalo-Niagara area and on Staten Island, along with those in Denver, Mexico City and a pair in Costa Rica.
“I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to build an economic system that will work for people and the planet for eight years now,” said Capital Institute founder John Fullerton at his 73 Arch St. office. “We’re facing serious questions about exponential growth on a finite planet, and the need for an economic system that serves to counteract the greater and greater wealth disparity around the world.”
Regenerative economic theory essentially holds that economies should follow nature’s rules, Fullerton explained. But instead of the traditional dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest model, regenerative communities encourage various stakeholders to work together for the economic and social and environmental benefit of all.
“These are principles that have sustained themselves for billions of years,” Fullerton said. “Why shouldn’t they apply to the human economy, which is also a living system, as well?”
Fullerton is quick to note that he didn’t come up with the theory itself, but instead came upon it while still employed at J.P. Morgan. Such books as 1972’s “The Limits of Growth,” which among other conclusions maintained that the limits of economic and population growth would become abundantly evident by 2072 if significant changes did not occur, made a lasting impression, he said.
Fullerton noted, however, that he did not leave Wall Street in disgust, as many have postulated. “I’d been with J.P. Morgan for 18 years, starting right out of college,” he said. “They had a great culture back then. But I was growing increasingly restless with where I was working and where the business was heading.”
That restlessness came to a head in the wake of Morgan’s merger with Chase Manhattan in 2000, resulting in what today is J.P. Morgan Chase. “It became clear that the culture I’d loved for so long was going to be gone,” Fullerton said. “It was becoming increasingly incongruous with who I was as a person.”
Resigning in early 2001, he became immersed in impact investing, where capital is aligned with a social or environmental purpose, and was heading to a meeting in Manhattan to discuss investing in a charter school on Sept. 11, 2001. Seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center in person, he said, “is what pushed me into a deep introspective period.”
Exploring regenerative and impact investing became even more important in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. He said, “that was what really led to the formation of Capital Institute.”
Playing into the 2010 formation of the organization is the ongoing belief that wealth and finance need to be redefined to better serve an emerging ecologically and socially regenerative economy that promotes equitable development and shared well-being while paying heed to vital ecosystem functions.
Capital Institute has grounded its theory of regenerative economics in practice through its “Field Guide to a Regenerative Economy,” which Fullerton said has been used by over 50 projects and enterprises that demonstrate the emergence of regenerative economic activity in the real world as direct responses to the building pressures of the day.
Forming the network was the next logical step, he said. “Network members are exploring together a new strategic ‘roadmap’ for the transition out of our extractive, finance-driven economic system into a more just, regenerative, and thus sustainable way of living on this earth,” he stated.
The network began to come together in 2017 in response to invitations from communities that heard of his and the institute’s work on building regenerative economies in diverse bioregions around the world. “Our growth has mostly been through word of mouth,” he said. “We only go where we’re invited. We’re not about telling people what to do.”
The network’s primary goals are to:
• Support the development of knowledge-sharing and skill-building networks within and across communities;
• Increase regenerative capacity at the individual, organizational, community, bioregional and global level;
• Help to drive substantial amounts of capital toward regenerative initiatives;
• Inspire a fresh policy agenda.
Fullerton said he’s been impressed by how many like-minded thinkers he’s encountered around not just the country, but the world, including in Brazil and Norway. “What we are trying to do is go to places where ideally there are three or four interested organizations, not just one passionate person, representing different sectors, nonprofits, universities, government affiliates, other companies, that are well-connected with that area’s critical stakeholders,” he said.
The institute also provides two years of no-cost support in a cycle of engagement that includes leadership support, storytelling, systems mapping, metrics, workshops, regenerative project support and connections to regenerative capital.
Capital Institute hopes to establish 50 hubs on six continents over the next five years, Fullerton said.