A New Model for Real Estate Is on the Block

By Mitchell Clute

What if the house flipping approach of real estate were applied to land and with the dual goals of sustainability and profit? Alejandro Levins is doing just that with what he calls regenerative real estate, and his vision goes way beyond green.

A New Concept in Land Management

Levins, CEO of Regenerative Real Estate, is no stranger to new thinking about diverse subjects. His father, Harvard professor Richard Levins, is a population geneticist and mathematical ecologist who studies evolution and metapopulations. “I grew up listening to backroom lectures about systems theory,” he muses.

Applying this interdisciplinary approach to land use, Levins was struck by the idea of setting up a real estate business through the lens of permaculture, regenerating spent farmland in order to increase its value—both economic and ecological. As a co-founder of the startup company Regenerative Real Estate, Levins is on the forefront of a new vision for healthy land use.

“Land that is more productive should be worth more,” Levins says. “If we acquire land in poor shape and by virtue of good management practices we make it healthy, robust and fertile again, we expect to see a rise in the underlying value of the real estate. Our goal is to prove there’s a potential profit and help spawn an industry that makes money by serving the real needs of the ecosystem.”

Regeneration in Action

Most land uses, from mining to farming, are extractive, leaving behind less life than at the beginning, Levins points out. But a truly regenerative approach doesn’t just minimize harm to the ecosystem; it offers measurable improvements over time.

How does regenerative real estate improve the land? “We create a farming operation based on ecological principles, one that not only produces crops that break even or make a profit, but one that also improves the ecosystem,” says Levins. “The oxygen it produces, the carbon it sequesters, the species whose habitat it supports—all these build resilience in the system and enhance the system’s regenerative capacity.”

In explaining how regeneration differs from sustainability, Levins looks to other systems, such as the human body. For example, if you cut yourself, a host of mechanisms in the body spring into action in a coordinated effort to heal the wound—and all without any conscious effort on our part.

“The overall ecosystem of the earth works the same way,” he indicates. “If an old-growth forest is bulldozed, you’ll see a progression of healing responses until that forest is eventually restored.” By supporting these natural healing responses, he says, we can create management practices that help rather than harm the land used for farming.

The Human Factor

“We are not separate from nature,” Levins asserts. “We arose naturally and we live within this larger ecosystem.” That understanding, he says, requires us to make wise choices about when and how to use extractive technology—mining, for instance, or fossil fuel extraction—within the larger context of a healthy system.

“If you imagine a utopian future where humanity has learned to live in balance with nature,” Levins suggests, “it doesn’t mean everything we do is regenerative; but it means that on a net basis, we’re not undermining our own ability to live.”

To learn more, visit www.regenerativerealestate.com.