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As part of the European Research programme, COST (Cooperation in Science and Technology), since 2017 a network of researchers and experts from industry, academic and technological development organisations have been actively addressing the question of what would a paradigm shift in sustainability in the built environment sector look like. A new paradigm calls for a more comprehensive and holistic approach to sustainability, one that focuses less on energy, but rather on actively contributing to the regeneration and improvement of people, society and planet health.

Under the title "RESTORE: Rethinking Sustainability TOwards a Regenerative Economy", the initiative unites specialists from the academic, public and private sector from 36 countries. COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is one of the main pillars of research collaboration in Europe, along with Horizon 2020.

COST actions promote thematically open research networks and enable a shared exchange and better coordination of research activities, including the dissemination of their results. Particularly noteworthy is the multi- and interdisciplinary approach. COST enables researchers, engineers and scientists from all areas of science and technology to jointly develop their own ideas and initiate new initiatives. At regular events, workshops, training courses and conferences, current and emergent topics and approaches are explored.

This article provides an introduction to the work of the RESTORE Regenerative Sustainability group and recent publication Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative, available at



The transdisciplinary network RESTORE was launched in 2017 and since then has been dedicated to dialogue on a restorative and regenerative sustainability approach in the areas of planning, construction, operation and maintenance of buildings. The starting point for this discussion is the insufficiently recognized measures for buildings and cities, which only contribute little to achieving necessary climate goals. Despite more than a decade of environmental sustainability policies and programs based on limiting global warming to 2°C, progress on key sustainability issues has not been meaningfully addressed.

In 1987, the Brundtland Commission, also known as the World Commission on the Environment and Development, agreed on the widely accepted definition of sustainable development: "Sustainable is a development that meets the needs of the present generation, without the opportunities endanger future generations, satisfy their own needs and choose their lifestyle. "

According to current practice, sustainability standards for buildings and cities are interpreted as not fully progressing this requirement, and that they are insufficiently geared towards a longer-term restoration of a functioning ecosystem.

In December 2015, 195 countries agreed at the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) for the first time on a general, legally binding global agreement on climate change. The agreement includes a global action plan designed to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

These targets clearly require a paradigm shift, not only to minimize losses and damage, but also to accommodate positive climate protection measures. This is where the "restorative" and "regenerative" approaches to sustainability come into play and specifically calls for an active contribution to the regeneration and improvement of the environment in the construction sector.

In view of the Paris Agreement of 2015, with an aspiration to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C, the sustainability goals should be sharpened in all areas and appropriate strategies should be adopted to enable a shift towards a purely positive and restorative sustainability mindset. The built environment plays a decisive role. It contributes greatly to climate change with a share of 40 percent in energy, water, carbon and waste. Conversely, there is also great potential for a positive contribution and a key to successful solutions through potential improvements in the building sector.

The COST RESTORE network therefore works on a comprehensive framework concept of "restorative and regenerative design" with regard to the development, testing and implementation of sustainable solutions for sustainable development. In multidisciplinary cooperation, practitioners are encouraged to think beyond the confines of their subject specializations, along with expertise from other scientific disciplines such as ecology, geology, biology, physiology and psychology, sharing knowledge and developing it for all phases of building design, construction and operation.

In its first year, a RESTORE working group used their cooperation to reflect on sustainability language and definitions to narrow down the cornerstones of a renewable sustainability approach. For this purpose, strategic goals and action areas of a regenerative sustainability agenda were prioritized. The RESTORE team suggests broadening the very narrow focus on the "energy performance" of a building and looking at a broader context that includes places, people, ecology, and culture. The focus is on the idea of ​​planning and construction tasks to have a positive and regenerating impact on ecosystems, with special prioritization of human health and well-being, alongside approaches that increase user’s connectivity with the natural ecosystem, for example Biophilia.

In-depth discussions, facilitated by sub group leads from seven EU countries addressed four thematic groups; Social aspects; New construction; Historic buildings; and Economics - yielded statements regarding long-term visions and necessary measures to achieve them.



The regeneration of ecosystems is primarily addressed in ecological studies. In many cases, the social role of citizens and communities in regeneration processes is neglected. The excessive exploitation of Earth's resources by human activity creates serious negative impacts on planet Earth, especially on living systems. It is impossible to live a healthy life in damaged ecosystems. Sustainable development instead of growth (at any cost) must be the goal for people, communities, businesses, academia and governments.

It is crucial to anchor such change in thinking and the further development of sustainable, responsible action in the present and future education system. The future will require increasing public participation and a broader discussion involving relevant decision-makers in problem identification and formulation of solution proposals.

The RESTORE vision of "well-being and love with awareness of the planet" derives from the ‘worldview’ realization that health and well-being are only achievable and sustainable if they exist at all levels of the system, from the individual to the complete ecological system earth. It builds on the healthy and fruitful interaction between (eco) systems without the dominance of any species (including humans). The goal is a healthy environment through the overall systemic interaction of people, ecosystems and the built environment. In order to achieve this vision, it is crucial to identify existing "agents of change" and, building on this, build a broad network of "agents of change" towards a regenerative future.



"Restorative Sustainability" aims to restore a socially and environmentally balanced and healthy ecosystem. With regard to new building, this approach aims at reversing and recovering damage already suffered. In practice, this means the capacity of the built environment to positively influence health, well-being and quality of life through its life cycles. The key element is to strengthen the connection between humans and nature through for example building biophilic design concepts.

"Regenerative sustainability" extends this requirement to the point that the regenerative design process not only restores balanced ecosystems, but also improves the quality of life for biotic (living) and abiotic (chemical) compounds - components of the environment. Regenerative buildings follow an overall systemic approach between physically constructed and natural surroundings, such as place, water, material, energy, plants, microbes, people and culture.



Historical buildings hand down history, tradition and cultural and social practices from one generation to the next. In buildings memories of the past and lessons for the future materialize, strengthening the importance of a buildings relationship with place. The designation and selection of historically sustainable buildings is always linked to the construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of memory and identity. Conservation, restoration, reconstruction, reuse and revival are important approaches to preserving a living cultural heritage, whilst ensuring an ecologically sound and socially equitable future.

Sustainable development requires the widespread reuse, preservation and integration of cultural heritage within a socio-cultural or material cycle. A restorative approach aims to restore the performance of social and ecological systems. This can be achieved, for example, by better accessibility and flexibility, expansion and hybridization of their functions. If no other recycling options are available, adaptive reuse should be pursued as a preferred strategy, which means recycling individual building materials and parts used in other applications

The vision of "regenerative historic buildings" also includes the notion of a "catalyst function". Existing buildings are considered part of a social and ecological system that not only regenerates itself, but can also contribute to the further development of wider systems. All are preceded by socio-cultural integration into the local community cultural context and the strengthening of cultural heritage awareness.



The circular economy is based on the concept that growth and prosperity are decoupled from the consumption of natural resources and thus do not contribute to the deterioration of the state of ecosystems. By not throwing used products away, but rather putting their components and materials into the right value chain a healthy economy can be generated in harmony with nature. Regenerative Economics extends the concept of circular economy. While the circular economy aims to keep products up to date through a positive development cycle, the regenerative system sees itself in a cycle of ongoing rebirth, renewal and development of materials, products and buildings. This transition to a regenerative economy means a shift towards an ecological worldview in which nature is the model.



In-depth regenerative sustainability discussions with participants from across Europe were facilitated by sub group leads from seven EU countries.

Language of Sustainability: Martin Brown, Fairsnape, UK.

Social, Health and Participation: Katri Pulkkinen, Department of Built environment at Aalto University School of Engineering, Finland.

Blerta Vula Rizvanolli, Department of Architecture in the University for Business and Technology in Pristina, Kosovo.

New Construction: Diana Apró, ABUD – Advanced Building and Urban Design, Budapest, Hungary.

Historic Buildings: Egla Luca, Polis University – Faculty of Architecture and Design / Department of Engineering and Architecture, Tirana, Albania, Edeltraud Haselsteiner, Vienna University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and Planning, Austria

Regenerative Economics: Diane Kopeva, Business Faculty, University of National and World Economy, Sofia, Bulgaria.



The dialogue on framework conditions, objectives and concepts for the practical implementation of a restorative or regenerative sustainability agenda is still in its infancy after this first year of intensive theoretical discourse.

In the recently completed publication "Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative", the concepts presented here are comprehensively documented and illustrated with case studies, to continue the discussion process.

Brown, M., Haselsteiner, E., Apró, D., Kopeva, D., Luca, E., Pulkkinen, K., Vula Rizvanolli, B., (Eds.): Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative. (2018) COST Action CA16114 RESTORE, Working Group One Report: Restorative Sustainability.


Available at