Ecological performance standards for regenerative urban design

Janine Benyus, Biomimicry 3.8
Jamie Dwyer, Biomimicry 3.8
Sara El-Sayed, Arizona State University
Clint A. Penick, Kennesaw State University


Ecosystem services encompass the tangible human benefits that ecosystems provide. Past efforts to maintain ecosystem services have focused on conserving and rehabilitating natural ecosystems, but there is growing consensus that the built environment must contribute these services as well. The field of regenerative design seeks to create infrastructure that contributes to and enhances local ecosystems, but a key challenge has been the development of baseline standards that reflect ecosystem health as opposed to business-as-usual design. To address this challenge, we draw on work by Biomimicry 3.8 and project partners to outline a framework for ecological performance standards (EPS) that can be applied to regenerative projects. While current sustainability frameworks quantify negative impacts of proposed designs and seek to reduce those impacts, EPS specifies positive-impact performance standards based on local ecosystems. The EPS process involves four steps: (1) identifying a local reference ecosystem, (2) quantifying ecosystem services at the reference ecosystem to develop EPS metrics, (3) designing to meet or exceed EPS metrics at the building site, and (4) implementing and assessing the proposed design. We outline these steps in detail and provide three case studies that highlight implementation successes and challenges at the city, development, and building scale.