Why Should We Strive for Regeneration Instead of Sustainability? Irish Trailblazer Entrepreneur Powering Change

WRITTEN BY Szilvia Szabo

February 20, 2024

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Why Should We Strive for Regeneration Instead of Sustainability? Irish Trailblazer Entrepreneur Powering Change

Szilvia Szabo

20 Feb, 2024

Sustainability has come a long way from a side issue to a strategic pillar for many companies, while we see pledges to net-zero emissions skyrocketing alongside ESG and impact reporting.

However, experts are concerned that these efforts will not be enough to combat the challenges we are facing since we have already overstepped six out of nine of the Planetary Boundaries that practically secure our life on Earth as we know it. 

Climate change is only one of those boundaries, among others like ocean acidification or biosphere integrity, and crossing them means an increasing risk to people and the ecosystems we are part of, according to the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Nicola Connolly, former sustainability consultant for International Development Agencies and Founder of award-winning Irish natural skincare brand Nunaïa, says: “Sustainability is mainly about doing less harm and keeping things afloat, which is a step forward but not a solution. Looking at the climate crisis, it is clear that we need to do more.”

She adds:

“Nunaïa has been a regenerative business from day one that operates in a holistic way across our entire supply chain so that ecosystems, communities and living systems become healthier from doing business with us.”

The emerging concept of regeneration promotes the need to actively seek opportunities to restore, renew and reinvigorate natural resources and social systems in order to respond to accumulative threats from loss of biodiversity, impacts of climate change and social inequalities.

Nicola built everything from the ground up based on over a decade of experience working with indigenous people and traditional communities in South America, which led her to explore the power of plants while learning about regenerative farming in practice.

Explaining the roots of their approach, she shares:

“The name we choose, ‘Nunaïa’, is a blend of three words in the Quechua language that means soul tribe and stems from a vision that we are all connected. Tribe is important to us on multiple levels, from growing our key ingredients collaborating with local communities in Peru to our headquarters in Lough Derg in County Tipperary in Ireland, all the way to our customers around the world.”

Nicola recalls how naive and idealistic she was when she first set out from Dublin as a consultant to help local communities in the Amazon, feeling sure she would change them for the better.

As it turned out, just the opposite happened.

“As I learnt about these fascinating cultures in some of the most pristine and remote parts of the world, I also started to discover how they were using plants from their natural environment to heal their body and minds. 

They were using highly effective natural remedies with their ancestral traditions and wisdom that they had been using for thousands of years. Despite the harsh conditions, they were incredibly content and healthy.”

One of the most humbling experiences for Nicola was when she was sitting on the floor of a mud hut, discussing plans to improve business practices for the local community. At one point, a woman from the tribe took her out using a single machete knife to make their way into the jungle. Then, the woman made a single cut into the bark of a tree, and glue came out from the tree, which they then used to heal the skin.

This completely switched her mindset from being the one with the knowledge to becoming a student. 

She apprenticed with traditional healers for seven years to channel the wisdom passed down from generation to generation, studying herbalism and rituals to restore physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Inspired by these experiences, the idea of creating Nunaïa was born to help bring moments of connection and balance back into people’s daily lives through the healing power of plants. 

“I did not choose the beauty industry. I only followed my passion for combining all the power of natural elements and plants, letting that guide me.”

Since this industry is famous for exploiting resources and greenwashing, she wanted to lead by example, showing that adopting a regenerative business model makes it possible to innovate new solutions while allowing communities and ecosystems to thrive across the supply chain.  

Regeneration means more than just preserving natural resources. It requires a holistic mindset to elevate communities and whole ecosystems rather than just focusing on elements directly connected to production.

In other words, it aims to accomplish a model that provides financial incentives for a business while generating an overall net positive outcome on a systemic level, leaving people and nature healthier.

One of the sectors where it could drive meaningful change in a relatively short period of time is agriculture. Given that one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from this sector, contributing to land degradation and loss of biodiversity, any improvement would have a ripple effect.

Regenerative farming practices like keeping living roots in the soil, integrating animals and trees or growing a diverse range of crops can also be up to 60% more profitable after six years, according to Climate Farmers’ statistics.

These findings are underpinned by the Boston Consulting Group report claiming US farmers can expect significant financial gains once they adopt these methods.

Although, this means a fundamental shift in how we look at the purpose of starting and running a business. 

Nicola firmly believes that if she could manage to put all the pieces together to make it work, it must make sense for others, especially with more resources at hand.

She admits that besides going through all the challenges a typical startup would have – lack of resources, securing funding, building a team, developing products – keeping the regenerative approach besides earning highly recognised eco-certifications was demanding.

Her determination paid off when Nunaïa won the Cosmoprof Award in 2023 in Italy in the best ‘Green & Organic’ category, triumphing among 700 international brands.

“This award is like the ‘Oscars’ of the beauty industry. When they called our name, we couldn’t believe that judges, including some leading global experts, had voted for us. It was a rush of pride and reassurance that the values we represent beyond producing a top-quality product matter.”

When asked what made them win, Nicola shares that they not only tick all the boxes as a skincare brand but also present added elements such as having carbon-negative packaging without offsetting, which was made possible by using mushroom mycelium, among other factors.

Winning was like jumping on a trampoline for the business, spiking brand awareness and giving them the edge they needed to scale internationally. 

Growing the business also means growing its impact.

She further explains her attitude towards scaling the company, focusing on its soil-skin-soul ethos:

“Nunaïa combines my passion for sustainable development and belief in purpose-driven, regenerative business models to solve many of our current climate and societal challenges while leaving places and communities thriving and more resilient.”

For her, it is a way of thinking and living, looking at the business as a way of generating change.

“We support communities locally through local charities. We also run lectures and educational seminars about our regenerative business model for students and entrepreneurs and mentoring entrepreneurs interested in developing sustainable businesses.”

Although she definitely feels the grip of running a business, saying that it is easy to get caught up in the commercial nature of our world.

“I constantly remind myself of our vision and why we are crafting our superfood skincare rituals.

My happy place is when I’m working with plants, experimenting with new formulas, and being busy in the lab.

I would love to share the power of plants coming from our community of growers to treat not only our skin health but our emotional well-being with as many people as possible while transforming Nunaia into an international brand at the forefront of the regenerative business movement.”

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