• Our principal current initiative is developing the NJ PACE Program, a statewide open platform clean energy financing program, which we’ve written about here.
  • We’re also looking to play a role in the Sandy recovery effort, both through PACE (which is being expanded to include hurricane-resistant and other resilient construction through current legislation) and through our community engagement initiatives, alternative currency proposals, and more.

This “letter of inquiry,” written in March 2013, sets out a recent articulation of these initiatives:

Letter of Inquiry

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Center for Regenerative Community Solutions is a new NJ nonprofit devoted to:

  1. Providing local communities with educational services on the effects of climate change and other related issues that can affect their long term ability to regenerate their ecological and economic systems,
  2. Providing local government institutions with assistance to undertake actions and initiatives to reduce and ameliorate present and expected extreme weather and other climate change effects,
  3. Providing small businesses and non-profit organizations with funding to undertake actions and initiatives to reduce and ameliorate present and expected climate change effects in low and moderate-income communities, including communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

We are currently looking for support and collaboration in connection with the following initiatives:

1.     Sustainable Shore Dialog Series

2.     Resiliency Financing Summit & Conference

3.     Property Assessed Clean Energy, Water Conservation, and Resilient Construction Financing

4.     Strengthening Local Food Systems

5.     Local Community Reinvestment

If you or your organization are interested in providing resources and joining with us to pursue these goals, please contact us at the address below.

1.     Sustainable Shore Dialog Series

We are proposing to conduct a series of workshops designed to assist communities affected by Hurricane Sandy to develop long term sustainable redevelopment plans that reflect our current scientific understandings of the impact that sea level rise, extreme weather events, and accelerating climate change have on coastal ecosystems.

On February 25, 2013 we submitted the following Letter of Interest to the NJ Recovery Fund:

CRCS  is partnering with other organizations to host a series of Community Dialogs for a Sustainable Shore that help communities think constructively about their economic, social and ecological future, addressing resilience, preparedness, and sustainability.

Our approach helps communities take a holistic view, grounded in how nature works, to explore what’s possible for their community — beyond traditional community planning and implementation.  In highly interactive one- and two-day programs, community stakeholders will work with experts and skilled facilitators to explore what’s been done in other places that can be adapted to local needs and conditions.

We use Open Space/World Café, fishbowls, other techniques, and a planning approach that outlines action steps by working backwards from the future.

Experts include leading-edge practitioners in community development, planning, permaculture design, resilient building, change management, transition leadership, and finance, as well as coastal ecosystem integrity and the effects of climate change.

Restoring the Jersey Shore requires not only balancing the needs for economic recovery, ecosystem restoration and human recreation, but also engaging communities in the kind of dialog that allows citizens and community leaders to reach a broad consensus on the way forward, based on objective information and reliable knowledge. Our goal is to fulfill, for selected communities, the objectives of “increasing local/regional capacity for visioning and planning [to] infuse long‐term resiliency and sustainability in community rebuilding and recovery.”

These Community Dialogs are designed to “interrupt” a number of predictable yet debilitating community dynamics: rebuilding the past; being disheartened or paralyzed; planning without consulting stakeholders; and solidifying vulnerabilities into the future.

Staff will consist of Victoria Zelin, Jonathan Cloud, and Andrew Willner (Sustainability Leaders), and Gus Escher (planning, finance and investment), 9 additional experts and local facilitators; and we will host two sessions in each of three communities including Brick, Ocean Gate, and one location TBD.

Unfortunately ours was not one of the projects chosen for further study by the Recovery Fund (they received 194 proposals asking for a total of $30 million in grants). Consequently we are looking for additional sponsors and grant funders to facilitate and expand this work to additional communities, to tie it in with other planning initiatives such as those of Together North Jersey, and to develop additional sustainability solutions.  We are also looking for collaborators, including local NGOs who can assist with logistics, permaculture designers, and additional facilitators. If your organization can assist in either of these categories, please let us know.

2.     Resiliency Financing Summit & Conference

Along with Better, Inc., CRCS is sponsoring Financing Resilience, a private summit followed by a fall 2013 public conference aimed at attracting both large and small players across the state who can provide resources, solutions, and the management abilities to implement them at scale. We believe that this topic is of interest to a growing range of businesses, nonprofits, policy makers, and investors — to focus attention on ensuring our future as an opportunity for local reinvestment on a very broad scale. Here some of the key elements and topics we see the conference as capable of addressing:

  • Redirecting Our Financial Capital
  • Financing Resilient Construction
  • Financing Community Preparedness
  • Funding Local Food Security
  • Funding Local Energy Security
  • Financing Regenerative Ecosystems
  • Funding Zero Waste Solutions
  • Financing the Economic Recovery in NJ
  • Financing Long Term Public Debt
  • Financing the Development of a 21st Century Workforce
  • Support for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Reinventing Community Banking
  • Strengthening Local Self-Reliance

The challenge of building resilience into everything we do as a society is an enormous one, and it is already emerging as a strong market opportunity in the early 21st century. A majority of the world’s population now recognizes that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, and that adapting to climate change will become as important as trying to prevent its worsening. In the face of global economic instability it is also essential to build more self-reliance into our homes, our communities, and our society. Resilience is an increasingly important aspect of sustainability, especially at a local level. We can coexist with a changing coastline such as the Jersey Shore, but only if we design for it; otherwise we risk repeating too many of the mistakes of the past. Financing resilient development (and re-development) is going to represent a significant cost to society, but it is also essential investment. Without it we are allowing parts of our society to decay and decline, which diminishes our economy, our moral standing, and our culture. This is, moreover, a profitable opportunity at many levels — an opportunity to do well by doing good for ourselves and for others — by reintegrating our communities and our living patterns with nature. We see climate adaptation as one of the emerging megatrends of the 21st century, and an area of growing need in coastal cities and towns. We are proposing to convene a broad dialog in New Jersey (in parallel with a similar conference co-sponsored by the Pratt Institute in New York) to address both the challenge and the opportunity. Please contact us if you are willing to be part of the convening body, or can help sponsor the events.

3.     Property Assessed Clean Energy, Water Conservation, and Resilient Construction Financing

In association with NJ PACE, LLC, we are developing a statewide, nonexclusive, privately-financed administrative mechanism to facilitate conservation and clean energy upgrades, beginning with commercial and industrial properties but eventually extending to residences also. PACE financing is attractive to investors and property owners because it is 100% financed through special assessments collected by the municipality along with regular property taxes and remitted to bond holders. (For more detailed information about PACE see

In addition, through our discussions with legislators and policy makers, proposals have been put forward to extend PACE financing to water conservation, hurricane- and flood-resistant construction, and shelters. This can contribute significant new sources of funding for shore reconstruction over a multi-year period.

If you or your organization are interested in assisting us in this effort, please contact us.

4.     Strengthening Local Food Systems

Through our association with the for-profit Regenerative Community Ventures, Inc. (RCV), CRCS is also interested in bringing to fruition a number of “sustainable infrastructure” projects, including projects designed to strengthen food security, support local farming, and combat both hunger and obesity by providing affordable natural nutrition to NJ communities. Regenerative Community Ventures, Inc. is a licensee of Unified Field Corporation, Inc. (UFC), and is designed to apply its social enterprise business model to local community development in New Jersey. Its current focus is the deployment of nutritive dehydration products and technologies which can support local organic growers to greatly expand their production. RCV has a powerful board of ad hoc advisers reaching into multiple constituencies, and is connected with a network of seven other pilot communities around the country using the UFC model. If this is an area of interest for you or your organization, please contact us.

5.     Local Community Reinvestment

One of the important long range goals of CRCS is to expand local investment in local economic revitalization. Too many Americans today have their savings in mutual funds and 401Ks invested in industries that are harmful to the environment, and while some are looking for more corporate social responsibility, few are recognizing the importance of investing locally, to strengthen the ecosystem that surrounds us. However, we need instruments and institutions that allow ordinary citizens to reinvest in their own communities. During a previous era of banking reform, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, which mandated that a percentage of deposits be loaned out within the communities that provided them, especially where those communities were economically disadvantaged. What we need today is a restoration of the strength of local community banking, which has intrinsically kept its lending local, and has relied for its strength and profitability the wellbeing of the local community. The new crowdfunding rules anticipated in 2014, the development of complementary currencies and credit exchanges are useful tools in financing this transition.

To enable this reinvention of community banking, however, we need to look beyond the financial systems underpinning Main Street, and seeking to understand and support the long term sustainable development of each unique place. The process of designing these unique regenerative community solutions is part of what we call “community permaculture.”


We are aligned with the work of the Financial Permaculture Institute and others in using these principles to redesign local economies.

Victoria Zelin, Gus Escher, & Jonathan Cloud Center for Regenerative Community Solutions Basking Ridge & Princeton, NJ Community Innovation Inspired by Nature 908-306-0272 • 609-683-1666 • 908-396-6179

Publications: Victoria Zelin & Jonathan Cloud:

Attachment A: Community Engagement Process What this is and why we are doing it

  • Offering a Community Dialog with Civic and Business Leaders
  • Bringing Resources to Bear on Community as well as Individual Challenges
  • Restore, or “Rebuild in a More Sustainable Way”
  • The Challenge of Securing a Sustainable Future for the Shore
  • Techniques for Economic, Social, and Cultural Adaptation and Transformation
  • The Structure of Effective Conversation: Possibility, Opportunity, Action — and dealing with Breakdowns
  • The Time is Now to Begin Responding to Climate Change: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” (Obama, 2nd Inaugural Address)
  • We are, finally, engaged in providing community solutions on a practical, financial level that are self-sustaining and regenerative

Entrepreneurship: Grasping the Steering Wheel of Life

I think we need to spend some time grasping the distinction “the steering wheel of life.” This is what entrepreneurship is all about. It is about responding to the opportunities and challenges that life presents to all of us, and choosing to navigate these with a goal in mind — whether that goal is to make money, or to do social good, or both. We need to remind ourselves that underneath the libertarian belief in the pursuit of self-interest there is a common social bond:

“Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” (Obama, 2nd Inaugural Address)

The President’s inaugural address truly reflects the temper of our times, both in what it says and in what it leaves unsaid. “Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words [of the Declaration of Independence] with the realities of our time.” The central inspiration of Obama’s speech is the equal declaration of community, of our togetherness as a single, unified people:

“Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

“But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”

The same is true in any community. For the community to address its challenges, it must come together and build anew its common future. We need to address the new realities of climate change (and of other damages to our habitat, our bodies, and ourselves), develop some new strategies and new habits and new directions. This is what social entrepreneurship is about, and it’s at the core of our mission both as a nonprofit and as one (or more) related for-profit entities that are created to serve the economic needs of the community. Effectively, we are an incubator and accelerator of regenerative enterprises — like the Financial Permaculture event in Homestead, FL, but using a different intervention model, one appropriate to a community in distress faced with rebuilding after an unprecedented disaster. Some indication of the depth of feeling and of meaning is conveyed in the video our friend Mitch Erickson circulated ( We can offer practical assistance on many levels, on access: to funding; to resilient, green, ecologically-appropriate building techniques; to distributed clean energy technologies; to economic resiliency, and resiliency in local food, transportation, and the other underpinnings of life in the face of today’s extreme weather, sea level rise, and the rising costs (both environmental and economic) of depending on fossil fuels for 87% of the energy we use today. But note that number: 87%. Renewable energy reached a major milestone in the first quarter of 2011, when it contributed 11.7 percent of total U.S. energy production (2.245 quadrillion BTUs of energy), surpassing energy production from nuclear power (2.125 quadrillion BTUs). (Source: We are already in transition to a new energy future, and this was also reinforced in the President’s speech:

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.” (Obama, 2nd Inaugural Address)

The point is not so much to endorse the President’s vision so much as to recognize that it would not have made sense to characterize the issue this way a generation ago; but it does now. However much the “old guard,” the fossil fuel industry, the Koch Brothers, the climate deniers, may resist the change — and in some cases are doing so quite effectively — the writing is on the wall, the conversation has changed, and it’s only a matter of time until their position will begin to shift (or be sidelined) as government and business tackle these changes at both a community and a global level. Again, Obama:

“Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.”

These are the characteristics of the American temperament. We will do it together, but with each individual taking an equal lead, fostering invention and innovation, with new technologies, new business models, and new social and financial tools as well. We can provide practical information to meet the immediate challenges; but learning how to swim in these new waters is a better use of our time as soon as we have met them.”

Community Permaculture

What distinguishes our practice is the field of inquiry that we call “community permaculture.” As authors, and facilitators of Financial Permaculture and Sustainable Vision events, we have developed our sense of the application of the principles of permaculture to entire neighborhoods and communities. Financial Permaculture, as developed by the Financial Permaculture Institute (see, addresses some vitally important elements of our economic systems, and has at its center the goal of revitalizing local communities through local investment. This is also the focus of our work with Unified Field Corporation to create a new generation of community banks. The essence of permaculture has been summed up as: take care of the earth, take care of the people, and share the surplus. If we ran our economy this way, we might have a shot at creating sustainable prosperity.

Permaculture, to quote the Permaculture Institute’s definition, is

an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how to design natural homes and abundant food production systems, regenerate degraded landscapes and ecosystems, develop ethical economies and communities, and much more.

It focuses on the interconnections between things much more than on the individual parts. Building on ecological principles and biomimicry, we can redesign  our economic system to mirror the ceaseless flows of energy and materials amongst cells and organisms that we observe operating flawlessly in the natural world:

  • Since permaculture focuses on the connections between things more than the parts, the design of resilient economies relies on each contributor to build a strong network.
  • Many small businesses and contributors are valued over a few larger corporations.
  • Decentralization of money flow allows money exchange a chance to slow, spread, and infiltrate into the local community.
  • Strong economies are built from empowered individuals who supply needs of the local community, while meeting many of their own needs in the same community.
  • Local business alliances and alternative currencies are sometimes used to facilitate this web weaving.

We can now see what “regenerative community solutions” are beginning to look like, and how we can bring them into being. Each of these solutions begins as a conversation — a conversation about what’s needed and what’s missing, and a conversation about what’s wrong with the present system. The main place where these all show up is in the community. Indeed, in our view re-localization and decentralization are one of the new “megatrends” of the 21st century. As we struggle to find less wasteful, more cost-efficient, less ecologically harmful lifestyles, in order to mitigate the consequences of climate change, natural resource depletion, and environmental contamination, it seems natural that we will aim to re-focus on the health, wealth, and self-sufficiency of our immediate communities. The scientific basis for this work is the study of ecology; and the application of this to solving the natural and human problems, that are wholly intertwined, is community permaculture design. As a practice, design involves both art and science, along with the “organic re-engineering” of our habitat to restore and enhance its regenerative capabilities. We need to change the way we think, work, and live on the planet. At CRCS, we seek to provide these tools and understandings to enhance the capabilities of local communities to refashion their own futures.