How do we work and thrive together?

From broken to bountiful in 20 years – for people, communities, business and our planet. Our solution: design and demonstrate a practical approach for long-term holistic landscape management and restoration that serves nature, people, community and business.


By 2040, with our partners, we aim to transform 100 million hectares of degraded landscapes: improving the soil health, expanding species diversity, producing abundant food and increasing economic opportunity. The rising global demand for healthy food requires a transition to healthy landscapes with innovative agricultural practices that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are based on ecosystem functions. Responses must be integrated and systemic – and they must spark hope. Because whole communities are required to reverse decades, sometimes centuries, of ecological degradation, the return of inspiration is essential. Initiatives must be based on long-term commitment, operate at a landscape scale and involve a wide range of societal stakeholders in conception, planning and implementation. To succeed, these initiatives must be driven by a shared recognition that we need to reconnect with nature, that the environment is not a lost cause and that we have the power to turn things around.


The 4 Returns framework (see below) is at the heart of our work: combining social and ecological needs with science and entrepreneurship to create a practical, proven, framework for resilience and prosperity. It involves the formation of a joint long term landscape vision with communities, partners, funders, government and more, and for all to commit to lasting change of 20 years or longer. Through the 4 Returns we hope to create a world where ecology drives economy – where Landscape Restoration Economies are the new norm and become a driving force behind exciting innovation and businesses with bright futures.


The landscapes where we work with our partners on proofs of concept show that large-scale. long-term change is possible when ecology, business, finance and community-led initiatives mesh together. These landscapes already cover 2.5 million hectares in Australia, Spain, The Netherlands and South Africa, and more landscapes will follow over the coming years. Each location unifies what’s best for the land and people with business model innovation, uncovering sources of livelihood and funding for farmers and restoring local ecosystems (see Chapter 5).


As business cases evolve, policy and capital are directed towards community and ecology, further influenced by a movement of bringing theory and practitioners together. That is where Commonland and its partners meet. 4 Returns therefore doesn’t just ‘do good’, it changes the systems of food, policy, and local economy so that they keep doing good, generation after generation.

4 Returns Framework

A common language that everyone understands — the 4 Returns framework.


The 4 Returns framework is a practical and tested system-change framework used by stakeholders to undertake landscape management and restoration in an integrated way. It supports parties with differing needs to work together to effect change. It empowers farmers, conservationists, local entrepreneurs and change-makers worldwide with the tools to develop a joint vision for holistic landscape management and restoration with sustainable, thriving businesses.

We call it 4 Returns because it is designed to deliver ‘returns’ while reducing risks to all stakeholders, both within and outside the landscape. The framework can be understood by bottom-up actors (farmers, indigenous people, local governments, entrepreneurs, and nature conservation groups) and top-down institutions (finance industry, business and governments). Each landscape is divided into 3 landscape zones to identify where action is needed. 5 process elements bring (bottom-up) actors together around a shared vision – and this vision is committed to by all parties for a single generation – or at least 20 years.

Theory U

Theory U: creating a shared vision and action plan


Commonland drives results through Theory U, adapting the methodology to holistic landscape management in close collaboration with the Presencing Institute. This stakeholder mobilisation approach, instrumental for implementing the 5 elements of the 4 Returns framework, opens up the minds, hearts, and efforts of all stakeholders, thus fostering one shared vision, bottom-up change and leadership.

The 4 Returns framework uses the principles of Theory U to ensure all stakeholders are engaged and involved in formulating a landscape restoration plan, its implementation and the resulting outcome.

Strategic intent 2022 - 2024

The size of our ambition to transform 100 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2040, are matched only by the necessity for large-scale systems change to come about. Our detailed strategy turns these aspirations into concrete realities that can be measured and built on year after year.


All Commonland teams have jointly worked on Roadmap 2024 which, combined with the policy, landscape valuation and fundraising strategies, guides all organisation efforts, emphasising cooperation across teams for the coming years. In implementing this roadmap, we collaborate closely with our landscape partners on the ground and align with our institutional, scientific, and funding partners.

Read more about our key activities here.

“A holistic landscape framework with a universal language and practical guidelines that unites people from different sectors, that’s what is needed to create an economy that is based on Nature Based Solutions.”

- Angela Andrade, Chair of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management