Biomimicry's Newest Frontier: What can Nature Teach our Systems?
|Photo credit: Natalie Hamilton|
Bioinspiration, biomimicry, biomimetics, biophilia. While there are various terms to describe it, the basic notion of nature as genius/genii with a seemingly infinite basket of solutions for our world's problems is a sexy topic these days. But can it be an economic game-changer?
A recent report from the San Diego-based Fermanian Institute for Business and Economics has proposed so.
But to trigger widespread economic change we need to jump beyond harvesting nature's genuis for cool, new product or even process ideas, say biomimicry thought leaders and representatives of businesses applying biomimicry.
Nature also shows us how to set up organization and local economic systems to be resilient and upwardly evolutionary. This appears to be the new frontier with the greatest promise for widespread, global change.
Organization System Solutions
Take what's in the works at Interface these days, the forward-edge carpet company that created a nature-inspired product about 12 years ago, and continues to infuse biomimicry into its product design work.
Interface director of strategic sustainability Lindsay James is completing a certificate program through Biomimicry 3.8, a biomimicry consultation and education enterprise.
Through her research she and fellow students Maria O'Farrell and Amy Coffman Phillips are looking to understand how nature enhances the capacity for resilience within a system.
An exciting possibility that's emerged from the study to date is that in addition to resilience ecosystems have something to teach about how human systems can create cultures of innovation.
How do we spark transformation at the right time and be able to make the most change, with the least amount of effort? That's the question Lindsay expects nature can help answer.
As an example, consider ecosystems adapted for periodic disruption like fire.
What can businesses and the economic system learn from that?
“What we have right now in the economic system is the belief that that buildup can continue infinitely, we can just stockpile more and more,” says Lindsay’s colleague and Interface manager of strategic sustainability Mikhail Davis.
“But that’s not the way you see cycles in nature working. You see that the health of the ecosystem depends on periodic disruption of that stockpiling until you have a release to create a transformation and to create new growth and new ideas.”
Lindsay completes her course in January. She's planning to offer a workshop for businesses and integrate her learnings across the board at Interface thereafter.
Local Economy Solutions
There's also new and growing interest for local economies to learn from nature, Axiom News also heard in conversations.
Biomimicry thought leader and co-founder of the consultancy Biomimicry 3.8 Dayna Baumeister says her organization is seeing what she calls a second wave of interest in the field. How can nature influence the economic development plan of a community is one of the newer questions.
Belgian economist and entrepreneur Gunter Pauli is also highlighting the potential in emulating natural systems to unleash entrepreneurship in local economies. Over the last two years he's tracked about 200 cases that are clear examples of this.
Gunter says creating more jobs is at the heart of ensuring economic thriving and personal happiness, and that nature teaches us how to create these jobs in way that also sustains the environment.
Resilient, Innovative - and Restorative
What if companies figured out the keys to resilience and creating cultures of innovation — and at the same time learned how to be restorative to both the environment and humanity?
Biomimicry 3.8 has codified a set of design principles that appear to occur over and over in nature. These principles allow for life to continually create conditions conducive for more life on the planet.
These same life principles could shape a company's operations or a community's economic plan in such a way that they restored, rather than just "did less bad."
Lindsay says her greatest aspiration is for Interface to reach just such a point, where it's footprint is beyond just "zero," but it's actually creating conditions for all life to thrive. She sees these life's principles providing clarity around how to do this.
Society is Poised
It seems there is a shift in consciousness suggesting society as a whole is poised to make the most of these possibly new ways around how we work our economic and thereby social systems.
As environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken first observed almost 20 years ago, an almost in unison rethink of the traditional industrial system is growing across the planet.
Consider the sharing economy and how that’s grown so much lately, or Web 2.0 and social media sparking and enabling unprecedented co-creation and collaboration.
As people not only question but take action, biomimicry offers a way to bridge from the "old way" that's been so dominant, to a system harmonized with nature's principles and practices so that both humanity and Earth can move to greater well-being.
1. Biomimicry can show us how to build resilience and cultures of innovation throughout our various systems. What's such a notion spark for you? If you want to learn more, check out Biomimicry 3.8. You could also add a thought or question below, and we'll do our best to add clarity or other ideas that might be helpful.
2. But there’s biomimicry, and then there’s the idea of an economic and social transition. What’s it all about? What are other features, tools, fields of action? Axiom News is committed to further journalistic exploration of these and related questions. If you want to become of this somehow, send us a note and we can set up a chat to discuss co-creation possibilities.
To provide feedback on this story directly, please e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.ca.
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