• 9/6/2023 9:39:42 AM

Biomimicry: Can the Business World get Inspired by Nature?

Natural processes operate autonomously and efficiently. For instance, in a forest, trees, plants, and animals collaborate in harmony to create a complex ecosystem. This ecosystem is self-sufficient and sustainable. Popularized by Janine Benyus' 1997 book "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature," the fundamental principle of biomimicry is to apply solutions developed by nature over millions of years of evolutionary processes to human-specific problems. Biomimicry extends beyond mere biological replication and encompasses systems thinking and integration. While it may seem at first glance to be primarily about emulating nature's structural designs, biomimicry is a complex and profound field rooted in diverse domains, ranging from Darwin's theories of evolution to the principles of systems biology. Benyus identifies the five core principles of biomimicry as follows:

  1. Takes inspiration from nature's design and processes.

  2. Strives to find new ideas and solutions to human problems.

  3. Aims for sustainability and environmental protection.

  4. Is interdisciplinary.

  5. Is open-source.

  6. Biomimicry has three main areas of focus:

Examining Form

Nature's geometry serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose, often rooted in mathematical formulas like the Golden Ratio. For instance, spiral-shaped flowers adhere to the Fibonacci sequence, resulting in designs that are both effective and visually pleasing. Applying the Golden Ratio in building development ensures both structural integrity and aesthetic appeal. This design principle finds applications in a range of fields, from aerodynamics to architecture. Natural forms also excel in optimizing durability and structural integrity, as seen in ant nests and beehives, which maximize durability while minimizing material usage. The construction industry has the potential to harness these natural design principles to create more resilient and energy-efficient structures.

Examining the Process

Studying the process opens new avenues for energy saving, efficiency, and environmental sustainability. So, industry can create more sustainable and efficient processes by mimicking nature's efficiency and complexity. For instance, many chemical processes in nature occur at room temperature and pressure, offering a range of advantages for industrial applications, which may require high energy and pressure. Understanding how trees pull up water could result in energy savings. Enzymes found in nature can accelerate complex chemical reactions under low-energy conditions. The use of such biocatalysts in industrial processes could significantly reduce energy consumption. Moreover, nature itself is in a constant state of optimization. Many chemical reactions produce multiple by-products, rather than focusing solely on a specific outcome, thus offering an opportunity to increase the efficiency of chemical processes.

Examining Ecosystems

Nature operates with zero waste; organisms' discards become resources for others. Symbiotic relationships within an ecosystem illustrate how waste can transform into fresh resources. This cyclical approach can also serve as a model for modern economy and industry. For instance, the circular economy model aims to prolong product lifecycles and minimize waste. It repurposes used products or parts in the creation of new ones or for energy generation, promoting more efficient utilization of natural resources and reducing waste. Another compelling example lies in urban planning and architecture that emulates ecosystems. Green buildings minimize energy consumption by incorporating natural light and airflow systems. Vegetation-covered rooftops retain rainwater, contributing to the natural water cycle. These processes not only promote sustainability but also yield long-term economic advantages. Therefore, studying ecosystems proves crucial, not only for environmental preservation but also for enhancing economic efficiency and societal well-being.

Ecosystem-centric business models draw inspiration from nature's circular and integrated structure, carrying principles of sustainability and efficiency into the business world. For example, one company's production waste could meet the raw material needs of another company. It reduces carbon footprint and waste while creating collaboration and profitability. Ecosystem-centric business models also consider multi-stakeholder relationships. With this approach, suppliers, customers, business partners, and even competitors can add value to each other within an ecosystem, creating synergy. This is similar to interspecies interaction and collaboration seen in natural ecosystems.

These business models make direct contributions to the circular economy and sustainability objectives. An ecosystem-centric business model not only enhances the profits and efficiency of an individual company but also creates economic and environmental advantages for society as a whole. Consequently, the insights gained from studying ecosystems have the potential to influence the future of the business landscape.

Application Areas

1- Technology: Biomimetic principles can be used in renewable energy solutions, ranging from solar panels to wind turbines. For example, the photosynthesis process in leaves can serve as a model for designing more efficient solar panels. A study by MIT aimed to understand the photosynthesis process in leaves and applied this knowledge to solar cells, increasing energy conversion efficiency by up to 20%.

2- Medicine and Health: Natural processes and structures can inspire the development of more effective and biologically compatible medical devices and drugs. For example, the strength and flexibility of spider silk can be used to improve surgical sutures. Gecko feet, which can adhere to all kinds of surfaces, have been studied for the development of better surgical tapes and adhesives for wounds.

3- Material Science: Light but durable natural materials can be utilized in the aviation and automotive industries. For instance, the microstructure of abalone shells can inspire the design of more durable ceramics.

4- Food and Agriculture: Nature's water use efficiency and nutrient cycles can play a role in developing sustainable farming techniques. For example, methods for increasing soil fertility through microbial communities.

5- Waste Management: Waste cycles in natural ecosystems can help design industrial waste management and recycling processes. For example, specific bacteria species can naturally degrade plastics.

6- Business Models and Strategies: Ecosystem-focused business models can encourage inter-company collaborations and resource sharing, thus increasing sustainability and profitability.

7- Urban Planning and Architecture: The design principles of natural ecosystems can be used to make cities more sustainable and livable.

8- Aviation: It is known that the Albatross bird does not expend energy while flying. Boeing is using this concept to design next-generation aircraft with high fuel efficiency.

These diverse application areas show that the biomimetic approach can bring innovative solutions to the complex problems faced by humanity, not just by imitating nature, but by learning from it.

Limitations of Biomimicry

Biomimicry holds the potential to provide solutions to contemporary challenges by revealing the secrets of nature. Yet, not all natural processes can be readily applied to the intricate systems of humanity. Human-made systems often lack the extensive timeframes that nature has had to evolve. Moreover, our limited understanding of how nature functions can lead to misinterpretations.

Although biomimicry is mostly an open-source approach, patenting ideas from nature can raise ethical issues. In some cases, such innovations may only be accessible by large companies or countries, thus being ineffective in alleviating social inequality.

Future Perspective

With its capacity to create more sustainable and efficient systems, biomimicry can be a key to overcoming environmental crises. It has the potential to make revolutionary changes in fields like technology, medicine, and material science.

When combined with rapidly evolving artificial intelligence and big data analysis, biomimicry can allow us to better understand and mimic nature's complexity. What's important is that this approach is adopted not just as a technological tool, but also as an ethical and sustainable way of life.