Nature has a warehouse of proven principles and a Research & Development laboratory with 4 billion years of product development. Many corporations draw their ideas, information and inspiration from ecosystems like prairies, coral reefs and ancient forests.
When we follow nature’s blueprint, economic, social and environmental abundance occurs.
We know that in living systems the behavior of the parts operate to benefit the entire system. In forests, for instance, specialists, species with unique — as opposed to general — requirements, find it to their advantage to cooperate with one another. As it turns out, these specialists use fewer resources and in some cases extend their longevity.
A number of businesses around the globe are mimicking natural systems, reducing waste, creating new products and employing millions of workers.
In the early 1950s Bill Coors, the grandson of the founder of Adolph Coors Co., discovered that all pollution and waste are "lost profit."
He observed that industrial companies were taking raw materials and fuels from nature, cycling products through the economy and then generating tons of garbage. In turn, the garbage was polluting the ground water. An “open loop” system exploits nature’s resources and deposits waste at both ends.
A “closed loop” economy, on the other hand, is one where the full array of costs is accounted for within a system and the only way to do business. Companies and consumers are rewarded for reducing waste. And the environment is safeguarded.
In 1952, in order to control liquid waste from the brewery, Coors built Colorado’s first biological wastewater treatment plant, which also treats the wastewater of Golden, Colo.
Bill Coors initiated a penny for every Coors aluminum can returned for recycling, and he opened the nation’s first aluminum recycling centers offering “cash for cans.”
CoorsTek, a subsidiary of Coors, manufactures advanced technical ceramics using nature’s model for smart design, by embedding hardness, strength, insulation and durability into its products.
Another subsidiary, Graphic Packaging, uses clever technology to reduce ink by as much as 90 percent and solvent by 100 percent while producing bolder graphics.
By following nature’s blueprint many corporations believe the most valuable forms of capital in the learning organizations are knowledge, gained through feedback and learning, and changes in design — adaptations.
In fact, an entire field of biomimetics or biomimicry has blossomed in engineering. The design of human-made materials, devices and structures is inspired by the design of living things,
Non-drip paint mimics the mucus of a snail, which is both a lubricant and a glue. Epoxy glues mimic phenomenal glues from the bottom of barnacles and holdfast of seaweeds.
The shell of a snail is made of calcium carbonate — an otherwise brittle compound, yet it’s tough because of its exquisite architecture. Present-day composite materials mimic this fine detail.
One biomimicry design used hundreds of millions of times each day comes from starfish ossicles — its bone-like structures. The strength of the ossicle is derived from the molecular criss-cross formation of calcium carbonate compounds. This excellent design has been applied to stiffen the fillers in rubber tires used on all cars and trucks around the globe.
Business, like nature, is a living system — creative, productive and resilient. All waste is lost profit; all value is created by design and adaptation. The ability to learn is crucial for survival.
Dr. Reese Halter is a conservation biologist at Cal Lutheran University, public speaker and founder of the international conservation institute Global Forest Science. Follow him @ twitter.com/DrReeseHalter .