How does a shark save lives in a hospital? How do termites create 35% energy savings in a building? How do bees help organisations take wiser decisions? The answers to these questions are all manmade innovations, inspired by nature. Taking proven strategies from nature and applying these in human design is called biomimicry. Making our solutions more sustainable. Because nature is sustainable by design. There’s 3.8 billion years of evolution that gives us a blueprint on how to survive and thrive as a species, without exhausting the surroundings or inhabitants. The field of biomimicry uses this freely available database of 3.8 billion years of R&D to design product innovations and processes. There is a crying need for that kind of innovation, since the way we produce, consume and organise leads to the exhaustion of our planet and its inhabitants. This creates issues now and for sure is not durable.
We, human beings, need to excel in what we do best: collaboration. The only way to fix complex issues is by collaborating. We must work together to extract knowledge from the natural world and apply this in our society. In this innovative project there is an intense collaboration between creative agency Heldergroen and the professorship New Marketing (University of Applied Sciences Avans). To accelerate the transition to a fair and green economy, they are researching whether proven strategies of growth can be applied on particular brands that have a positive impact on our society.
Biomimicry in marketing
The general view in our society is that economic growth is desirable. However, the way our economy and growth are formed is destructive. First, for our planet, but also socially. The development of prosperity is often based on the gross domestic product (GDP). However, GDP per capita is a poor (and narrow) metric for well-being. In addition, we notice that wealth is not distributed fairly, meaning a relatively small group benefits from economic growth. Corporates are getting bigger; the rich are getting richer.
At the same time, there is also a positive movement of companies that have a constructive impact on the environment and society. However, these small “green” brands are often not getting enough attention to bring about positive societal change. The project Biomimicry in marketing investigates whether growth strategies from the natural world can be used to help these smaller green brands to grow faster. Pushing out organisations that have a negative impact on our planet and society and speeding up the transition to a green and fair economy. In other words, this project researches whether constructive brands can be inspired on how to grow faster in an economy where large (destructive) brands are dominant, by using strategies from nature.
Stages of our research
- Collect strategies from nature
Through desk research and a series of interviews with biologists and other experts of growth strategies that can be found in the natural world, we collect and document relevant strategies from nature. For instance, holometabolism is insect development which includes four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and imago (or adult). An example of an adult would be a butterfly. The morphology and behaviour of each stage are adapted for different activities. Larval traits for example, maximise feeding, growth, and development. While adult traits enable dispersal, mating, and egg laying
This stage of our research comprises intense collaboration with and between biologists, ecologists, students, lecturers and the professorship. Creating a network of people and institutions like WWF, BiomimicryNL and Avans Hogeschool. First of all by contributing with strategies from the natural world on all scales, from single cell organisms to ecosystems like the Amazon. But also by uncovering universal patterns of growth strategies, occurring on these different levels.
- Developing a method
The professorship is working closely with Heldergroen and some of its clients in an attempt to develop a way of working in which insights from the natural world can be applied on a wide range of business cases. To illustrate: in the example of insect development the specific organisms’ appearance is fit for specific purposes. Inspiring organisations to reshape accordingly. In addition, the holometabolous insects compete less by dividing the species in different lifecycles, depending on different food sources. In terms of adopting this strategy, there might be less competition with possible other parts of the business, being in different stages of the lifecycle.
Finding valuable insights from nature and applying them in business is genuine interdisciplinary work. Having several disciplines working together requires a universal language. A common process/structure to unite and a common denominator to apply the knowledge on. In this case the Biomimicry Design Spiral creates this structure. Mapping growth strategies from nature with challenges of a brand. And, translating the strategies into working principles that can be applied to business, is where the different disciplines from within and outside the marketing industry meet and create value.
- Testing the method and conclude
The research team will run several workshops with clients of Heldergroen (like The Good Roll, GSES (Global Sustainable Enterprise System), Triodos Bank) and other organisations that would like to use our method. Resulting is a proof of concept that can be used in education and in business.
Contrary to what most people might think, collaboration and mutual beneficial symbiosis are more common in nature than competition is. Dominance and competition are a part of the natural world, for sure. However, it takes a lot of energy, and most of the time it is not in the interest of the community or ecosystem. Studying successful strategies from the natural world makes us realise even more it is time to shift from the Anthropocene to the Symbiocene, in order to continue thriving as a species.