Gaia blog

Biomimicry links business to biodiversity

13.06.2012

Biomimicry might be a term you do not come across every day, but you should: it is all about business and biodiversity. Biomimicry is nature inspired innovation and design.

It offers companies and society a methodological approach to identify solutions to human challenges such as new materials, energy and natural resource constraints, but also to understand how to handle financial market mechanisms.

Though still unknown, biomimicry– also known as bionics or biomimetic– is part of our daily life. It has its backbone on biodiversity and global ecosystem services. The value of global ecosystem services is estimated at 16–64 trillion USD annually.

The following examples illustrate the outcomes and far-reaching value of using nature as a source for potential solutions for materials, constructive design and even for financial and management models:

  • If you have ever tried to pick a mussel off a rock or pier piling, you have likely noticed that they sure know how to stick to something. Based on these natural adhesive abilities of the blue mussel, an American company came up with a way to use soy-based technology in the construction of hardwood plywood products (see Columbia Forest products).
  • Using the shape of the tropical boxfish, automotive designers achieved an aerodynamic ideal that consumes 20% less fuel and reduces as much as 80% nitrogen oxide emissions (Daimler-Chrysler’s bionic car).
  • Various animals have served for advanced designs in robotics like a new “biomechatronic” handling system based on the elephant’s trunk (see Festo).
  • The lotus effect refers to the lotus plant’s ability to stay clean without using any energy source. This type of technology has been used in cleaning materials and paint (see Ipso).
  • A burr plant served as design model to develop Velcro, replacing shoe laces or clothe zippers (see Velcro).
  • To increase the efficiency and reliability and reduce noise for a new design of wind turbine blades, fins of humpback whales served as a model (see WhalePower).
  • Concepts from the swarm theory were adopted to solve challenges in the decision-making process for credit and investment purposes (see Bank of England).

All these examples show how nature is highly successful in dealing with complexity and combining various elements to serve various functions, using optimization and stabilizing systems.

Nature with its biodiversity is like a big research and development laboratory with 3.8 billion of years experience dealing with space and resource constraints, extreme conditions and disruptive changes. This is an extraordinary asset and creates endless opportunities to get inspiration from this laboratory for potential models, processes, systems, materials, shapes and organic compounds. They can be applied to solve global human problems concerning climate change, food security or health.

However, biodiversity itself is one of the global challenges, too. How far biodiversity is at risk, is stressed by different leading organisations. The Stockholm Resilience Institute shows with its analysis how far the loss of biodiversity has gone beyond the planetary boundaries, much more than climate change or water. Based on IUCN data, UNEP‘s report for Rio +20 “Keeping track on environment change” highlights the negative trend of increasing risk of extinctions in most species categories such as vertebrates or amphibians. It is not only a question of loss of biodiversity but also loss of assets. Also from a business perspective, we should ask if we can afford to “burn down” this laboratory.

Gaia believes that biomimicry is an excellent driver with a positive connotation to raise awareness of the need to protect nature and its resources. The coming Biomimicry Europe Innovation and Finance Summit (www.ffgs.org) in Zurich, Switzerland, scheduled August 29 to 31 will present, discuss and further develop latest insights among the key European and global experts in bio-inspired innovation. Key global leaders in the biomimicry arena will discuss various commercialisation platforms and financial models accelerating the commercialisation of these new technologies.

Alain Schilli is the Managing Partner of Gaia Global SA, a marine ecologistand part of the organisation team of the Biomimicry Europe summit. Gaia offers a wide range of innovative solutions for sustainability in the area of cleantech, innovation and finance.

Alain Schilli

Senior Advisor

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