Tag Archives: biomimicry

Will government action ‘fix’ sustainability? Really?

Adapted from “Are your beliefs limiting your effectiveness?”, published in our September newsletter.

Most human behaviour is dictated by our opinions and beliefs about the world. If we don’t examine and test them, we can end up becoming impotent, angry and depressed.  In the sustainability game and especially in the media, one limiting belief I come across repeatedly is that “Sustainability requires government action.”  Assertions vs assessments

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Business innovation supplied by nature…

(Adapted from “Copying nature – biomimicry and business success…” in our September newsletter)

Back in the 19th century the human race got hooked into chemical and mechanical engineering. We developed steam power and learned to make soap in quantity, then later fell in love with petrochemicals.

While these have been useful tools to a point, their side effects are showing up as increasingly damaging. Biomimcry is showing up as a new source of innovation for both product and systems design.

“Biomimicry is studying a leaf to invent better solar cell, or a coral reef to make more resilient company. The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with: energy, food production, climate control, benign chemistry, transportation, collaboration, and more.” Janine Benyus – A Biomimicry Primer

Heat, beat and poison…

Mechanical and chemical engineering practices and their mindsets have been foundational in the technologies we use today – however new developments are emerging that will increasingly make these resource-hungry oldsters out-of-date.

Copying nature…

Biomimicry

We’ve become increasingly aware in recent decades that nature does some pretty amazing things at room temperature and ambient pressure. We use massive heat and pressure to turn non-renewable petrochemicals into Kevlar – but a spider makes a super strong web in it’s stomach AND using flies as a highly renewable input.

Physics and biology are showing up as rich sources of innovation and invention for developing not only smarter products, but smarter systems.

Biomimicry can operate at one of three levels:

  • Copying natural form – for example, copying the beak of a kingfisher to re-design the nose of a bullet train.
  • Mimicking natural processes – using vortexes to purify water the way rivers do, instead of mechanical filters or damaging chemicals
  • Copying natural ecosystems to develop regional models conducive to life.

This new source of design inspiration is exactly that – inspiring. Find out more about biomimicry from: http://www.asknature.org/ (Just watch the front banner cycle through different innovations to get a feel for the possible.)

Remember also that the core principle of true biomimicry is the development of solutions conducive to life. You can have a bio-inspired product like velcro – however if you make it from petrochemicals, you’re not really practicing biomimicry.

For some great examples of how biomimicry is being used in the world today, explore some of the case studies of The Blue Economy: http://www.theblueeconomy.org/blue/Innovations.html

Galileo, heresy, physics and the emerging regenerative economy…

Many years ago, the subject History and Philosophy of Science was a required subject in my undergraduate degree.  In it I learned about Galileo – the Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who championed heliocentrism – the then controversial proposition that the earth went around the sun.  The mindset change he championed resonates strongly with the shift to regenerative thinking. Continue reading

This tiny house uses mushrooms as insulation

Fascinating example of leveraging nature (biomimicry)

Grist

Usually you do not want fungi in the walls of your home. But Ecovative is building a home in which having fungi in the walls is the entire point. The “Mushroom Tiny House” will use mycelium (the mass of threadlike “roots” that mushrooms use to take in nutrition) for insulation.

According to Inhabitat, this stuff is basically asbestos except that it’s not bad for the planet, won’t give you cancer, and is related to something you might put on a pizza:

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Cacti can clean up poisonous soils

Regenerative Thinking in Practice.

Principle #5 – Leverage Nature’s Solutions

Nature has spent millions of years working out how to do things  with renewable materials at room temperature – let’s make the most of those answers.

More on Biomimicry and Industrial Design at:

http://www.biomimicryinstitute.org/case-studies/case-studies/industrial-design.html

Grist

Here are a few things you do with a prickly pear cactus: Get poked. Turn its fruit into jam. Use it to clean up dangerous concentrations of selenium in arid California lands.

In California’s San Joaquin Valley, a long history of artificial irrigation has impregnated the soil with selenium. In small quantities, selenium is beneficial to humans and animals — essential, even. In larger quantities, it’s toxic.

Prickly pear cacti, though, can thrive in these soils, even though irrigation has also made the soil and water dangerously salty.

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My ideal (regenerative) iPhone

My ideal iPhone wouldn’t be mine…

My ideal iPhone would be a product of service. It’s body would belong to Apple and I’d lease its services – as an entertainment and communication platform.

My data (music, notes, apps, movies, etc.) would be on a removable memory card in the same way the SIM card is removable.

It would be upgrade-able at local Apple stores…

Instead of buying a whole new device, if there was a better camera, screen, or internal processor I’d join a virtual “queue” for an upgrade ( with a premium for a top spot, of course).

I’d take my iPhone into an Apple Store and they’d upgrade while I waited. It would be specially marked so everyone could see that I had “the latest”. This sort of service thinking would be easy for the inventors of iTunes and AppStore.

Apple would get an increase in revenue from the upgrade, but they wouldn’t have to get a whole new device manufactured , packaged, stored or shipped to generate that revenue. I’d get better device functionality and more fun – and without adding to the collection of e-waste in my hall cupboard.  (And if Apple aren’t generating any e-waste for external parties to dispose of, they could well increase the protection of their intellectual property.)

It would be designed for re-manufacture…

My ideal iPhone would be designed to be as easy to pull apart as possible (with the right, exclusive tools – of course). Where components couldn’t be disassembled, they would all be made of the same material so they could be crushed and recycled without contamination reducing the material quality.

Apple’s manufacturers wouldn’t be buying virgin materials at premium prices  – they’d be re-using components and materials again and again and again.

It would be designed for total safety…

My ideal iPhone would be safe to manufacture as well as safe to use.  Everything material and process would be absolutely safe for its makers, its community and our finite ecosystem.

No costs for handling safety materials, no outsourcing supply across continents to less-regulated environments, no reputation risks.

Tell her she’s dreaming!!!

Maybe I am – I’m not an Apple insider.   Or maybe they’re a whole lot further down the regenerative road than we know, and just not telling us.  Or maybe I’ve missed a shift in the wealth of incoming information I receive.

But if we can’t describe what we want, how can we expect it to be delivered?

I wrote The Deep Green Profit Handbook because I loved the ideas of Cradle to Cradle, Natural Capitalism and Biomimicry – and I knew my executive coaching clients didn’t have time for hundreds of pages of technical detail.   I wanted to summarise the straightforward principles of regenerative business in straightforward business language – and I did it in just 100 large-type easy-read pages.

What do you want?

What fundamental shifts can you imagine that would deliver a regenerative economy designed to nurture and restore the finite eco-system we inhabit?   Can you describe them in the language of your target audience?  Can you make them relevant to the interests and concerns of the most powerful people you know?

Recent research is showing that the key skills for sustainability practitioners are the “soft stuff” –  mastery in communication, collaboration and influencing.  Because if you can’t communicate well, there are very real limits to the usefulness of what you know.

These days we know that these aren’t magical talents based on charisma – they’re learnable skills with strong foundations in linguistics, philosophy and neurobiology.  So make sure you’re developing your ability to communicate, collaborate and influence.

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Leigh Baker is an Ontological Coach who teaches innovation, communication and influencing skills to sustainability practitioners.

What do you do when you’ve done efficiency? Levelling up in the sustainability game…

While efficiency is a critical element of sustainable business, it’s not the be-all and end all.   The real end game of sustainability is a big one – to re-invent how we make and deliver our products and services so that they’re profitable AND actively good for  their host communities and eco-systems.  The business winners of the future will build their careers and profits by taking the sustainability game to this exciting new level.

A new design paradigm…

Applying efficiency inside business-as-usual thinking limits our ability to finRegenerative Businessd the win/win/win solutions that are increasingly part of the developing regenerative business revolution.  Levelling up in the sustainability game requires a bigger design perspective:

  • Re-designing commerce so that “growth” is about delivering valuable services rather than selling more products.
  • Re-designing how we use non-renewable material resources so that they are continuously recycled and remanufactured.
  • Re-designing production processes to primarily use renewable resources.

Efficiency still counts…

This isn’t to say that efficiency isn’t important.  Most of our products and services have their roots in an out-of-date belief that natural resources are unlimited – and it’s a view that has been difficult to shift.   In Australia, for example, our energy efficiency record has barely improved in the past 40 years.  So we still have many opportunities to make significant bottom-line improvements by improving our efficiency.

Levelling up to regenerative thinking…

The bigger game of regenerative thinking (business that actively enables community and eco-system regeneration)  has been going on since the 1990s.  It’s a developing necessity and it’s going to change some businesses radically.  Those that aren’t tuned in to the bigger game could find that they’re making their industry’s equivalent of vinyl records or camera film.   The “truth” about climate will become irrelevant in the face of this new wave of innovation.

Those that ARE tuned in are the ones that will be developing new competitive capabilities and expanding into overseas markets with new products and services (like Australian companies Close the Loop and Futuris amongst many others).

Have you “hit the wall”?

If you feel you’ve done all you can in your business as far as efficiency goes that’s great.  So now it’s time to step back and look more widely for opportunities – out into your industry; up your supply chain to your customers and their end consumers; and down your supply chain to where your inputs come from.

Build your knowledge of the simple principles behind the next level of the sustainability game and start exploring for your opportunities.  It’s amazing what’s going on – and a whole lot of fun.  Dive in and Google “regenerative business” or “cradle to cradle” or “biomimicry” and just see what you find.

Sustainability is about more than efficiency – it’s about radical innovation and profitability – it’s time to level up!

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Leigh Baker is an author and facilitator who teaches the straightforward principles of Regenerative Business and the soft skills that innovators need to turn their ideas into results.  Her short book “The Deep Green Profit Handbook” summarises the straightforward principles behind the emerging regenerative business revolution in plain business language.

7 design principles for Regenerative Business

I got seriously interested in sustainability years ago, during post-graduate studies.  I was fortunate to be introduced  through  great books like “Natural Capitalism”, “Cradle to Cradle” and “Biomimicry”. 

Along with  a mass of detail and lots of “reasons why” sustainability was important,  I found a set of  straightforward strategies that challenge out-of-date 20th century assumptions about the “how” of doing business.   I went looking for a book that summarised them in straightforward business language, but I couldn’t find one.  (So I wrote  one.)

Design principles for a Regenerative Economy

The fundamental design principles for a regenerative economy seem to boil down to the following 7 challenges to common business assumptions:

  1. Everything is a service: challenges our ways of thinking on how we make and supply our customers. The more we know about what customers value in a product (it’s “service”), the more flexibility we have to design regenerative ways to deliver it.
  2. There are no wastes: challenges implicit assumptions that un-usable waste is acceptable or desirable.
  3. Design for total safety: challenges the need to use hazardous materials and our capability to control dangerous effluents.
  4. Design for remanufacture: challenges one-way thinking by demanding that we design materials and processes around the reality of our closed-loop ecosystem.
  5. Use LOTS less: challenges incremental-only improvements, proposing reductions to one-quarter (Factor 4) and one-tenth (Factor 10) of current resource usage as stretch goals to shift thinking about what’s possible.
  6. Use/copy natural processes: puts a focus on the wealth of design solutions available to us – and that most of them have organic, room temperature process solutions.
  7. Think small, local and smart: challenges “heroic” thinking that big is better and that there can be “one size fits all” supply models.

Using the principles…

While the principles aren’t a silver-bullet ‘answer’ they provide an important framework for making in a shift in business thinking.  They form a new form of common-sense  in the face of the rapid shift in environmental circumstances in which business is now done.   Increasingly, they’re being proven to not only be practical, but also very profitable.

They’re deeply grounded in business development and supply chain thinking.  They’re not “everything you need to know” – however they’re a good start to the exciting journey of regenerative business.

Essentially, the principles are intended to spark the process of thinking differently.  They’re not rules, they’re not standards to evaluate success or failure.   They’re ways to put attention on the assumptions we make about how business is done so we can explore exciting, profitable new ways to do business.

Describe what you DO want…

If you don’t want what’s happening at the moment, then have an alternative!

The good news is that there is one, and the better news is that there are proven win/win/win strategies that will enable many businesses to make good money, improve their eco-systems and build their surrounding communities.    

If you don’t know what they are, it’s time you did.  Get reading, find your local CleanTech network, get online.   If all you can do is rage at “selfish business people” and “evil capitalists” then are you really helping?   Or are you just generating resistance?

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Leigh Baker is a regenerative business  coach and author of “The Deep Green Profit Handbook”.  She works with sustainability practitioners to maximise their effectiveness as innovators and communicators.

WANTED: Strategic Sustainability Manager

I saw an interesting-looking role advertised recently: Sustainability Strategy Manager.  It looked like it could be interesting – but when I read it, it wasn’t what I’d hoped.  The role reported into Marketing and seemed to be more to do with external communication than with building strategic sustainability capability within the business.

Describing what you DO want

When I see something that disappoints me, I like to take some time to work out what it is I wanted to see.  So here’s my description of the job I’d hoped it would be – the work of a Strategic Sustainability Manager.  It’s probably a figment of my imagination – but what  could be different if it was implemented across our  major listed companies!

JOB DESCRIPTION: STRATEGIC SUSTAINABILITY MANAGER

A publicly  listed company requires a Strategic Sustainability Manager to work across the Asia-Pacific region. The primary focus of this role will be to assist the CEO, executive team  and board to understand the range of emerging business opportunities developing from sustainability and regenerative thinking and to assist them in setting strategic directions for the business over the coming decade. 

Reporting to the Chairman of the Board, responsibilities will include:

  • Educate the board and senior executives on the straightforward principles and proven practices of regenerative thinking which underpin profitable long-term  sustainability strategies.
  • Develop plans for building resource and life-cycle literacy across the organisation.
  • Develop plans for building innovation and communication skills across the organisation.
  • Work with key supply chain players internally and externally to understand up-stream and down-stream opportunities of strategic sustainability and regenerative thinking practices.

Desired Skills & Experience

A deep knowledge of regenerative business thinking and strategies is critical, as is the ability to communicate it to senior executives.  The expected knowledge base includes service-based economics, closed loop capitalism and biomimicry-based design. 

Candidates will be required to demonstrate familiarity with and experience of concepts such as:

  • Product-of-Service business strategies.
  • Life Cycle Analysis and Design for the Environment.
  • Design for Re-Manufacture.
  • Biomimicry implementations.
  • Factor 4 and Factor 10 resource usage reductions.

Key skills and knowledge for success in this role will be:

  • A deep knowledge of the foundations of sustainable business design, including but not limited to “Natural Capitalism“, “Cradle to Cradle“, “The Natural Step” and “Biomimicry“.
  • An understanding of key factors important in building and sustaining successful business strategy.
  • Facilitation and communication skills to explain regenerative thinking and the business opportunities of sustainability in strategic terms.
  • The ability to build relationships based on integrity and trust.

Successful candidates are expected to have:

  • Formal qualifications in human communication, business development and innovation adoption.
  • A proven deep understanding of successful regenerative business strategy and practice.
  • Excellent coaching, facilitation and relationship-building skills.

As I said in my opening remarks, this isn’t a real job (that I know of) …   yet.  And imagine the difference it could make!