Biomimicry: Gain Competitive Business Advantage By Tapping into Nature’s Reservoir of Design Knowledge

Imagine a system that has been conducting research and design not for tens, hundreds or even thousands, but billions of years. What if you took these time-tested principles, and applied them to other systems? From a systems perspective, mother nature is a design expert, and has been the greatest frontier for innovation.

Imagine a system that has been conducting research and design not for tens, hundreds or even thousands, but billions of years. What if you took these time-tested principles, and applied them to other systems? From a systems perspective, mother nature is a design expert, and has been the greatest frontier for innovation.


One could argue that everything in the natural world is done with purpose, with a universal goal to protect and preserve all life. You will find the same design principles replicated in all of nature’s systems and creations- from a single blade of grass to an entire ecosystem. Nature does not waste any resources, it uses benign materials and manufacturing, waste from one organism is food for another (cradle to cradle design), nature runs on free energy such as sunlight, uses elegant chemistry to build and grow, utilizes cyclical rather than linear cycles, and relies on feedback loops to ensure continuous efficiency and improvement.

Perhaps the most important principle is that nature creates systems conducive to life. This underlying framework keeps everything working together, in balance, in sync and in harmony, at an optimal level.

Man tends to create systems that are not conducive to life, and we are feeling the effects of this careless thinking today with global climate change. We are also experiencing how intricately connected we are to every other aspect of this system.

By appreciating, learning from and utilizing nature’s life-enhancing principles, man can create self-sustaining, healthy, lean, fit, energy, time and resource efficient systems. If we combine these principles with human innovation, and capitalize on our intellectual capital, we can create resilient, self-sustaining systems that are just as efficient, earth and human-friendly as those we see in the natural world. This sustainable systems design process is called biomimicry.

These systems principles can especially be replicated in any business- small to multi-national, and in any industry. By unlocking the secrets of nature’s success, we can not only improve our business systems, but watch them adapt, grow and evolve like a living ecosystem or organism.

One example of applying natural law to a business system is the law of diversity. If you look at a top-tier ecosystem such as a rainforest, you will find abundant diversity in all plant and animals species. If one type of organism gets sick, there are many more to keep the system running smoothly. Let’s say you are putting a team together to work on a special project. Would you ask three people with similar backgrounds and knowledge, or three people with diverse sets of expertise and insight?


The law of diversity can also be seen in an investment portfolio, where “diversifying investments” is constantly emphasized. That’s one reason why mutual funds are so appealing. Nature never puts all her eggs in one basket (ok, well, the analogy may not work here since birds do put all their eggs in one basket). A diverse system, (whether it be a rainforest or a business) is a strong system that is risk-adverse.

Conversely, a system such as a lawn is susceptible to a multitude of risks, including over-watering, under-watering, insect infestation, the family pet, too much sun and too little sun. A lawn is a bottom-tier ecosystem with one species of grass that requires large amounts of time, resources and management. Can you imagine a rainforest being managed? Rainforests need no “management” because they are diverse, strong and therefore self-sustaining (amongst other reasons).

Speaking of management; business leaders hire employees that are self-sufficient and bring value to the company. They do not hire people who need to be constantly directed and advised. A strong company is one in which the employees are highly capable, and require as little management as possible.

If you are an entrepreneur trying to grow your business, you probably want to manage your employees as little as possible so you can invest your energy and time in more important things. You want to put strong people and systems in place, and watch your company adapt to change in the market, grow, and even evolve on its own, similar to a self-sustaining rainforest.

Another example of a universal law that can be applied to multiple types of systems is that of creating a niche. Imagine your competitors not only wanted to take your customers or assets, but also wanted to eat you! How’s that for competition? You would probably develop some way to avoid or beat your predators and the competition within your species. That’s exactly what nature has done.

Every species on the planet that we see today has developed some type of mechanism for survival that was better than its predecessor. Survival is a great motivator, if not the best, for aggressive innovation.


Innovation in nature has lead to each species creating a niche. Some of the most successful businesses have also created a nice niche for themselves, where the competition is little or none. Why spend money on advertising why you are better than the competition, when you can simply create a niche market that no other company fills?

Nature has learned that a key element to survival is innovation for competitive advantage, or even better, filling a niche so you eliminate any competition whatsoever. Business leaders can strengthen and improve their businesses by incorporating these sustainable, innovative, competitive systems principles into their corporate DNA, while at the same time safeguarding the environment.

These are only a handful of examples of how businesses can learn from and apply nature’s infinite reservoir of design knowledge to improve their business systems. Challenges we face today have already been solved after billions of years of research and design.

The answers can be seen in the intricate and complex relationships, niches, survival mechanisms and systems designs nature has created. The answers to our most pressing questions and business challenges are just outside your door.

See for examples on how to combine human innovation with nature’s genius.

About the author

Sustainability strategist specializing in sustainable systems, products and services design. I help companies create true value, green innovations and develop CSR, climate change and sustainability programs utilizing nature's principles of sustainable design.