Biomimicry concerns learning from natural models, systems and strategies and the translation thereof into practical applications for innovation. Biomimicry is a comprehensive phenomenon that can have large ecological, social and economic benefits in all sectors. Yet, it is still difficult for many businesses to harness the design principles from nature for use in business cases, although the opportunities are endless. Together with businesses, we started working on translating the knowledge inherent in nature into innovations that address the issues they are confronted with.
We started the Biomimicry Business Breakthrough programme together with businesses and experts to become familiar with the methodology of biomimicry and to discover which lessons from nature could be applied to contemporary issues. These businesses were supported in defining these opportunities, developing business cases (in environmental, social and economic terms), overcoming obstacles and translating innovations.
During this programme, the participants were inspired and supported by ecology and biomimicry experts, during which collaboration among the businesses was important to allow for the exchange of knowledge and to be able to learn from each other.
Society and the energy market are developing quickly. Within this transition, energy network operator Alliander wishes to contribute to a clean and sustainable world now and in the future. The company therefore invests in sustainable innovations and pioneers new revenue models. Alliander has set the goal for itself to ‘Learn from Nature’. As a case study, Alliander introduced the Deventer A1 business park - an energy neutral business park - containing a smart energy network and the latest technologies. The business park has been completed and is ready to attract economic activity but, after more than a year, the park remains vacant. The question Alliander posed during the Biomimicry Business Breakthrough was: what can we learn from nature to make Deventer A1 business park more sustainable and increase its economic activity? How does nature develop a new area?
Vallei en Veluwe water board
The Vallei en Veluwe water board is responsible for water purification. A waste product of this process is sewage sludge, which is now incinerated and is not separated further into potentially valuable materials. Before incineration, the water must be removed from the sludge, making it concentrated. Because very small particles are dissolved in the water, polymers are used to cause clumping. These polymers are not sustainable, are very expensive and can only be used once because they are incinerated together with the sludge. The water board is looking for a more sustainable and less costly dewatering step. For this purpose, we looked at examples from nature that are based on principles of dewatering, principles of concentration and principles of flocculation. How does nature expel particles from water?
The Biomimicry Business Breakthrough programme has served as an introduction to the methodology behind biomimicry and has provided insight into how nature can provide solutions to concrete issues. We translated our insights into value propositions in the form of a business case.
An important step in the biomimicry methodology is the translation of the demand into biological principles. The next step is looking at how nature works and to identify the underlying mechanisms. This step, ‘discover natural models’, focuses on peeling back the layers of mechanisms, whereby the principles and links behind the processes and systems become visible. These can then be translated into innovations and practical solutions.
When developing a business case with the biomimicry principle, evaluating the ecological and social benefits play an important role. By ascertaining what and who are needed to bring innovation a step forward and for whom this innovation is important, the follow-up steps are clearer and the business model canvas can be used as means of communication and action. The design principles are also used here to ensure we do not lose sight of the concept of sustainability.