Biomimicry: There’s Power in Copying Nature

By Colin Mangham, Founder, Biomimicry LA

Imitation, some say, is the sincerest form of flattery. It can also be one of the most innovative, rewarding and sustainable approaches to problem-solving. Enter the world of biomimicry, innovation inspired by nature.

Plants, animals, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of evolution, failures are fossils, and the species that have best adapted and evolved are the ones that hold the secrets to survival. Not just for themselves, but for all of us as well.

Biomimicry ideas

Biomimicry seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating (“mimicking”) time-tested patterns and strategies found in nature (“biology”). It’s both a curiosity piquing source of inspiration and a scientifically rigorous discipline. It focuses on forms (how things are shaped), processes (how things are made), and systems (how things interrelate). It works on scales ranging from the nano to the eco.

Notably, biomimicry differs from bioutilization, whereby an organism itself is an integral part of the actual solution, as is the case with biomass as a feedstock for power generation. Instead, biomimicry contextualizes, abstracts, and mimics the biological functions of such organisms.

Our solar technologies are inherently inspired by leaf and plant systems. In fact, all of nature is in the business of generating, harvesting, distributing, and storing energy in its myriad forms. It’s also critically focused on optimizing energy use, and prefers whatever is abundant—often sunlight, wind, or moving water. (Sound familiar, renewable energy advocates?)

Biomimicry examples

A popular example is how the bumps (called “tubercles”) on the leading edges of humpback whale fins can be emulated to increase efficiencies in power generation and utilization. Whale fin inspired turbine blades are quieter and more energy-efficient than conventional blades, able to produce the same amount of energy at 10 mph (16 km/h) than would previously require 17 mph (27 km/h) [WhalePower].

Other examples include: grid-quality hydropower generation mimicking the shapes of seaweed and other plants well-adapted to the motion of the ocean [bioWAVE]; electrodes that improve energy storage at the nano level by emulating the microscopic fractal structures found in fern leaves [RMIT University]; load balancing energy management systems modeled upon how bees make decisions in swarms that function as superorganisms [Encycle]; and higher performing arrays of wind turbines inspired by not just how but also why fish swim in schools [Dabiri Lab].

A personal favourite: a municipal pump impeller that, at only eight inches (21 cm) tall, is so efficient it can mix millions of gallons of water with the energy footprint equivalent of three 100-watt light bulbs. Inspired by? The calla lily flower [PAX Scientific].

Applying biomimicry to branding

How does all of this relate to branding? All of nature engages in what most of us would consider brand communications. Close your eyes, if you will, and imagine interactions “out there” between posturing mates, fierce competitors, neighbours and partners, predators and prey….

Now consider all of it as highly strategic—indeed survival requires it—messaging, positioning, presentation of features and benefits, communication of value propositions, an invitation for exchange, calls to action, even forms of social media and public relations. What’s more, these biological brand expressions are often sonorous and melodic, presented in brilliant displays of color, and packaged in mind-blowingly elegant designs.

Sustainable solutions are already here

So, here’s the “key takeaway” and “reason to believe”: a sustainable world already exists; nature has already solved many of the problems we grapple with daily.

Through the biomimicry lens, we see nature not as a warehouse of materials but instead a model to follow, a measure of success, and the most generous of mentors. Talk about a renewable source of energy! This enables us to tune in to the wisdom of highly-evolved living systems all around and within us, then borrow the blueprints for simple, sophisticated, and ultimately sustainable solutions.

What next? Ask nature.

This article was originally published in the CHARGE 2019 conference magazine. Colin moderated the panel discussion on Brand Strategy and Changes at CHARGE 2019 in Reykjavík. Colin Tweets @colinmangham