Business Inspired By And In Harmony With Nature
“Look deep into nature and you shall find the answers.” (Albert Einstein)
It has become patently clear to many that business is undergoing a metamorphosis. Due to a perfect storm of social, economic and environmental factors, organisations have little option other than to seek out opportunities in these volatile times, adapt and evolve to what the book The Nature of Business refers to as ‘firms of the future’ – businesses more akin to living organisms than mechanistic monoliths designed for the Industrial Era. Nature offers helpful lessons to support the firms of the future in multiple ways.
- People: Nature influences positively how we engage, empower and encourage our people to build resilience within their diverse stakeholder group. Eco-psychology and natural leadership are emergent approaches to help people deal with complexity and unpredictability.
- Places: Nature inspires intelligent buildings that sense and respond to their internal and external environments, making them effective, vibrant and healthy places to work.
- Processes: Nature shapes business processes such as industrial ecology and symbiosis, business ecosystem mapping, systems thinking, eco-literacy, circular processes, closed-loop economics and cradle-to-cradle.
- Products: The imitation of nature – biomimicry – is a well-established practice in assisting the designing of sustainable products.
- Purpose: Nature teaches businesses that being sustainable means creating the conditions conducive for life, rather than merely reducing the harm inflicted. Therefore, instead of focusing on the reduction of negative social and environmental impact, forward-thinking businesses move toward ‘reaching beyond-zero impact’ and strive to become restorative and net-positive.
As Professor Michael Porter stated when addressing business leaders in New York in 2012, “we are witnessing a paradigm shift in business from hurting to helping”. Forward-thinking businesses look to nature for inspiration. Collaborative, innovative, networking, emergent, dynamic firms of the future are more akin to living organisms, hence gain great inspiration from how nature has been dealing with dynamic change for over 3.8bn years. Take a few points by way of illustration of what business can possibly learn from nature:
- Successful species and ecosystems in nature are resilient, whereby living beings collaborate, forming niches within diversity.
- Whilst the strongest man-made material is Kevlar – made at around 1000C in a complex chemical and energy intensive process – spiders make webs stronger than Kevlar at room temperature with no pollution.
- Nature does not have waste and pollution: what is waste for one part of the ecosystem becomes food for another.
How do we shift the prevalent understanding of business – and of human society too – from the illusion of being apart from nature to the realisation that we are a part of nature? The answer comes from the three R’s: re-design, re-connect, and re-kindle.
- Re-design: Developing new ways of operating and innovating that ‘do good’, i.e. shifting from the ‘take-make-waste’ economic paradigm to a regenerative approach that heals society and creates life, rather than destroying both in the name of short-term gains. A good example is the Kingfisher Group aiming to be a ‘net positive’ force for good in the world.
- Re-connect: Reconciling our relationships with ourselves, with others and with nature through education, authentic leadership and eco-psychology. A great example is the Co-Founder of Natura, Pedro Passos, who encourages a business culture that understands our interrelatedness with our community and nature.
- Re-kindle: Working with the grain of nature and operating following the rules of life on Earth, i.e. enabling businesses and societies to thrive in the future by practicing the wisdom offered by life, such as symbiosis, ecological thinking, permaculture, business inspired by nature, indigenous knowledge, etc. An inspiring example is Weleda, which applies bio-dynamic and holistic approaches to all aspects of its business.
In these challenging – yet pivotal – times for business and humanity, we must realise that to become truly sustainable, human and business life has to become scientifically inspired, emotionally connected and spiritually entwined with nature and Gaia. Nature and business (as with nature and humanity) must be symbiotic and operate in mutualism to achieve successful outcomes. The sooner business realises the opportunities that come with being connected to and inspired by nature, the better for humanity and the interconnected fabric of life.