Nature has a warehouse of proven principles and a research and development laboratory with four billion years of product development. Many corporations draw their ideas, information and inspiration from ecosystems like prairies, coral reefs and/or ancient forests.
When we follow nature’s blueprint, economic, social and environmental abundance occurs.
We know that in living systems the behavior of the parts operate to benefit the entire system. In forests, for instance, specialists, species with unique — as opposed to general — requirements find it to their advantage to cooperate with one another. As it turns out, these specialists use fewer resources and in some cases extend their longevity.
A number of businesses around the globe are emulating natural systems, reducing waste, creating new products and employing millions of workers.
In the early 1950s Bill Coors, the grandson of the founder of Adolph Coors Co., discovered that “all pollution and all waste are lost profit.”
He observed that industrial companies were taking raw materials and fuels from nature, cycling products through the economy and then generating tons of garbage. In turn, the garbage was polluting the ground water. An “open loop” system exploits nature’s resources and deposits toxic waste at both ends.
A “closed loop” economy, on the other hand, is one where the full array of costs is accounted for within a system and the only way to do business. Companies and consumers are rewarded for reducing waste. And the environment is safeguarded.
In 1952, in order to control liquid waste from the brewery, Coors built Colorado’s first biological waste water treatment plant, which also treats the entire city of Golden, Colo.’s waste waters.
Bill Coors initiated a penny for every Coors aluminum can returned for recycling and he opened the nation’s first aluminum recycling centers offering “cash for cans.”
CoorsTek, a subsidiary of Coors, manufactures advanced technical ceramics using nature’s model for smart design, by embedding hardness, strength, insulation and durability into its products.
Another Coors subsidiary, Graphic Packaging, uses clever technology to reduce ink by as much as 90 per cent and solvent by 100 per cent while producing bolder graphics.
By following nature’s blueprint many corporations believe the most valuable forms of capital in the learning organizations are knowledge, gained through feedback and learning, and changes in design — adaptations.
Toyota Corporations has effectively used its labor force for ideas. In 1982, for example, its workforce made over two million suggestions, that’s more than two every month per employee, and 95 percent of them were implemented.
Technology enables humankind to do more with less. From 1973 to 1990 society learned how to create more real value per unit of energy consumed. By 1990 about a third of the energy and material services were delivered from innovation and efficiency.
The chipmaker Intel has advanced its microchip design through innovation as each successive generation of chips holds more information. In effect, Intel has been very successful by emulating nature’s blueprint. For billions of years nature has replaced consumption by design.
Burt’s Bees, the leading manufacturer of Earth-friendly natural personal care products has committed to the 2020 Sustainability Goals including sustainable products and packaging, zero landfill waste, 100 percent renewable energy, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified facilities, and 100 percent employee engagement.
Dow Chemical also utilizes nature’s model and in 1982 it began encouraging employees to find ways to reduce pollution. By 1992, 700 projects were underway, reducing waste around the globe and saving the company millions of dollars.
DuPont, another chemical titan, has been reducing its CO2 emissions worldwide striving for a zero-emission target by 2020.
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (MMM), a company that specializes in coatings and adhesives, has been following nature’s path for decades, solving their own environmental problems and implementing Pollution Prevention Pays.
By 2000, 4,650 employees had prevented about 1,500 million pounds of pollution and saving the company over $825 million. Moreover, MMM has reduced water losses by 82 percent, volatile organic compounds in emissions by 88 percent, solid wastes by 24 percent and rates of waste generation by 35 percent.
Visa International conducts about $1.75 trillion in transactions annually and their founder Dee Hock followed nature’s blueprint right from the company’s inception. Visa is analogous to a biological organism in a changing environment whereby uncontrolled actions of its members, who self-regulate their activities to serve both themselves and the whole organization.
Business, like nature, is a living system — creative, productive and resilient. All waste is lost profit, all value is created by design and adaptation. The ability to learn is crucial for survival.
Dr. Reese Halter is a conservation biologist at California Lutheran University and the founder of the international conservation institute Global Forest Science. Contact him through www.DrReese.com.