[Insights] Biomimicry and circular economy

What parallels can be drawn between biomimicry and the circular economy? What are the benefits of linking these two topics?


How would you define biomimicry?

Biomimicry is an innovation process modelled on living things. It attempts to find solutions invented by nature to answer the problems of our society. It’s a multidisciplinary approach that often starts with basic research, usually followed up by engineering and then popularized and marketed by entrepreneurship. It’s a methodology that tends to link ecology and technology.

Biomimicry encompasses anything related to living things and therefore includes disciplines such as bionics, bioinspiration, biomedicine, bioengineering, etc.

The Senlis-based European Centre of Excellence in Biomimicry (CEEBIOS) is working on this definition and is seeking to standardize it in order to gather people together around this idea.

What parallels are there between biomimicry and the circular economy?

Biomimicry and the circular economy are models that rely on the operation of ecosystems, i.e. autonomous, circular and waste-free operation. The circular economy is inspired by natural ecosystems, while in biomimetic thinking the ecosystem is the very first model and principle to be taken into account. We can learn from the processes of a plant or a species, but thinking must be global and ecosystemic.

These are two complementary approaches. Biomimicry provides a methodology for the circular economy by finding solutions to specific problems. For example, turning waste into resources by drawing inspiration from one species that feeds on waste from another species. As for the circular economy, it provides an economic context for biomimicry.

What are the challenges and levers of biomimicry?

The main challenge is to succeed in transmitting the theory of biomimicry while allowing it to be applied in everyday life. Today, biomimicry is still too much the province of research and science ... in other words, a

very theoretical universe, too far removed from daily life. Biomimicry needs to be democratized at all levels, not just at industrial level. And that also means political support.

In addition, biomimicry is very attractive and innovative but if it is not defined and given a framework it will not be able to be applied ethically everywhere. To be deployed it needs a clear definition, it needs people to group together and it needs greater visibility.

What perspectives does biomimicry open up for society?

Biomimicry enables new companies to be set up through innovation and the development of new products. It will therefore create jobs and businesses. Because it is multidisciplinary, biomimicry creates ties and other ways of operating for companies. It breaks down barriers. It also asks questions of another economy, such as patents on living things.

Biomimicry is not just an object or a technology. It’s a way to find local solutions, management solutions, and solutions for the way society operates. It is also a way of rebalancing inequalities between town and country, particularly through research and innovation, since rural areas have a whole range of solutions to hand.


How would you define biomimicry?

In the literal sense, biomimicry is defined as "the imitation of nature". It can be defined in more detail by referring to the vision of Janine Benyus who suggests take nature as a "model, measure and mentor". By model, we mean nature as something to imitate or as a source of inspiration. Used as a measure, nature acts as a standard. It thus takes on a normative dimension. And by taking nature as a mentor, it becomes a source of learning and therefore of knowledge. So nature can be divided into three dimensions: technical, normative and epistemological. To go further, we should define what "nature" means!

What parallels are there between biomimicry and the circular economy?

Biomimicry is often reduced to a narrow vision that seeks to emulate the "innovations" of different species, while there is more to be gained by looking at ecological functioning. The latter is based on two major principles: the use of renewable energies and recycling. The circular economy is actually present in nature!

Biomimicry makes it possible to rethink the circular economy. Unlike some visions of the circular economy with simple and closed loops, biomimicry allows us to see that the circular economy of nature works with open-ended and often complex loops. Biomimicry calls for rethinking the current model of the circular economy, including advocating more open-ended, complex and flexible loops.

What are the challenges and levers of biomimicry?

The main challenge of biomimicry is to both integrate a number of existing areas, such as the circular economy or agroecology, and to think about them in a more intelligent way starting out from a vision of nature as model, measure, and mentor. Biomimicry must therefore gather together rather than fragment and divide. Biomimicry is not exactly a new method; rather, it aims to bring together much of what already exists in the field of ecological innovation by helping us to think more deeply about how we can transpose various aspects of nature into the human world.

What perspectives does biomimicry open up for society?

Today people are resolutely turned towards the future, but we must not forget where we come from. At the end of the eighteenth century, we broke with the traditional vision of art and technique as imitations of nature, thus adopting the idea that human creation is superior to nature. Subsequently, it was realized that the techniques developed in this way have a catastrophic effect on nature. Biomimicry allows for a more positive view of technology and what humans can do. Instead of trying to limit impacts, we can try to have a positive impact. Our techniques must create conditions in which life can exist, for example by creating buildings that absorb CO₂ like a tree. In the words of Michael Braungart and William McDonough, authors of the book Cradle to Cradle, we must “imagine buildings like trees, and cities like forests”.

Source: ECLAIRA - Newsletter No. 11 / July 2018

Read and download the ECLAIRA Newsletter No. 11

Newsletter edited by CIRIDD with support from Région Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes

Photo credits: Chloé Laffay, Terre Vivante, Pixabay

Moderated by : Traduction Birdwell

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