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Innovations From Nature: Biomimicry

Looking more carefully at nature and paying more attention to its wisdom not only creates opportunities for companies in terms of innovation but also offers the opportunity for a profitable business.

“Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.”

Leonardo da Vinci


·       Are we looking closely enough?

Innovation is one of the main areas that companies talk about in relation to sustainability. Triggering innovation and creating a corporate culture that progresses in this way is a must for companies that take on leadership in sustainability. However, both the standardization of our education system and the low level of awareness of adults on the subject cause Turkey to lag behind other countries in innovation rankings, and to be at the bottom of the patent league. Although we rose 14 places among 143 countries in the Global Innovation Index in 2014, we are still in the 54th place. The share allocated to innovation from the Gross Domestic Product is below 1%.

If we consider that these rates are 2% in the EU, 2.4% in the OECD, and 2.8% in the USA, the picture becomes clearer. Just as we cannot trigger innovation by saying "Come on, we are innovative", our "current system" which is standardizing, rote-based, and does not like to question, inevitably creates an obstacle to innovation. In such cases, initiating innovation and creating an innovative corporate culture is not easy. However, we still have hope. Biomimicry, which can be defined as “inventing” by imitating nature, can be the answer to our questions. In the words of the creator of the concept, Benyus; Engineers, architects, and inventors are actually nature's apprentices.

At the end of the day, these people, who do nothing more than try to understand and transfer what they observe in nature and what they learn from it, are in positions that will direct innovation in companies. But since we’ve been searching the answer in all the wrong places as humanity, we haven’t been able to progress in this regard. Actually, our source of inspiration was always in front of our eyes, but applying it as a business model is something new to us.

If we take a closer look, the most basic and general biomimicry application has entered our agenda with the Circular Economy, one of the popular themes of today. Our economic system until today was operating with the logic of "take-make-dispose". This was the approach underlying the consumer society. With the Circular Economy we often hear that this linear and cradle-to-grave approach should be abandoned, and the cradle-to-cradle principle should be adopted cyclically.

What is meant by circularity can be considered as the reuse of wastes and by-products formed in a closed system and the design of a self-sufficient system. Within the existing linear structure, products are produced, used, and disposed. In a circular structure, products are produced, used and the wastes are reused as a resource. The structure in nature, which has been evolving for 3.8 billion years, is exactly like this. In natural processes, no waste is actually produced, living things that complete their function transform into another structure and continue their journey in the cycle. If we consider an apple, which is a flower and then a fruit, falls to the ground after ripening. Here, it first becomes a food source for other living things and then begins to rot (thanks to decaying bacteria, etc.) and mixes with the soil.

This actually means being an energy source for the tree that will bear fruit the next year and for the soil where it is rooted, in which case we are talking about a regenerative system that fully reproduces itself. In the systems we have established as humanity we are far from this perfect system. However, the increase in the number of similar examples seems like a promising development.

According to a study by the Risk and Value Creation Forum, activity in the biomimicry field increased sevenfold from 2000 to 2013. Likewise, the number of articles published in this field has increased by eight times. Between 2012 and 2013,the number of patents granted in this field increased by 27%, and academic studies increased by 28%. According to the same research, “inspired by nature” is expected to contribute $425 billion to the American economy and $1.6trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Realizing such great potential is really just about looking more carefully at nature and paying more attention to its wisdom. This not only creates opportunities for companies in terms of innovation but also offers the opportunity for a profitable business model through creativity. That's why we've compiled some game-changing biomimicry practices to date.

·       Architect termites

About 40% of the world's energy consumption is caused by buildings. The increasing number of buildings with the increasing urbanization rate creates a serious environmental impact due to cooling and heating reasons. Macrotermes michaelseni, aka termite creatures, are generally perceived as having destructive properties for buildings. But they are also qualified builders that build the tallest structures on earth (relative to their height). These interesting creatures are able to keep the temperature inside their nests at the desired value, regardless of the temperature outside, by optimizing the energy coming from the sun. With the self-cooling/heating system they have developed, they can create a temperature structure that fluctuates only 1⁰C . Buildings designed by Eastgate architect Mick Pearce and inspired by termite nests save 90% of the energy used for air conditioning. Thus, building owners are able to save 3.5 million dollars from the cost of air conditioning in a building that costs approximately 36 million dollars.


·       Kingfisher bullet train

Japan is a very advanced country in terms of high-speed trains. In the late 1990s, they were using trains that could reach speeds of around 300 km/h, but there was a serious problem with the sound at the tunnel exits. At the same time, the sound caused by the train was above environmental standards and they could not find a solution to that. In fact, the whole story began with Eiji Nakatsu, the chief engineer of the Shinkansen 500 trains, asking himself, "What is there in nature that can move very quickly and smoothly between two different environments?" It was not surprising that Nakatsu, who is also a bird watcher, found the solution in the kingfisher (alcedo atthis). When approaching its prey, the kingfisher can reach very high speeds upside down and can do this without the prey noticing. The advantage of its long and narrow beak has become one of the most important examples of biomimicry in the hands of bird-watching Japanese engineers, and a new generation of Shinkansen bullet trains were produced.The redesigned nose didn't just solve the train's noise problem in the tunnels; by reducing friction from the wind by 30%, it reduced energy use by 13% and increased speed by about 10%.


·       Inhaling greenhouse gases

Global climate change is known as one of the most important problems humanity is facing. In particular, carbon dioxide emissions, which increase due to the increasing urban population, not only increase the greenhouse gases that cause climate change but also threaten the health of people living in cities. At this point, the solution comes from nature again, and this time from people themselves, who have difficulty understanding their role as a part of nature. The human lung has three main evolutionary implications for cleaning polluted air that is inhaled. The lungs are a highly developed filter mechanism with a super-thin membrane that facilitates the transfer and removal of carbon dioxide, a surface area of approximately 70 times our total body area, and the presence of a chemical called carbonic anhydrase, which allows carbon dioxide to be removed from our blood very quickly. The company named Carbozyme has succeeded in keeping 90% of the flue gases produced as a result of production with the filter inspired by the human lungs. This biomimicry filter, which emerged as a result of tests that showed it was more efficient than the traditional monoethanolamine filtration system, also provides a reduction in treatment costs.


·       The firefly illuminating our future

LED (light-emitting diode) lighting is known as one of the most important inventions in recent years. LED lighting consumes about 10% of the electricity that traditional incandescent bulbs consume annually. Besides, its lifetime is approximately 40 times longer than incandescent bulbs and six times longer than fluorescent lighting. In addition, the most important factor in the widespread use of LED is that the light emitted is up to 55% more. Therefore, we can say that LED technology has recently changed the rules of the game in terms of lighting and electricity consumption.

Like the other examples we mentioned, LED technology is a discovery that we borrow from nature. During the discovery of the LED, scientists took the illuminators in the epidermis of the firefly as an example. This part is located in a curve unlike the normal and ensures that all reflections are directed outward in some way. Thus, useless (and perhaps wasted) internal reflections in lighting are made available. It would not be wrong to say that the firefly has completely changed the direction of the lighting industry.



·       A dog full of thorns and the most commercial biomimicry ever

We remember the ball-shaped spikes sticking to our socks and trousers when the urbanization was not so intense, walking around the back of our houses or in a nearby slum, or from picnics, we went on with our family or on a school trip. It does not sting in our hands when we take it out, but when they find a suitable environment, they hold on with great strength. Swiss scientist George de Mestral laid the foundations for the invention we know today as Velcro, thanks to the fact that his dog was covered with these spines during a nature walk in the Alps in 1941. As a result of his examination with the microscope, he discovered that these spines were full of very small-scale hooks. As he was unfamiliar with the subject, he decided to talk to fabric manufacturers, and Benyus, the creator of the biomimicry for Velcro, which he patented in 1952 as a result of years of experimentation, would later call it “probably the best revenue-generating biomimicry ever”.


·       Surface coating from mussels

Mussels clinging to the surrounding inorganic structures are a common sight on therocks by the sea. If you've ever wanted to dislodge one, you've probably noticed how tightly it clings to it. Building on the ability of mussels tocling to rocks, Columbia Forest Products company developed a soy-based protein to develop surfacing products. An urea-based formaldehyde structure is used in conventional surfacing materials and plywood. With the soy-based technology inspired by mussels, the quality of the air inhaled in the environments where this product is used has been improved and a healthier work environment has been provided for those working in production. While the extra formaldehyde increased the cost, thanks to this product developed by Columbia, the costs were also reduced and it was possible to obtain a price that would be competitive in the market. Finally, a better product has emerged compared to traditional products in terms of material life span, durability, and waterproofing level.

·       From the feet of the lizard to innovation awards

In another example of biomimicry, similar to velcro, the inspiration comes from animals rather than plants. The gecko (broad-toed lizard) is famous for being able to walk comfortably on the wall and hold upside down on the ceiling. Experiments show that theoretically, a typical lizard can carry around 114 kg with one leg. The secret lies in the microscopic hairs, numbering in millions, on the toes of this tiny creature. Turning this adhesion ability into a commercial product, GeckSkin developed an adhesive tape that can carry a load of approximately 320kg with a piece the size of a small shopping receipt. The tape not only carries small parts and large loads but also can be removed without leaving any traces thanks to its lizard-inspired structure. Thanks to this product, GeckSkin was selected as one of the "ten most innovative products of the 2013-2014 period" by FabrikLink Network, as well as receiving the "most important scientific discovery award of 2012" by CNN Money.


·       Swimming lessons from the master hunter of the sea

If we go back to the period when the 2008 Summer Olympic Games took place, we can remember that the biggest discussions in the media were the world records being broken by state-of-the-art swimsuits. If we take a closer look at these swimsuits, which were widely discussed at the time and later banned on the grounds that they adversely affected competition, we realize that their design was inspired by the skin of a shark. The shark's most well-known feature is its very sharp teeth, but their teeth are not only found in their mouth. The structures on the shark's skin, also known as "dermal denticle", increase the swimming speed and maneuvering abilities of this master hunter. We can define dermal denticles an innumerable number of overlapping or intertwined structures that can only be seen under the electron microscope. The swimsuits are inspired by microscopic structures that can adjust themselves according to the direction of the water flow and also increase the swimmer's speed by minimizing the small eddies and currents that occur around the swimmer. Although it is currently banned for use in large organizations, it continues its commercial success, far from being an example of an abandoned biomimicry, as it is also used on the surfaces of boats and ships that come into contact with water.


·       Building Blocks: Corals

Cement production is considered a sector that causes significant carbon emissions for developed countries as well as for growing economies. According to 2011 data, two billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions were caused by this sector alone in return for global cement production of 3.6 billion tons. Even this data is enough to draw a framework for the effects of cement production on climate change. The sustainability of this energy and the carbon-intensive sector is one of the most important milestones in the fight against climate change. Setting off from this fact, Calera Corporation was inspired by the working and survival principles of an ocean creature in its small-scale productions. As it is known, corals are among the creatures that are most affected by climate change, because even minor changes in environmental conditions can lead to the end of their lives.

These sensitive creatures form aragonite, a crystalline form of the carbonate, through various processes in salt water. Without going into further details of the process, let's return to what Calera performed. In pilot trials, the company processes brine and carbon dioxide, first turning it into carbonic acidand then into carbonate. Thus, CO2, which is the output of the process, is processed as raw material and input with this new method, and an automatic carbon capture mechanism is activated. At the end of this process, where the company transforms its outputs into various products, calcium carbonate becomes a building material. If the large-scale implementation can be achieved, emissions from cement production, which is known as the third sector most responsible for climate change, can be significantly reduced.


·       End notes

The sources of inspiration for the products we produce are sometimes at the bottom of the ocean, sometimes in the bright light of the sky, sometimes underground but always in front of our eyes. Making the world a better place for humans and other animate and inanimate beings is not that difficult. However, in order to achieve this, we need to work harder and take a closer look at nature and our relationship with it.

As Leonardo Da Vinci said, humanity does not seem to be able to reach the wisdom of nature yet, but we should not be pessimistic about this. Because it would not be fair to compare a system that has evolved for 3.8 billion years with the relatively young human species. However, this does not deny the fact that there is so much to learn from it. As humanity, our duty is to fulfill our responsibilities towards the planet and other beings on it before we reach the limit of self-destruction, to avoid all kinds of approaches and actions that are contrary to the functioning of nature, and to consult as much as possible with the "Sage" who has been developing itself for billions of years. Companies are obliged to bring their employees to a point that is more integrated with nature in order to add new innovations to the examples we have given above. Because it is not easy for us to learn from nature without being in nature. Based on this fact, we know that there are global giant companies that adopt learning from nature in their leadership development. Therefore, we,as S360, started to perform some of our activities and services in nature. The increase in this number will not only carry our country further in the innovation ranking but will also enable us to fulfill our responsibilities towards our planet. Maybe at a point when we get stuck doing our daily work, we can start by asking ourselves the following question: “What would nature do?”


Prepared by: A. Eren Öztürk

Contributions: Yaprak Kurtsal, Kerem Okumuş, Gamze Selçuk

Design: Volkan Babaotu












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