Biomimicry: 3 Ways That Nature’s R&D Can Improve Your Bottom Line

Christopher Wedding, PhD

The world’s R&D investment of $1.6 trillion per year plays a big role in advancing what we know, what we are capable of doing, and how well we do it. Along the way, we come to believe that, well, we’re pretty smart. However, our knowledge pales in comparison to the intelligence hidden in the 3.8 billion years of R&D in the natural world.

Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” As academic or philosophical as this sounds, more big businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs are taking that advice very seriously. This emerging field is called biomimicry.

I have been a fan of biomimicry’s potential for nearly a decade. Back in 2005, I was able to bring the founders of the biomimicry field, Janine Benyus and Dr. Dayna Baumeister, to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a week-long Biologists at the Design Table intensive training course. Today I’d have to compete with Boeing, Nike, P&G, GE, J&J, IDEO, Shell, Kaiser-Permanente, and other private sector clients to get on their calendar. As a sign that this design strategy is here to stay, check out a sampling of their other clients here.

Other statistics demonstrate the growth of this field: According to a recent Forbes article, “biomimicry patents, scholarly articles and research grants have increased by more than five times since 2000. By 2030, the field could account for $425 billion of U.S. GDP and $1.6 trillion of total global output, [the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute] estimates.” These trends do not describe a passing fad or “cute” environmental storytelling.

Here are three ways that biomimicry can increase the bottom line for the real estate industry:

  1. Additional revenue – Product manufacturers and building owners compete for the attention of buyers so they need a way to stand out. Biomimicry offers ways to differentiate products, whether that be office space to rent or building products to sell. Examples include germ-deflecting surface materials based on the morphology of shark skin that improve the health of buildings occupants in hospitals and offices, and next generation LED lighting inspired by the nanostructure lens of fireflies.
  1. Cost reduction – Waste is often a source of operating expenses in buildings, whether that be energy used inefficiently to heat and cool the space or the costs to treat polluted water effluent. One example of biomimetic solutions include buildings designed with no heating or cooling systems based on the genius of termite mounds, which maintain constant temperatures despite large fluctuations in the ambient environment. Another example is the use of “structural pigments” – which rely on the microstructures which provides brilliant colors for animals such as blue jays, blue penguins, and morpho butterflies – instead of using dyes, which can cause negative human or environmental impacts, and, therefore, require remediation or cleaning costs.
  1. Risk mitigation – Consider the many chemicals of concern or red list materials that are currently in our supply chains or in actual products in our buildings. These pose real health, environmental, and brand risks today. They may also pose greater financial risks in the years to come. Some suggest that these lists offer candidates for the “next asbestos.” As a way to mitigate these risks, biomimicry offers solutions. Examples include high performance adhesives designed with insights from the sticky properties of gecko feet, and Columbia Forest Products’ decision to switch from urea-formaldehyde glues to non-toxic alternatives based on the way that blue mussels stick to rocks in harsh marine environments.

So, what’s your organization’s source of new ideas for design, construction, heating, cooling, transportation, manufacturing, safety, and healthy occupants? Take a look at the thousands of biomimicry innovations for the built environment and other sectors at

Christopher Wedding, PhD
Dr. Christopher Wedding is an entrepreneur, adviser, and professor focused on investment, innovation, and strategy in clean energy, green real estate, and corporate sustainability. He has nearly 20 years of experience in private equity, startup incubation, green building innovation, solar power finance, business development, leadership training, teaching, and research. Dr. Wedding is the Co-Founder of IronOak Energy Insights, a clean energy market research platform supporting investment decisions with trend analysis, data curation, and collaboration software; a Senior Adviser at Cherokee Investment Partners, a private equity firm that has raised over $2 billion in private equity funds and, separately, founded or invested in 80 startups and venture funds; a faculty member with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Kenan-Flagler Business School; a faculty member with the Institute for Defense and Business; a faculty member Duke Corporate Education; and a faculty member with the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University; a biomimicry expert trained as a Biologist at the Design Table by Biomimicry 3.8; and one of the earliest LEED Accredited Professionals with the US Green Building Council.