People often ask me for examples of ‘businesses inspired by nature’.
While there are many examples of organisations with aspects of applied nature’s inspiration, for example: InterfaceFLOR taking inspiration from nature for product design, Marks & Spencer taking inspiration from nature for process design (industrial ecology), and HOK taking inspiration from nature for place/structural design (architecture); the current reality is that there are few examples of organisations working in harmony with nature and applying nature’s inspiration to all aspects of the organisation (purpose, people, process, product & place). Fortunately, the appetite in businesses (corporate and non-corporate) for embracing nature’s inspiration at all levels is growing as organisations increasingly realise the benefits of transforming to models and mind-sets more in harmony with life on Earth.
Let’s take a peek in an unlikely place to find examples of what good business inspired by nature can look like: the beauty industry. As any wise person knows, beauty is more than skin deep. A recent article in ‘Green Parent’ magazine titled ‘More Than Skin Deep’ by Alex Fisher, explores how two companies Weleda and Dr. Hauschka took inspiration from nature in starting their organisations many years ago, and too this day still take inspiration from nature and aim to work in harmony with nature as best they can. Both companies align their purpose to caring for people and the planet through applying the principles of what is called anthroposophical medicine.
Dr. Rudolf Steiner and Dr. Ita Wegman in the 1920’s came up with anthroposophical medicine due to their strong belief that medicine should stimulate the body’s own healing powers and treat the body, mind, soul and spirit. In essence, anthroposophical medicine is about helping solve the cause rather than treating the effect. So often in today’s busy, all-consuming world we seek solutions to the effects rather than going deeper to tackle the under-lying cause. So often in today’s anxious and anthropocentric environment the under-lying cause to many of our ills is our dis-connection with nature, hence our dis-ease emanating from dis-harmony with our living and working environment.
Both Weleda and Dr. Hauschka apply their purposeto all aspects of their business: people, process, products and places. For instance, all aspects of the manufacturing process are conducted with respect for nature and the human being. Hence, both companies have created biodynamic farming methods which use natural methods to encourage fertility and growth rather than artificial stimulants and controls. These farms are open to the public (for instance, Ryton Gardens near Coventry) to share nature’s inspiration and help people re-connect with nature while offering a lovely day out as well as good public-relations. All product ingredients and design approaches are based on holistic principles and inspired by working with the grain of nature. Likewise with the two companies’ places of work; for instance, toilets use grey water, roof surfaces are planted where possible and the rain water collected for the gardens, and underground warehouses to assist natural cooling.
So often, in today’s confused corporate world, the purpose of the business is ‘to maximise shareholder returns’. The company Dr. Hauschka saw this growing mono-cultural approach in business and sought to protect the integrity of the organisation from such. The parent company (Wala) created a foundation (Wala Foundation) in 1986 which holds 100% of shares. All profits belong to the foundation and so investments in the future viability of the organisation, along with profit share for its employees, are met without fear of fickle shareholders focusing on short-term profits for their own benefit at the expense of the purpose, people, processes, products and places inherent in such a business inspired by nature. And so these organisations continue to perform well in increasingly challenging market conditions and continue to remain true to their purpose, working solely on ethical and environmental products and helping its stakeholders harmonise with nature.
There are other examples of such values-led businesses in the beauty industry. For example, MuLondon (organic, cruelty-free products for people who care about people and the world around them) and Dr Bronner’s (free from synthetics and giving between 30%-70% of profits to charities).
And so in answering questions like ‘is there hope for humanity?’ and ‘is business inspired by nature too idealistic and unrealistic?’ I say the answers are all around us in nature and in the essence of human nature. It is up to you and me, each day, to decide whether we feed greed, jealousy, fear and selfishness or whether we feed love, compassion, wisdom, beauty and harmony. I know what I choose, yet no one said life was easy and I make mistakes daily. It is a fallacy to think that business (corporate or not, shareholder-owned or privately-owned, for profit or non-profit) has to be about benefiting the few at the expense of many. As Paul Polman (Global CEO of the world’s largest consumer goods company, Unilever) knows when he recently set about purging Unilever’s shareholders of ones only interested in short-term profits and bringing on shareholders interested in the long-term health and vitality of the organisation.
Many in business are moving to a new model. This blog seeks to explore the transformation to that new model, bringing to light examples and stories of inspiration. The Nature of Business book explores just this in detail. The future of business is ‘business inspired by nature’, and the future is bright.