Geoff Lamberton - Ethically Speaking

The ethics of natural systems Part 2

In my previous article I talked about the take-make-waste system used to produce goods and services. This system was designed in the 1700s. Its a little bit old-fashioned and in need of an urgent makeover given the unfortunate by-product is global environmental disaster.

But there is always hope. The next industrial revolution, you know the sustainable one, could be based on the principles of biomimicry, where natures methods of production inspire the redesign of human production systems. Nature provides a design model based on 3.8 billion years of evolutionary experimentation. Natural systems have proved to work over long time periods drawing only on local inputs combined with solar energy.

Some examples provided in Janine Benyus excellent book Biomimicry, Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997) include:

The redesign of farms in the image of grassland prairies to be self-fertilising and pest resistant.

Spinning fibre for cloth production mimicking the method spiders use to make webs.

Shatterproof ceramic production inspired by abalone, which produce shells without kilns, mining or waste.

Now before you dismiss biomimicry as science fiction, acknowledge that the way we do business now is not necessarily the way we should do business. The take-make-waste system made short term economic sense when our objective was to maximise production. But we are beginning to change our priorities, with social well-being and environmental preservation heading the list.

There are numerous examples of businesses around the world adopting biomimicry principles, as well as brilliant examples here on the North Coast. During the 1990s Lismore City Farm created an industrial ecology at the Lismore Challenge site in East Lismore. An industrial ecology is an ecologically inspired production system. This involved co-locating three complementary businesses (organic seedling nursery, organic garden and produce store) on one site, enabling the product and waste flows from one business to be used by the adjacent business, leading to high energy efficiency and almost zero waste.

A second example drawing on the principles of permaculture and hydroponics was developed by Andrew Bodlovich and Hogan Gleeson, who won the Northern Rivers Innovator of the Year 2006 Excellence Award for their high production, low resource usage EcoCity Farm, which produces food using minimal land and natural resource inputs.

So why should we bother to go to the effort of transforming our businesses into sustainable organisations? One good reason is that we are totally dependent on the natural environment. Even those of us obsessed with consumerism should recognise that everything we produce comes from the earth so there is no long-term economic sense in destroying our environment.

And of course there are our ethical obligations to future generations who deserve to inherit a healthy environment. Greed is not a virtue. Our binge consumption of fossil fuels compromising the welfare of future generations is an ugly trait of our generation. Surely it must be a sign of insanity for a species to destroy its only ecological life support system?

If you are interested in sustainable business check out the Journal of Industrial Ecology at and the book Natural Capitalism (1999) by Hawken, Lovins & Hunter Lovins, which can be downloaded for free from

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