Consumers prefer “natural” products, but what about products inspired by nature?

Consumers prefer “natural” products, but what about products inspired by nature?

Right now, I’m sitting on the floor of an airport, waiting for my next flight. Looking around me, this is about the last place anyone would be inspired by nature – there’s very little that’s natural here, after all. Concrete tarmac. Petroleum-based carpet. Pleather seats.

But product engineers are finding great inspiration in nature – and a new field of study is emerging called biomimicry. Basically, it means incorporating ideas from natural design into human product design and it’s gaining momentum as products are introduced into the marketplace.

As smart marketers, we know that creating products that meet consumer needs and preferences is a critical part of our jobs. And when that product has an interesting story to tell, it makes the communications and advertising component more compelling. Our Eco Pulse research confirms that the majority (60%) of consumers are actively looking for greener products, and that they prefer the word “natural” on the label. So developing products that borrow ideas from nature seems like a win-win situation, and biomimicry is starting to play a role in creating more sustainable products.

In Harare, Zimbabwe, the Eastgate Centre high-rise building takes its energy-efficient design from termites. Yep, termites. Turns out that those little guys are quite the engineers, keeping their mounds at a constant temperature by constantly opening and closing multiple vents. The Eastgate Centre uses a similar model, using less than 10% of the energy needed by a similarly-sized, conventionally engineered building.

There’s a company called Whalepower Wind Turbines (www.whalepower.com) that’s using the design of a humpback whale’s flippers to create wind turbine blades with less drag, increased lift and 20% improved efficiency. As renewable energy struggles to achieve price parity with conventional energy, innovations like this might help close the gap and make wind power more affordable.

My last example is a company called Pax Scientific (www.paxscientific.com) whose research into fluid movement – think spirals, the Fibonacci Sequence, the Golden Ratio – is producing more efficient fans, blades, mixers and impellers that move air and liquid around in systems. You can see these spiral-shaped parts in new washing machines. It’s estimated that putting these more efficient parts on compressors, pumps and motors would save 15% of all the electricity used by the US.

So what can termites, humpback whales and the Fibonacci Sequence teach us as marketers? That sometimes, innovative answers aren’t only found in the technology lab – sometimes they’re found right under our noses, in the dirt. That “new and improved” can sometimes actually be “ancient and applied in a new way.” That the old adage of “adapt, mutate or die” is true of products as well. That perhaps the next generation of product engineers will also be trained in zoology.

Incorporating biomimicry can potentially become a powerful part of your brand story, a clear and compelling differentiator and a constant source of innovation.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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