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A Bay “Biomimonomy” – Business, Mangroves, and the Evolution of Sustainability

The third in a series on the Pillars of A New Bioregional Marketplace to restore ecosystem health of the Rappahannock River and the Chesapeake Bay…

I was talking to my friend and old colleague, David Bearinger, on one hot summer morning this past August about sustainability, its pitfalls and promises, and he noted the aging of the word; that it is now laden with baggage, and a decade after its mainstreaming, it would be helpful to evolve to a new concept, and of course, a new word. I confess his musing has haunted me ever since. Actually, it was more like a reminder of one of those things in the back of your mind that worries you, and you try to forget…

As a child of sustainability-schooled in the Brundtland way-working to ensure that future generations enjoy the same or greater opportunities than those of my own-we all have that little voice. You know the one— the one that crops up sometimes during a briefing when you’re pressed, or when you’re trying to explain sustainability to a family member-and just like that, it reappears. It’s the one that says “you don’t REALLY understand this, NOW DO YOU?”.

No, I never really did. But I’ve never given up trying.

Perhaps Janine Benyus does understand. If we were to use her ideas, recently discussed at last year’s Bioneers conference, Financial Crisis Could Pave Way for Greener Economy Inspired by Nature, and apply them to The Rappahannock Exchange, we would have a Watershed-based Biomimonomy – the blending of biomimicry and economy – to create a marketplace design inspired by nature.

For example, the outrageously cool Asknature.org website allows the user to search for how nature designs for any noun or verb. The input of “economy” provides many possibilities including the following as just one example:

“Succession is part of the normal dynamics of many forest types: the chance appearance of gaps, rapidly colonised by opportunistic ‘weeds’ which are progressively ousted by slower-growing but more competitive species until a mature forest reappears…Some of the differences and similarities between mangroves and their non-mangrove counterparts are shown in Table 2.4. The comparisons suggest that mangroves resemble (r-selected) pioneer species in their reproductive characteristics, but as adult trees they behave more as mature-phase competitive (K-selected) species. This observation, that mangroves contrive to have their cake and eat it (Tomlinson 1986) should prove a fruitful insight into the dynamics of mangrove forests.” (Hogarth 1999:45)

Application Ideas: Metaphor for how businesses do and can function. The first sentence matches how companies usually function, seeing an available market niche and filling it (weeds or pioneers), then being bought up or out-competed by pre-existing (competitive) species. The mangroves could be a metaphor for successful entrepreneurial business that come in as pioneers, but become competitive and survive.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Manufacturing, construction, retail

I can hardly comprehend what it would mean to design a bioregional marketplace like a mangrove forest. But I am willing to consider the possibilities, and ponder.

- Michael Collins

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