Seeing the Forest and not the Trees: Learning from Nature's Circular Economy

Wendy L. Tate, Lydia Bals, Cristof Bals, Kai Foerstl

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Managing for triple bottom line (TBL) by creating economic, ecological and social value is increasingly on the business agenda. However, it is challenging to address non-economic issues because businesses are designed to maximize profit and are less aligned with global ecological and social challenges. Shifting from linear supply chain thinking to interconnected, circular, ecosystem thinking could offer insights into addressing these challenges. Looking at time-tested patterns and strategies from natural ecosystems that operate using, reusing, and repurposing materials and components in a way that is sustainable, may allow for innovative and effective solutions for businesses to begin addressing these global challenges. Biomimicry, an approach to innovation that seeks solutions to human challenges by emulating nature, can inspire evolutionary and structural aspects of business ecosystems. Biomimetic insights related to mycorrhizal (root-fungus) networks are used as a foundation of this research. This research draws on network theory and complex adaptive systems (CAS) to translate the biomimetic language to the language of networked business systems. Based on literature and interview data gathered from five businesses, biomimetic principles were developed that can guide businesses as they transition from linear, wasteful chains to circular business value systems. In particular, business ecosystems require more participants in the roles of ‘scavengers’ and ‘decomposers’ and an underlying infrastructure, that helps to manage information and material flows in an integrated way.
Original languageEnglish
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Pages (from-to)115-129
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Biomimicry
  • Global challenges
  • Networks
  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Mycorrhiza
  • Fungi

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