Exploring the Benefits of Using Biomimicry in Design

Learn about the concept of biomimicry and how it can be applied to design. Find out how beneficial it is for your brand and business by helping you to be more sustainable, eco-friendly and in-tune with nature.

It’s inspiring to see so many sustainable eco-friendly biomimicry design packaging innovations emerging, as new technology blends with the innate wisdom of nature to create packaging design that has less impact on our planet.

As brands and customers alike start to pay more attention to their environmental impact, it’s heartening to see so many businesses working together across science, manufacturing and industry to solve some of the planet’s most pressing issues around packaging design waste and consumption through biomimicry.

Why ‘Green’ packaging design isn’t Always Green

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of greenwashing that goes on when it comes to sustainable packaging, and it can be difficult for brands to sift through the small print to truly align their practices with their sustainability values. ‘Biodegradable’ packaging, for example, is a term that’s applied loosely and liberally, but not always truthfully. And even ‘recyclable’ packaging isn’t necessarily recyclable for all customers, because local councils vary so widely in what they can and can’t recycle. This is where biomimicry can help!

The ‘sustainable’ packaging Bamboo Problem

One ‘sustainability’ trend to be aware of at the moment is bamboo. In recent years, this versatile plant has been touted as the solution to many of the world’s environmental problems.

Bamboo’s natural properties – it’s incredibly strong, highly durable, and extremely fast-growing – means it can be used for everything from toilet paper and compostable packaging to furniture, building materials and chopsticks. It can also be harvested and regrown in a matter of weeks, making it a crop that is easy to replenish. This is where it should be sustainable. But of course whenever humans and money are involved, there will always be exploitation – and that’s what’s started to happen with bamboo.

There has been a huge increase in the number of products and amount of packaging being made from bamboo, and this huge spike in global demand has led to the mass clearing of natural forests in places like China, with widespread over-harvesting and a monoculture that has had a huge negative impact on local ecosystems.

A more eco-friendly way for brands to package their products is by using biomimicry and circular materials that can either be composted and used to enrich the ground, sent back and reformed to be used again, or harvested from sustainable natural resources.

Brands that want to be truly sustainable will need to read the small print to determine the best eco-packaging options for their products, but these are some of my favourite environmentally-friendly biomimicry packaging innovations…

Biomimicry in sustainable Packaging design

When we’re looking for inspiration on how to package things in a way that’s kind to nature, the natural world is the perfect place to start with biomimicry. For every property we need in a packaging material, Mother Nature has already done the hard work to innovate, evolve, adapt and perfect efficient structures and properties.

In every ecosystem we find examples of natural materials that are waterproof, breathable, flexible, tensile, cushioning, absorbent, and more, so it makes sense that we harness the innate wisdom of biomimicry in nature and mimic these structures in sustainable packaging materials that are better suited to sustainability. Just think of the honeycomb structure that runs between the layers of cardboard used in boxes – bees know what they’re doing, and this beautiful structure is both strong and space-saving.

Magical sustainable Mycelium biomimicry

Mycelium is a true wonder of nature. Pick up a handful of soil, and you’ll be picking up literally miles of mycelium. That’s how abundant this wonder of nature is. And happily, word about its magical natural properties is beginning to spread through the world of eco-friendly packaging.

Mycelium is essentially an underground network of microscopic fungal fibres that intertwine and connect plant roots to deliver vital nutrients. These fibres do an important job, and they have some incredible innate properties to help them carry it out. Mycelium is both strong and flexible. It can be squashed and will bounce back. It is insulating for both heat and sound. And because it grows around, over and through obstacles underground, it can take a variety of shapes and densities.

As an organic material, mycelium can be grown quickly, and at scale. Companies like Magical Mushroom are doing wonderful things with biomimicry and mycelium, blending it with agricultural waste to form a range of biodegradable, compostable and customisable packaging for everything from wine bottles to ice cream to plants.

Sustainable, innovative, eco-friendly packaging ideas for branding

the benefits of biomimicry with packaging Made from Plants

There are lots of companies innovating with biomimicry and plants to make all different types of packaging.

A lot of sustainable start-ups are gathering teams of designers, chemists, engineers and entrepreneurs with a social and environmental conscience to find new biomimicry solutions to the environmental crisis.

Evoware, for example, is using the waste fibre of sugarcane, which used to be simply burnt in the fields, to create fully biodegradable disposable food containers for things like burgers and salads. They also use cassava, a mineral-rich vegetable, to make non-plastic carrier bags.

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sustainable Seaweed Packaging as a biomimicry Revolution

Seaweed is an abundant natural resource that does wonders for the planet. It’s vital for supporting our ocean ecosystems, removing toxins from seawater and absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment.

Seaweed could also be revolutionary for the packaging design industry. Growing at a rate of up to a metre a day, seaweed is a quick-to-replenish, farmable resource that doesn’t compete with other crops for agricultural space, doesn’t require fertiliser, and needs no freshwater to keep it healthy and growing.

Brands like Notpla are innovating with biomimicry with seaweed, including with headline-grabbing ‘edible drinks’ capsules that are designed to replace single-use plastic bottles. And Evoware has developed a range of biodegradable packaging options using agar extracted by boiling red seaweed to create biodegradable bags, bottles and containers.

Sustainable, innovative, eco-friendly packaging ideas for branding

Choosing biomimicry design Materials that are Close to Your Environment

Doing better for the environment isn’t as straightforward as making simple eco-friendly packaging choices though – we need to think about where those materials come from, too. The fewer miles travelled, the better for the environment.

For brands and businesses in the UK, hemp is a great, sustainable choice for packaging, because it grows easily in the UK and is a hugely versatile plant.

Hemp grows faster than other industrial crops, requires less water and no pesticides. It also has good carbon sequestration properties, with 1 metric ton of hemp capturing about 1.5 metric tons of carbon. It can also capture atmospheric carbon twice as effectively as forests, and protects and remediates the soil it grows in.

Another material we have in abundance here in the UK is wool, and this offers a great opportunity for making your brand practices more circular. If you’ve got fragile items to send out to customers, protecting them with wool instead of packing nuggets will ensure the item arrives safely. Wool is also a fantastic natural insulator and performs better than eco-unfriendly polystyrene when it comes to transporting chilled and temperature-sensitive products. Once your product has arrived safely, customers can reuse the wool to protect their plants, stuff their cushions or even line their pet beds. 

Match Your sustainable biomimicry packaging design Experience to Your Brand Ethos and Personality

People connect with brands not only because of the products they sell but because of the overall experience they deliver. In order to keep your brand experience consistent, it’s a great idea to find packaging materials that match your overall brand ethos and personality.

Greenwashing doesn’t wash with today’s eco-aware consumer – they need to see your practices aligned with your overall brand messaging.

When I was working on a rebranding project for OMVITS, a company that specialises in algae-based vegan omega 3 and other vitamins and supplements, I knew plastic bottles weren’t going to cut it. OMVITS is a brand that prides itself on protecting the oceans and having a sustainable supply chain, and single-use plastic bottles would’ve been contrary to everything they stand for.

I set about sourcing biomimicry packaging that aligned with their brand, and we were able to source some amazing marine-biodegradable and compostable packaging that fits perfectly with their ocean-inspired ‘making waves’ brand concept. It was the ideal solution for them, and for their ocean-aware customers. Click here to view the full project.

And finally, don’t forget to share your own brand packaging journey with your customers. Your audience will be inspired to see and hear how and why you made the decisions you did, and this will add even more context and texture to your brand experience.

If you’d like help forming your brand and packaging experience, get in touch with me here.

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