Redesign Business: Mimicking Enterprise Structures after Ecology

The contemporary socioeconomic system is immensely interconnected and specialized, to where the production of small appliances requires large transnational scales of industry from resource extraction to distribution. But this interdependency indicates severe unsustainability in the risks it leverages for cascading failure throughout the system.

To restructure the system for resiliency, integrating products, services and communication with decentralization, collaboration, and localization will allow economic feasibility and equity to develop on a local scale. Rethinking the contemporary business model will also require the new development of enhanced service sectors and communication with stakeholders; the aid
of innovation-focused organizations, along with government and citizens, can help in this transition. Systemic change will also ask of everyone to adapt to new ways of systems thinking that are more fundamental to the new paradigm.

To design systems requires approaching paradigmatic shifts at the most holistic level possible in order to facilitate the components within. A complex system is governed much more by its interconnections than by its components, which is why human habits and subsystems are both self-reinforcing, for they exist within a network that is at once interdependent and self-organizing. Consequently, to design a system means to change its situation through language, capital, inter-system relations, and the designs it will later produce itself; it also requires training people to think in systems until it becomes fundamental. To be able to do this, designers will need to adapt to their own set of laws after first claiming to autonomy to do so, and they will need to synthesize the macro, medial-, and micro-levels of their systems to develop permanence models that meet their own social, economic, and environmental goals.

Part of the inspiration in building systems that are more capable of governing
our increasingly complex world may come from “systems biomimicry” or territorial ecology; these are fields which create models inspired by the systems of the natural world, and in that way revoke industrial reductionist tendencies through a greater appreciation for system interdependency and evolutionary processes. Among the characteristics relevant for mimicry are closed -loop material systems which reuse waste as resources or food; ecosystem memory — “redundancy” — which creates links for system distribution; and response diversity, which increases the number of ways a species reacts to a disturbance. In the socioeconomic sense, response diversity can be epitomized through decentralization and regional self-reliance,
which will empower local economies and village industries as well as create opportunities for polycentric governance and self-employment.

In the digital world, response diversity can be achieved through social networking to share knowledge. These networks ultimately should
be based on fostering human relationships and joining people in shared visions or norms; they should not center on the technological aspect, which encourages scanning, surfing, and scattered attention. A successful social network will redesign the contemporary lifestyle without degrading it of its culture and pleasure.

U.K. retailer Asda is committed to inspiring sustainable behaviors in its shoppers by sourcing local produce and offering zero-waste options.

Like a positive social network, a new business model which emphasizes community over technology can stand to benefit economically, socially, and ecologically through the integration of a service sector. A combination of product and service sectors — a product-service system (PSS) — will assist in dematerializing the economy while also creating employment opportunities.

The transition from a product- to service-based economy, like any system innovation, is expected to take many decades and will initially begin only through slight product redesigns — perhaps by aiding user assembly or enhancing product durability. Policy-making can incentivize the transition by placing tax reductions on service activities such as product repair; it may also change patterns of regulation, taxing, and pricing. By legitimizing the transition in this way, system innovation can be more easily facilitated through evolution in its individual parts, and system designers can then examine the interconnections to ensure they foster strong functionality.

Connecting decentralization with a service sector, systems design for sustainability should be distributed in creating specialized sectors which carry out different activities on the local level, so as to enhance the functional links as well as response diversity. The process may also mirror studies of industrial ecology, which combine material and energy systems with organizational networks by mimicking ecological systems. Emerging infrastructural systems are all recommended to be distributed through diverse sources of energy, reduced per capita usage, and the need for resilience to climate disasters; localizing the distribution will further allow local water recycling, zero-mile agriculture, and supporting the local economy.

C40 Cities have already undertaken this transition through networks that facilitate small-scale distribution systems for food, water, and energy.

Because our current system dictates which ways are most efficient to produce, consume, and transport, designing new systems which decentralize services, develop multi-functionality, and foster collaboration will help us to adopt sustainable behaviors which are self-reinforcing. Even changing the language in which certain activities are framed — for example, by referring to capital as “assets” — can assist in creating system-wide efficiency. Examples of this include designing digital technology that is based on respect for nature, creating a service network that facilitates zero-mile agriculture, and designing fashion to encourage walking instead of driving in rain. These developments all focus on the relationship between people and their products (rather than on the products themselves), and in that way encourage individuals to be more open to sustainable behaviors.

Explicitly encouraging new behaviors through incentivizing may also be productive, as it draws those who may be particularly reluctant to adopt new methods; for example, encouraging hard drive backups instead of using cloud memory to endorse cyberspace accountability, or financially incentivizing the eco-retrofitting of buildings through policy-making. Finally, to ensure stability while shifting paradigms, changes in interdependent technologies should be stabilized before continuing systemic transition; in today’s interconnected world, thousands of people may be dependent on a single product or service segment, and consequently designers need to be sensitive in offering changes.

The Citibikes available in New York City encourage a clean mode of transportation while also fostering social and economic opportunity.