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How Biomimicry is Helping to Advance Sustainable Innovation at GOJO

Tom Marting

4/13/2015


By Tom Marting


Facilities and Resource Management Director, GOJO Industries

GOJO has long fostered a culture of collaborative innovation driven by the GOJO Purpose, Saving lives and making life better through well-being solutions. Creating sustainable value from innovation is inherent in advancing the GOJO Purpose, and we continue to lead the industry in finding new and unique approaches to drive innovation through sustainability. 

As we drive innovation, we often collaborate with external organizations and universities to advance those goals. One such collaboration came about when we were approached by Tom Tyrell and his non-profit organization Great Lakes Biomimicry about sponsoring a PhD student at the University of Akron enrolled in the first-ever corporate biomimicry fellowship program. We immediately saw this as an opportunity to continue to lead and innovate.

What is Biomimicry?
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by looking to nature for inspiration.1Many engineering and design challenges we face in our technical world have already been solved by organisms or natural systems. 

Nature has been conducting field tests for 3.8 billion years, so the solutions and strategies we find there are not just sustainable, but robust and reliable. But there is a challenge in bridging the gap between nature’s ways of operating and our own technical capacities and limitations. Using the emerging discipline of biomimicry can help bridge that gap and translate those biobased strategies into innovative solutions we can apply to our own design challenges.

Integrating Biomimicry into Design
In 2014 we conducted two biomimicry-based innovation workshops, led and facilitated by our University of Akron PhD fellow, Emily Kennedy. During our two workshops, we gathered cross functional teams of marketers, engineers, scientists and chemists. We took up design challenges, and looked to nature to find models that fulfilled our functional need, and we were inspired by squid, trees, sand-swimming reptiles, and many other organisms. We also studied and extracted the engineering principles at work in each model; “de-biologizing” them in a way, then worked to apply those principles to our product innovation challenges. 

Unlike more traditional innovation tools, the biomimicry process assumes we don’t know the strategy or answer we are looking for, but that we can find it in nature. Each innovator goes on a learning journey to discover how Mother Nature has already solved the design problems we are facing. Our workshop participants found the learning and innovation to be fun and personally fulfilling, and the natural models provided new stimulus to create divergent thinking and spark creativity in a way other tools have not done. Emily has more than two years left in her fellowship at GOJO, and we plan to conduct many more such workshops and embed these tools and approaches into our innovation process so we can continue to learn, advance sustainability, and have fun as we are inspired by nature.

Early Results
These workshops have resulted in six patent applications and many novel designs and approaches that we are working to further develop. These innovations also have sustainable value, giving us ways to achieve significantly less energy consumption and use greener chemistries in our next generation of products. A case study with more details on these workshops and the approaches we used is available at the Great Lakes Biomimicry website.

I would love to hear how you’ve found your own design or innovation inspiration in nature. Share with us your examples or stories!

1.Definition of Biomimicry from Biomimicry.org/what-is-biomimicry

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