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Ecological Business Design [Design
Posted on January 5, 2015 @ 11:45:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Over the holidays, the main book I've been reading is Principles of Ecological Landscape Design (2013) by Travis Beck.

The basic idea is to design landscapes according to ecological principles because such landscapes are more resilient, less costly to manage, provide more ecosystem services, are more attuned to local environmental conditions, and are more sustainable. Each chapter of the book examines major ecological principles and uses those principles to suggest ways to design a landscape. What I like about the book is that it takes the idea of "learning from nature" and makes it makes it very concrete by discussing different ecological principles along with the relevant research to back up those principles and then goes about suggesting how these principles might inspire us to design landscapes in ways that might be different from the ways we currently designed landscapes.

The idea of designing landscapes in a way that obeys ecological principles is an idea that is becoming increasingly accepted in urban planning and landscape design. The way in which we manage stormwater in cities, for example, is often to run pipes underground to carry surface runoff away to some ultimate discharge point. We are building the equivalent of streams underground to deal with surface runoff and often these systems can be easily overwhelmed by larger rain events that are happening more frequently (in some parts of the world) as climate change expresses itself in increased climatic variability (i.e, larger rainfall events). Under normal circumstances a wetland would handle surface runoff for us and would also handle many of the pollutants coming from surface runoff better (i.e., capture and filtration) than a simple stormwater system (i.e., capture only). So a better way to design stormwater systems would be to use ecological design to construct the equivalent of wetlands to handle surface runoff. The diagram below is from the acclaimed Menomonee Valley Stormwater Park project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and gives you an idea of how ecological design principles can be used to better handle stormwater. Their ecological design approach also created a great visual attraction for the city, namely, the Stormwater Park area.

So the topic I want to explore in some upcoming blogs is whether there is any benefit to using ecological concepts to think about business design. Can concepts from ecology provide a useful perspective for designing not just landscapes but also businesses? Are ecological concepts such as tropic levels, succession, biodiversity, resource partitioning, and so on useful for thinking not just about how to design a landscape, but also how to design a business? One reason for thinking these ecological concepts might be useful is because they are terms for characterizing the workings of whole systems rather than how individual parts of a system work in isolation from each other. Systems thinking is often useful in business and one way to potentially develop more systems thinking expertise is to try to apply concepts from ecology to business.

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