FedEx Blog

FedEx Blog

Biomimicry, Nature’s Innovator

November 6, 2012

One of the many reasons I am proud to be on the FedEx team is our outstanding leadership. Our founder and CEO, Frederick W. Smith states, “At FedEx, we recognize that our impact is greater than the services we provide. We are committed to being a great place to work, a thoughtful steward of the environment and a caring citizen in the communities where we live and work. We are passionate about sustainably connecting people and places and improving the quality of life around the world.” Mr. Smith encourages us to ask the age-old question “What if…?” and the world is a better place as a result.

FedEx has accomplished amazing efficiencies for environmental sustainability through associates willing to apply new thinking to old challenges and continually push the envelope on “What if..?” As a result of asking this question, FedEx has accomplished the following milestones:

  • Vehicle fleet fuel efficiency rising by over 16% in seven years
  • Recycling over 6 million additional pounds of waste than the preceding year and
  • Proactively raising our aircraft emission intensity goal from 20% reduction in 2020 to a 30% reduction by 2020

All are achievements of which we can be proud.  However, as we reduce, replace, and revolutionize we need to continue to ask “What if..?”

“What if we can harness nature’s genius to solve human challenges…?” “What if companies can save costs, increase consumer satisfaction AND help the environment..?”  These were a few of the insightful questions posed by Margo Farnsworth, Biomimicry Fellow, during a Wolf River conservancy lecture series. “When we ask how nature would solve the problem we’re working on, we are consulting survivors – organisms who have adapted to operate in a manner which ensures their species survival.” 

“When needing to make a commuter train faster and more efficient, the managers of the Shinkansen Bullet Train looked at what happens when a Kingfisher bird enters the water. The physical configuration of the beak allows the bird to enter the water without making a wake. When applied to the train, not only was fuel efficiency improved by 15% while allowing the train to travel more quickly, but the train was more quiet and the sonic booms produced when the train exited tunnels were eliminated.”  

Often it is not a matter of life or death but simply a matter of degrees of improvement which can make the difference for a business – or fungi. When seeking a solution for where to invest in urban renewal, one community took a lesson from mycelium which grow fastest at their edges. “If money was invested at the heart of the neighborhood only that neighborhood prospered; but investing at the edges of the neighborhood can advance interest from bordering neighborhoods so that each now have a stake in success.” 

“What if..” we all recognized that we have a stake in making our world a better place?  “What if..” our customers noticed, appreciated and now expect our continued sustainability innovation and leadership? “What if..” our quest to be a thoughtful steward of the environment translated into a competitive sales advantage? “What if…” FedEx leads the way in our communities and across the globe..with frameworks such as respond to some of the parameters nature has to address like:

  • Is it locally attuned?
  • Is it resource efficient?
  • Does it adapt to changing conditions?

Wood frogs use this framework. Each year when winter arrives, wood frogs can freeze solid because their bodies have a mechanism to pull water from their cells replacing it with sugars. In spring, the creatures warm and their systems return to their warm-weather operations mode. Imagine the benefits that could yield for patients awaiting new organs.  Now that’s a Biomimicry solution pathway that Bo, FedEx’s amphibian eco-champion, would love! *Don’t know Bo? Meet him here:


    Tim Jones says:

    Suzy, you comment upon a very interesting perspective when considering how a firm can innovate. I have always felt that growth comes from failure- the trick is to fail fast and cheap! Innovation could be looked at through the lens of finding the right answer within a series of failures. I learned a few weeks ago that the new planes in our fleet are saving the company and enviornment 3million gallons of fuel per month above what we estimated. Very impressive…

    Kim Warden says:

    Great work Suzy! Thank you for your thoughtful perspective. I’m so proud of Fedex’s dedication to our environment. I hope other companies will follow our footsteps!

    MayLyn says:

    WOW!!!!!!! Wonderful work Suzy! It is amazing what she has done and keeps on doing! Thank you for sharing this with us!

    Suzy says:

    @MayLyn – thank you. Ms. Farnsworth’s Biomimicry expertise and commitment is incredible as well as appreciated!

    itsik says:

    Dear Suzy,
    amazing & very impressive.
    It gives us perspective & path to other way of life.

    Mary Kaye Simmons says:

    Hey Suzy… Love the article…Fedex is doing a great job…If more companies would follow their lead this world would be in a lot better shape…

    Mary Kaye Simmons says:

    Hey Suzy… great article.. If more companies followed Fedex’s lead, this world would be a lot better off..

    Richard Barkey says:

    Suzy – you raise a very interesting issue here. Biomimicry has had many successes in the field of materials science and engineering design (I’m thinking about the properties of some scales as well as the great example of the bullet train you mention above), and I’m sure that could play a role in FedEx’s energy efficiency going forward (if it hasn’t already).

    My own perspective these days, though, is a more human one, and you’ve got me thinking that I haven’t come across biomimicry applied to social/organisational engineering and areas such as learning. I bet if we asked questions like “how do flocks of birds decide who to follow” or “how do chameleons learn to match their surroundings” we’d find a whole other set of efficiencies…

    Now I’m off to Google to see if someone’s already looked at that 🙂 Great post.

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