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University of Exeter Business School

Biomimicry and Circular Economy Design Principles

Module titleBiomimicry and Circular Economy Design Principles
Module codeBEPM002
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Ruth Cherrington (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module engages with systems thinking to understand the nature of global challenges and draws upon circular economy and biomimicry design thinking to develop long term sustainable solutions.

On this module you will apply techniques and processes of nature to human design problems. This will involve developing knowledge of the interconnected cultural and structural aspects of business, the complexities of data flows and the characteristics of circular material flows. You will then scrutinise examples of complex, adaptive systems to evaluate the feasibility of implementing circular value systems for different products, services and industries.

In summary, you will learn how to apply and adapt ecological concepts to business and innovation strategies, discovering that biomimicry is a methodology used by some of the most innovative organisations worldwide.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is for you to leave with an understanding of key theories, concepts, tools, design principles, and personal values in relation to circular economy that can be used in a range of working environments. Throughout the module, you will be exposed to examples of complex, adaptive systems and will evaluate the feasibility of implementing circular value systems for different products, services and industries. By doing so, you will learn how to apply and adapt ecological concepts to business and innovation strategies, discovering how biomimicry is used by some of the most innovative organizations worldwide.

The module will provide you with a research-enriched learning environment, where you will have the opportunity to engage in independent research and apply your knowledge to real-world problems. The module will also offer links to employment opportunities by providing you with the skills necessary to address the challenges of sustainability and circularity in business.

By the end of the module, you will have a deep understanding of the principles and practices of biomimicry and circular economy, as well as the ability to apply these concepts to design problems and develop circular value systems. They will be equipped to critically evaluate the sustainability of products, services and industries and provide innovative solutions that address circularity challenges.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify the significance of emerging global challenges and analyse their likely impact upon business, society and the environment;
  • 2. Critically analyse the nature of complexity and its relationship to the global system that business operates within;
  • 3. Analyse emerging business models and appraise their suitability to positively impact global risks;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Critically consider issues from a range of perspectives, drawing upon relevant information, in order to assess innovative solutions inspired by nature
  • 5. Determine the links between ecological dynamics and socio-economic challenges

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Apply complex ecological-inspired knowledge to practical real-world situations
  • 7. Present and argue strategies that are based on case material, desk-based research, and empirical research in a variety of formats (written, verbal, and digital)
  • 8. Apply a collaborative mind-set: give and receive feedback at all levels in a confident and respectful manner

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Foundational concepts
  • Systems approach
  • Design principles
  • Emerging business models
  • Principles and methods to engage with biomimicry
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Approaches to design circular economy enterprises and networks.
  • Socio-economic challenges
  • Grand challenges and wicked problems

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 8Lectures (8 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 12Workshops/seminars with discussion (12 x 2 hours)
Guided Independent Study 130Reading, research and assessment preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Reflective writing entry 500 words1,2,3,4,7,8Verbal

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Critical reflective writing 401000 words 1,2,3,4,7,8 Written, individual
Analytical report 602000 words 3,4,5,6,7,8 Written, group

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Critical reflective writing (40%) Critical reflective writing (40%) - 1000 words 1-8Referral/deferral period
Analytical report (60%) Analytical report (60%) - 2000 words 1-8Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you have been deferred for any assessment you will be expected to submit the relevant assessment. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2015). Towards a circular economy business rationale for an accelerated transition. Retrieved from
  • World Economic Forum. (2019). Global risks report 2019. Retrieved from
  • Crane, A., & Matten, D. (2004). Business ethics: A European perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bakker, C., den Hollander, M., & van Hinte, E. (2019). Products that last: Product design for circular business models. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.
  • Fisher, C., Lovell, A., & Valero-Silva, N. (2013). Business ethics and values: Individual, corporate and international perspectives (4th ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education.
  • Raworth, K. (2018). Doughnut economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. London: Random House.
  • Zolli, A., & Healy, A.M. (2012). Resilience: Why things bounce back. London: Headline Publishing Group.
  • Benyus, J. M. (1997).?Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature. New York: Morrow.

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Kennedy, E., Fecheyr-Lippens, D., Hsiung, B. K., Niewiarowski, P. H., & Kolodziej, M. (2015). Biomimicry: A path to sustainable innovation. Design Issues, 31(3), 66-73.
  • Hayes, S., Desha, C., & Baumeister, D. (2020). Learning from nature–Biomimicry innovation to support infrastructure sustainability and resilience. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 161, 120287.
  • Volstad, N. L., & Boks, C. (2012). On the use of Biomimicry as a Useful Tool for the Industrial Designer. Sustainable Development, 20(3), 189-199.
  • Pawlyn, M. (2011). Biomimicry in Architecture. RIBA.
  • Sachs, A. (2007). Nature Design: From Inspiration to Innovation. Lars Muller Publishers.
  • Harman, J. (2013). The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Key words search

Business, environment, sustainability, climate change, biomimicry, circular economy 

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date