1st awareness study of biomimicry

Sustainable development, circular economy, smart city, energy transition, biomimicry, third industrial revolution ... NewCorp Conseil wanted to measure the comparative awareness of sustainable terminology and to carry out a study of the use of these terms. the first measure of awareness of biomimicry with the French.


Why this study?

Since the Brundtland Report was published in 1987 by the United Nations World Commission on the Environment, and used as a reference for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the term and the idea of sustainable development have become part of public opinion and in the speeches and programmes of public and private decision-makers. While the term was still known to only one in three French people at the beginning of the 2000s, it is now known to more than 9 out of 10. 

In parallel with the development of these issues and this pioneering and historic terminology, a multitude of other terms have developed. All these terms are correct and are not intended to be alternatives or synonyms for sustainable development, but rather to complement and enrich this basic trend with a diversity of approaches, models and tools. The simple semantic multiplication of these terms and designations, themselves largely fleshed out by a multitude of more or less official labels or guarantees, only confirms the importance of social and environmental awareness in finding new alternatives and building a more harmonious and sustainable world. The multiplication of these approaches also undoubtedly signifies the interest and need for convergence, and even more so for positive resonance, in order to find not an absolute and miraculous solution, but a set of new solutions that will contribute to the design of this new desirable future. 

Biomimicry is one of these strongly emerging trends today. The interest, which has been longstanding for some, is developing in all sectors; scientific publications and patents are multiplying; knowledge of the living world is booming; new technological means are opening up new perspectives; international networks are expanding; the initiative of the city of Senlis to create Ceebios is a singular and daring one to contribute to the animation of the network and to the emergence of actors and innovative projects.

The aim of this study was to obtain an initial assessment of the awareness of biomimicry among the public, compared to other terms.

Summary of results

The French have already heard of many terminologies or names related to environmental and social issues. On average, 7.7 out of the 24 tested resonate with them. Not that they are necessarily able to define them (another issue - another study), but these are terms that are now more or less part of everyday habits and vocabulary.

The first of these - and also the "oldest" - is the idea of "sustainable development", of which the French are now 91% to have already heard of it. The very wide media and political coverage, together with the proven awareness of the need to find new economic, social and ecological models, explains of course this now widespread brand awareness of sustainable development, which however probably benefits today from less coverage, and which for some has "aged a bit" (the name, not the purpose).

The other two major terms widely known are "fair trade" (81%) and "biodiversity" (78%): one theme (the first) that refers more to economic and social aspects, particularly originally in North-South links, and let's say to a large extent promoted through products or marketing and communication campaigns; and the other (the second) that describes all ecosystems and living organisms, this time rather highlighted in political and/or environmentalist discourse. These three main terms known to at least 8 out of 10 French people are followed by two others, 'energy transition' (61%) and 'social and solidarity economy' (56%). In other words, the main terms known to the French remain - and this is logical - terms that have been in use for some time, but which are rather generic, not to say general, and which describe major principles rather than alternatives or technical solutions. 


Other terms, more recent but also more descriptive of methods or models, are still little known: the "circular economy", for example, although it has already been used for several years and echoes issues known to the French (waste, energy, recycling, etc.), still only enjoys a modest awareness of 16% among the population as a whole, for whom "industrial ecology" has a greater impact (24%). Among the related approaches, the "third industrial revolution", which is certainly supported by Jeremy Rifkin's concept and promoted by the Hauts-de-France region in particular, remains poorly known, with only 14% of French people having heard of it. It is also interesting to note the semantic subtleties that can more or less help the dissemination and education of an approach. To talk about cities today, for example, it will be more complicated to evoke the idea of "resilient city", a nice and accurate analogy, but which very few people (5%) have already heard of, or "smart city", 14% (but 27% among young people), and it will be preferable to talk about "intelligent city", an expression that is easier to grasp, but which is known by 39% of the people questioned.

Biomimicry", undoubtedly one of the latest terms to be coined (media-wise), ranks 11% in terms of notoriety, a level higher than "bio-inspiration" (preferred by some), whose name is known to only 4% of the French. A score that is both modest and honourable compared to other names, which shows all the work that remains to be done, and which also reminds us that a few television news programmes (from which biomimicry has had the good fortune to benefit from wide media coverage over the last two years) do not make it a household name. Furthermore, this term, which is still not widely known, is not necessarily better known by the populations that are generally more adept at these approaches: there are no differences between men and women (although men are often more fond of technological approaches and are more familiar with them), nor is there a significantly higher score among the 18-24 year olds in the sample (who, however, make a lot of use of networks, are passionate about them, and are more familiar with the more recent concepts). On the other hand, biomimicry is no exception to the rule in that it is significantly better known by the CSP+ (16% versus 11% among the whole).


The list of terms and designations studied in this awareness point could have been extended, but it is clear, beyond the individual values measured, that the awareness of many of these terminologies remains modest or even low. This new generation of terms, which often refer more to operating methods or models - let's call them "how to" terms - is still relatively unknown to the general public, to the benefit of older terms, which are often more "why" terms, or generic terms. It is possible that the increase in awareness of these new terms will be linked to the simultaneous increase in the credibility and effectiveness of the concepts they propose.

Finally, this multiplication of terms and names also raises the question of the duty to educate in order to put all this in resonance and not in competition, by showing how these approaches do not compete for paternity or leadership, but work together and converge in good complementarity to build a new development model that is surely more composite than monolithic.

Alain Renaudin, president-founder NewCorp Conseil

Methodological note: NewCorp Conseil survey conducted online from 11 to 18 November 2016 among a representative national sample (quota method) of 2,000 people aged 18 and over.

Press release - briefing note