Concept of Econics

Econics recently has been introduced into the international literature: “Just as bionics (or biomimicry) is the application of biological methods and structures found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and technology (e.g., enzymes, surfaces, materials), then so too might econics be the discipline that promotes the mimicking of ecological system dynamics and functioning for an improved ecosystem management and functioning of socio-economic systems as a gateway towards sustainable development” (Ibisch et al. 2010).

This concept, whilst new, had already been proposed by Dirk Althaus (“Ökonik“; in German, Althaus 2007), who suggested, that more research into a system science and ecosystem management approach to economic activities in a ‘post-fossil society’ was needed to inform human activities and socio-economic development.

Werner Nachtigall (2008; “Bionics – learning from nature”), originally defined bionics as the process of learning from nature in the field of engineering and construction. His broad concept of bionics comprises functional; developmental; and process-related aspects of biological systems that could be mimicked in engineering design and operations. However, the study of ecological systems extends far beyond the atomistic analysis of single biological components, and is more about the interactions and dynamics across scales between biological entities. Ecological systems include biological systems that interact with each other and with abiotic systems. To capture this complexity and understand its application to sustainable management of ecosystems and natural resources, the concept of econics is proposed. The prefix eco also refers to the conceptual origin of the disciplines of ecology and economy – compare oikos (Greek for ‘household’) – and econicsdefinitely refers a lot to the resource and energy efficiency of functioning systems.

Both the global ecosystem and human societies are characterized by spatial limits and consequent resource restrictions, and both have to cope with disturbances and imposed environmental changes. Anthropogenic global environmental change has become the key challenge to sustainability. Thus, a key topic of econics is related to the question of what can we learn from complex and holarchically nested ecological systems dealing with resource limitations, disturbances and environmental changes?. Bionics mostly leads to the design of products or constructions; whereas the discipline of econics will propose concepts and guidelines for the management of ecosystems and natural resources. According to Nachtigall bionics can also be seen as an approach to thought and life that leads to constructing naturally. Econics shall facilitate insights into how we can do things with nature and not against it.

Econics is a transdisciplinary approach to studying the dynamics and functioning of (complex and holarchically nested) ecological systems with the aim of deriving management solutions for natural resource-dependent socio-economic systems as a gateway towards sustainable development under global change.

Corresponding econical research questions are:

·     What makes ecological systems efficient?

·     What are the drivers of system evolution in a changing world?

·     How do ecological systems become resilient against disturbances?

·     How do they adapt to changing framework conditions?

In this context, we think that Holling’s panarchy theory (e.g., Holling & Gunderson 2002) can represent a conceptual pillar to econics. The adaptive cycle of evolving natural systems has already been translated to the applied approach of adaptive management, which, thus, can be considered as an important econical tool. Adaptation is a key process of evolution, and together abiotic, biological and ecological evolution can serve as a model for building new management paradigms.

In general, we suggest four thematic cornerstones of econics that embrace manifold facets of practical application, which illustrate that many existing approaches to sustainability can be integrated under a conceptual umbrella:

1.  Eco-mimicking the nested, complex and dynamic natural systems for sustainability

·     E.g., ecological economics, sustainable de-growth, de-globalization of natural resource economy

2.  Developing and managing socio-economic systems within carrying capacities, and working towards maximum material and energetic efficiency / thermodynamic efficiency

·     E.g., industrial ecology, life-cycle analysis, permaculture/ agroecology, close-to-nature forestry

3.  Establishing fully integrated and adaptive decision-making systems from local to global scale

·     Non-knowledge-based, systemic conservation, adaptive management, scenario-based risk management, precautionary principle

4.   Designing and constructing proactive systems that are more resilient to (non-linear) change

·     E.g., metasystemic management, diversity management, integration of local action plans, national, regional and global, strategies (bottom-up/top-down).

Althaus, D. (2007): Zeitenwende. Die postfossile Epoche; weiterleben auf dem Blauen Planeten. 1. Aufl. Mankau, Murnau a. Staffelsee.

Holling, C. S., and L. H. Gunderson (2002): Resilience and adaptive cycles. Pages 25-62 in L. H. Gunderson and C. S. Holling, editors. Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Ibisch, P.L., P. Hobson, & A. Vega (2010): Mutual mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation and human development: towards a more radical Ecosystem Approach. In: Ibisch, P.L., A. Vega E. & T.M. Herrmann (eds.): Interdependence of biodiversity and development under global change. Technical Series No. 54. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, 224 pp. (ISBN 92-9225-279-8) (online ). 15-34.

Nachtigall, W. (2008): Bionik - Lernen von der Natur. C.H.Beck.