Biomimetic file 167: coding nature

Why non-compliance is becoming a serious risk factor for corporations

aprogrammingImage source: MIT,  Janet Iwasa. Compliance* is the state of aligning with guidelines, regulations and legislation set by outside parties such as vendors, industry organizations …

Highlight: “MIT biological engineers have created a programming language that allows them to rapidly design complex, DNA-encoded circuits that give new functions to living cells…Using this language, anyone can write a program for the function they want, such as detecting and responding to certain environmental conditions. They can then generate a DNA sequence that will achieve it…It is literally a programming language for bacteria.”

Insight: Communications between humans and the natural world have always been an issue. This new discovery is a real breakthrough on the matter and offers a range of interesting possibilities in fields such as medicine, agriculture or pollution control. However, it also raises serious ethical questions on whether it is wise to actively play with the genetic code of species for our own benefits…As with debates surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it is expected that this new coding approach is also a source of concern and should be regulated at an early stage…

Many still believe that the sole reason for businesses existence is to maximize their profit and satisfy the shareholders. Despite that we have moved a long way in this early century from this egoistic corporate mindset with for instance the rise of CSR, still many companies operate on this model. Thankfully most governments have put limits through laws and regulations with regards to the extent corporations can make profit without addressing ethical issues; public health being a major one.

Governance and compliance are actually becoming significant risks for corporations. They constantly have to juggle between innovation and remaining compliant to increasing levels of stringency and regulations, to which additional pressures from the stakeholders add-on.

Lets illustrate this point with the following scenario: a Chinese toy company manufactures products intended for early childhood in the form of plastic bears. The product they mimic, a popular bear character adapted from a TV series, is high in demand in China. While many other companies produce similar versions of the product at a relatively high price, this particular company has come-up with a much cheaper version by using a plastic mix normally used for other purposes and intends to exclusively offer the product for exportation (perhaps because they fear their non compliance to Chinese laws which have become more stringent in recent years). This popular toy and the attractive price tag comes to the attention of a toy distributor in the United States which imports the product and re-brands it to fit the local culture. The sales are a hit and numerous products are sold for many months generating great revenues for this distributor. However, at some point rumors start to arise that the product may be responsible for serious illnesses detected in children which have come into contact with the product. After a long litigation process it is discovered that the product does not meet the US Lead (the metal) content limits by a factor of 4 which when absorbed by the body (children tend to put the toys in their mouths) can cause serious and irreversible illnesses such as “Saturnism”. Families affected file a combined law case and end up winning against the local distributor. This noncompliance ruins the company and sends the local owners to jail for many years. The point is that the failure of the distributor to do his due diligence in undertaking a simple test (worth only a few hundred dollars) on the products has resulted above all in causing serious illness to innocent children, devastated families, cost the owners serious penalties and bankrupted the company affecting the lives of many honest employees…

Do you plan to distribute or acquire a product from a third party? If so, perhaps ensure that the product undergoes a full compliance check in accordance with local regulations. Remember that repercussions of non compliance can be far greater than thought…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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