Empathy is a useful design tool. I’d go so far as to say it is essential for good design. It allows us to design systems that will be more in harmony with natural processes, making them perform better with fewer external inputs.
The water-harvesting designs I have done, for instance, have greatly benefitted by observation of the land in an effort to figure out what the land needs, how it currently behaves, and how water behaves on it. Allowing space for each of these facets allows me to see what I otherwise would have overlooked.