Month: September 2016

How do I use #biomimicry?

Biomimicry is a concept so big that the possibilities seem endless. For this very reason, it might be hard to know where to start. Yet it turns out that for each and every project, the biomimicry processes are really the same. Of course there are varying depths to which a project team might go, and some examples of biomimicry really just scratch the surface while other more robust examples embody exactly why people get so excited about biomimicry.

In this post, I discuss two general general ways in which biomimicry is used. However, I feel I can’t proceed without first touching on how biomimicry at its core demands more than just pick-and-choose technology transfer from biological to human design.

Going Beyond the Technology Grab

I previously wrote about how biomimicry is the “emulation of nature’s genius” – i.e., learning from and applying the solutions embodied in other organisms to solve our own challenges. Per Biomimicry 3.8, captured in that simple statement are really three elements – the “Essential Elements” of Ethos, Reconnect and Emulate – that define what the term “biomimicry” encompasses.

Used with Permission from Biomimicry 3.8.

And while “Emulate” gets all the glory in the news media through reporting of research or commercial product innovations, the other elements of Ethos and Reconnect bring the conversation around from just emulation to the questions of, and solutions to, how we live on and in relation to this Earth. The biomimicry Ethos and Reconnect elements guide how we proceed during emulation. In other words, while it can be very impressive, it’s not enough to copy a “technology” from an organism and apply it to a product. It’s also a matter of taking the additional steps of learning and applying how that “technology” is achieved and why – learning from and emulating the materials, processes, systems – so that the interactions and relationships within and between human and non-human systems become more sustainable and resilient as well. Only then will we really begin our journey towards changing our human story, not just creating a headline-grabbing innovation.

This additional possibility that then hangs in the balance – this juxtaposition of what is now versus what could be – is what I think really ignites people’s imagination when they learn about biomimicry. Ceramics that are harder than anything we can make but are made at low temperatures with abundant materials using life-friendly chemistry in water? Whaaat? Can we do that? How do we do that? When can we do that? Why don’t we do that right now? Who’s working on that? Do you realize the energy savings? The human and environmental health benefits? Do you realize that entire supply chains will no longer exist? The complete shift in thinking it would require to understand how that manufacturing system would be structured?…” And the mind explodes… It’s powerful. And that’s just one example!

Thus biomimicry demands that the implementation methods described below must include not only a discussion about innovative technology, but also how sustainably that innovation can be sourced, produced, brought to market and brought back into the fold.

Implementation Methods

There are really two ways in which biomimicry is usually implemented. Most often, it’s presented as an innovation methodology, providing access to a treasure trove of untapped resources for inspiration. Another way it can be used is as a sustainability evaluation framework, although this is rarely, if ever, discussed in articles about biomimicry that I have read.

Innovation methodology

As an innovation methodology, the concept is relatively straightforward. This is the “emulate” portion of the Essential Elements wheel – you are trying to apply solutions found in nature to human challenges (not using the organisms themselves, but their strategies for solving for the problem). The process might start with a human challenge, or it could start with unique biological strategies that might solve any number of human challenges. In any example, at some point you are taking biological strategies and mechanisms that describe how the organism achieves that function, and translating that information into language designers/engineers/etc. (in any relevant field) can use and apply to their solutions. (Learn more about the biomimicry innovation methodology here).

I’ve found in my experience that many examples of biomimicry focus solely on form to achieve function. This is the most direct way to use biomimicry. It doesn’t require new materials or supply chains, and it often allows you to continue doing what you already do, but just do it much better (though it still can take years of research and development!). For example, a water bottle that is still a water bottle with all the issues that plague that topic, but a bottle nonetheless that uses less plastic. Or the often cited Shinkansen Bullet Train which is much quieter and efficient too. Examples like these are also visually appealing for people new to biomimicry because you can see the form translated to human design, achieving a function more effectively and efficiently. For some of these biomimicry applications, the jaw-dropping leaps in efficiency of some products can make them seem unreal. As Jay Harman described in The Shark’s Paintbrush – no one believed the science behind the products he presented because it was so radically different and more efficient, it didn’t seem possible to trained engineers.

But while impressive, many of these applications of biomimicry only get us so far towards disrupting our current unsustainable paradigms. It’s when you start getting into not only new forms but the materials that go into the form, and then the systems that support those raw materials and supply chains, that you really start to see completely radically innovative paradigms emerging that can deliver the same function, but in a completely new and much more sustainable way. The vaccine stabilizers from Nova Labs and the flame retardant from Trulstech are both examples of biomimetic products that not only rethink the technology, but present new paradigms for delivering the same services (functions) by also using totally different materials, supply chains, delivery mechanisms and product end-of-life health risks. Then you also have examples like the Sharklet technology that completely redefines our approach to bacteria management – shifting from often toxic chemicals to changing the micro surface structure!

“Sharklet is the world’s first technology to inhibit bacterial growth through pattern alone. The Sharklet surface is comprised of millions of microscopic features arranged in a distinct diamond pattern. The structure of the pattern alone inhibits bacteria from attaching, colonizing and forming biofilms. Sharklet contains no toxic additives or chemicals, and uses no antibiotics or antimicrobials.” – Sharklet Technologies, Inc. Photo credit: Ellas Levy on flickr (CC by 2.0)

This gradient of use of the biomimicry methodology is important. Innovation and design teams from startups to established companies have different constraints and opportunities to consider during the innovation process. But if given the opportunity, use of the biomimicry innovation methodology in which whole systems are considered and emulated can result in the types of striking paradigm shifts we need. The Nova Labs, Trusltech and Sharklet innovations are radical technologies. These and others like them are the promise of biomimicry.

Evaluation Framework

Throughout any design process that uses biomimicry, Life’s Principles (B3.8) or Nature’s Unifying Patterns (The Biomimicry Institute) should be used as an overarching set of design principles that help to evaluate a design against the rules for living sustainably and resiliently on this planet (the rules that say whether life will survive). They serve as guidelines for checking to see if, after all your translating of biology to design, your design really does hold up against the gold standard (because the natural model you’ve chosen by definition does exemplify these principles). Thus, in using these deep patterns in the biomimicry process we start to round out the discussion to bring in concepts of sustainability and resiliency into the design or project – the “ethos” portion of the Essential Elements wheel.

Used with permission from Biomimicry 3.8.
Used with permission from Biomimicry 3.8.

This step is important because it can drive a design team to dig deeper not only into the design, but also the context surrounding the design, including the materials going into it. Take the LP “Recycle all materials.” This applies not only to the materials going into the product, but the product at the end of its life cycle. Can you design it to be easily taken apart at the end of its useful life and recycled if there is more than one material involved? Can you get rid of materials in the design that can’t be recycled? Can you just use one recyclable material and change its properties to achieve function through structure? If there aren’t systems in place in cities to recycle your product, can you take it back and recycle and reuse it yourself? If you start to collect your products, are there others you can take as well? If you are using a recycled material like fishing nets collected from the ocean, what programs can you also put into place to change the system to disincentivize dumping of fishing nets into the ocean in the first place? And the questions go on!

There are 25 other LPs! They can really broaden your thinking if well understood and used throughout the process. They can also be used as a stand alone evaluation tool for any type of project, regardless of if you are using the innovation methodology. The LPs hit the usual sustainability points like using low energy processes, less material and non-toxic chemistry. But they also bring in many many other aspects of sustainability and resiliency that we don’t usually consider, such as incorporating feedback loops and appropriate response mechanisms, incorporating diversity, leveraging cyclic processes, building from the bottom up, and embodying resilience through variation, redundancy and decentralization. All of these deep patterns contribute to sustainability, not just efficiency (which is what dominates the sustainability discussion today). Use of the deep principles as an evaluation framework can help broaden and strengthen the sustainability and resiliency of any project and product design.

It’s worthwhile to take the time to understand each LP or Unifying Pattern. At face value many are self-explanatory and you can easily begin to think about how they can inform your design. But others not so much! In later posts I’ll talk about the LPs. In the meantime, here is a great introductory blog post from Denny Royal at Azul 7 that covers how three LPs can start to inform design for user interactions.

When to use biomimicry

The biomimicry innovation methodology and evaluation framework can be used on any number of projects in any field. Within this broad range of course there are differing levels of complexity – trying to design a silent fan blade at high speeds is a completely different type of problem than trying to design a more resilient organization, redesigning a city’s water management systems, developing an education curriculum, creating a marketing strategy or trying to build ecosystem functions into your home and property. The translation of the biology to design in the innovation methodology process might be applied in a literal or metaphorical way. The possibilities are endless.

If you do not have a design or innovation project on hand but rather want to use a new evaluation framework based on the deep patterns that make life on Earth sustainable and resilient, the LPs are a great place to start. Bringing up sustainability issues that often are not considered when evaluating a project, the LPs can illicit a much more thoughtful conversation about how a project or service might be improved.

So while your use of biomimicry might be unique in the type of project or design you are looking to improve, the processes described above are the same.  

And always, the deeper your design team can try to go with emulating not just form, but also processes (like material manufacturing, product manufacturing processes, and delivery mechanisms) and systems – even redefining an approach to the entire paradigm – and can adhere to Life’s deepest patterns, the better chance your team will have of coming up with something radically new. Something that could change our story.  

So what’s your challenge?

Biomimicry & the Built Environment: Designing Ecosystem Functions Back into our Cities

Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois

“The evaporation to precipitation ratio in our bioregion is 1:1. That means, all rain that falls evaporates back into the air,” said Jim Patchett of Conservation Design Forum. Stunned, I asked the obvious next question, How in the world was our region in northern Illinois so rich in groundwater supplies? What, does it just pull it out of thin air? Well, actually, yes.

In prairies, life holds onto water as long as possible because without doing so summer heat and drought would result in death. As Jim explained, turns out prairie ecosystems solved for this problem in a few different ways. First, prairie plants hold on to stormwater – the runoff from a prairie ecosystem is extremely low, in some places virtually non-existent. And two other processes are occurring – condensation in which water close to the ground falls onto plant and soil surfaces where it can be absorbed, and the capture and reabsorption of water released during the respiration (breathing) of plant roots. Over time, the collection and subsequent channeling of water deep underground creates a net positive balance of water in the ecosystem, resulting in a reservoir plants can tap into during times of drought.

As I mentioned in my last post, people working on drinking water supplies in the Chicago region know that the numbers that play out into the future are dire – there is simply not enough groundwater (in addition to our federally-limited allotment of Lake Michigan water) to support a growing urban and suburban population, and pollution is increasingly concentrated in the existing groundwater supplies. On the flip side, stormwater experts are grappling with the increasing intensity of stormwater events, resulting often in a failure of stormwater infrastructure systems to accommodate the increased flow. These systems were designed and built to capture and shed an amount of water based on the historical intensity of rain events and assumptions (which were underestimated) about the growing percentage of impermeable surfaces – and of course not based on predicted future storm intensity trends influenced by climate change.

Putting these two challenges in one paragraph makes you wonder – if we have so much rain that we can’t shed it fast enough, yet our water supply is dwindling….why are we sending our water to the Gulf of Mexico? Add to that the ratio of 1:1 of evaporation and precipitation in native ecosystems (and I’m curious if that ratio changes with an increase in impermeable surfaces, turf grass and agriculture), and it’s clear it’s not just a matter of over-consumption and leaks. It’s a complete failure to understand and then take into account the limitations and functioning of our local water cycles in the design of human water management systems. Our regional water systems therefore fail to ensure sustainability and resiliency of both human and non-human systems in the long run.

Our Shared Story of Ecosystem Disruption

Some version of this story is happening everywhere. As we change the landscape with our modern built environment, we continue to disrupt systems and push the boundaries ecosystems manage to survive within. In some cases, those cycles are now simply broken and the repercussions are slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) unfolding. And while advocates riding the resiliency wave – and sometimes eschewing the sustainability wave – might point out that nature is constantly adapting to changing conditions (what we refer to as dynamic nonequilibrium), so as long as we have resilient strategies in place we’ll figure it out too. Nothing ever stays the same and complex adaptive systems are masters at absorbing impacts and coming back perhaps slightly different, but just as resilient over time. What is there to “sustain” if nothing lasts forever? So things will change but we’ll be ready. Mother Nature give us your best shot! We can learn to adapt, right?

The answer to that in my mind is a big fat Maybe. While certainly our human systems can learn significant lessons from ecosystem resilience, all of this resides within a larger context, which is defined by the limits and boundaries of the system. Our Earth has not always been this way – life has slowly over time and helped to create the planetary conditions we know and love (and need for our survival) today. Systems at all levels have evolved over time to be both sustainable and resilient within the limitations presented by their relevant operating conditions. What we do know is that if an ecosystem is thrown way out of balance (which may be a cumulative result of small events over decades (short in geologic time), or a sudden major disturbance), the system – at the local, regional or planetary scale – can suddenly shift into another state altogether (called an alternative stable state) and won’t go back.

And while it could be that we will learn to adapt to this new alternative state of the natural world, it could also be that we will not be able to adapt fast enough. We simply don’t know what that new alternate state might be. Either way it will have (and is currently having) enormous impacts on all of humanity. And we are doing it to ourselves! It’s not like we are helpless in the face of a fickle and retributive Mother Nature – we are doing this to the planet, and therefore to ourselves. Which means, of course, that it’s possible to change our actions to achieve a different outcome.

A Regenerative Mindset and Approach

I love this quote from the book Designing for Hope (2015) by Dominique Hes and Chrisna du Plessis in reference to a new interpretation of sustainability, the “ecological worldview”:

[Environmental sustainability] is the foundation on which the pillars of social, economic, technical or institutional sustainability are constructed, not just another pillar [of sustainability]. Ecological sustainability is therefore a survival imperative, whereas social and economic sustainability (and the definitions thereof) are ethical issues, the resolution of which can support or destroy ecological sustainability. (p.41)

So how do we change the way we design so that we improve ecological sustainability first and foremost in a way that also strengthens (while perhaps shifting) our social and economic systems at the same time? The regenerative design examples included in Designing for Hope offer incredible insight into how a mental shift – designing from a place of understanding that humans are a part of, not separate from, other life systems – can change everything. It allows us to see that our built environment has the potential to participate – support and give back – to the life systems that support us (also check out Janis Birkeland’s Positive Development: From Virtuous Cycles to Virtuous Cycles through Built Environment Design (2008)).

It also then enables us to go beyond our current boxed-in thinking about our built environment. With respect to Chicago’s water challenges, the water conversation on the supply side focuses on plugging leaks and reducing consumption (based on the mindset of “doing less bad”), while the stormwater questions focus on increasing green infrastructure and detaining water in place and releasing it slowly enough that wastewater plants aren’t overwhelmed.

But if we take into account our understanding of how a prairie was net positive for water (right here under the same conditions), something we are not even close to achieving with our city water systems, we realize the next obvious questions we urgently need to ask are – How can we first hold onto rainwater as long as possible and not let it escape the region to level that ratio of 1:1 so we aren’t operating at a deficit? And since we aren’t going to bulldoze Chicago to restore a prairie, how can we replicate the prairie ecosystem processes of condensation and capture of respiration in our built environment so we come out ahead? And how do we know when we are actually “sustainable” with respect to our local ecosystem?

Bullfrog, Cook County Forest Preserve

Using Biomimicry to Evaluate Success of a Regenerative Built Environment

That last question might be hardest to answer. However using the biomimicry methodology we can begin to collect information from biological research on the numbers associated with how water is managed in a prairie ecosystem to create system-wide design goals. For example, if basically all stormwater that falls on a prairie is captured and held within the ecosystem, this gives us a baseline from which to measure our stormwater systems and evaluate if they are contributing positively or negatively to the successful functioning of water cycles within our ecosystem. Gathering many of these metrics (e.g., for evaporation, condensation, capture of water from respiration, groundwater recharge rates, etc.) can help us start to reevaluate our water systems as a whole. We can then begin to rethink and redesign our water systems to reflect our understanding of the limitations presented by our local operating conditions and knowledge gained from solutions embodied in native ecosystems.

Janine Benyus describes these metrics as “ecological performance standards” (EPS). One benefit I see with EPS is that they deliver goals which designers, architects, planners and engineers can try to meet with existing off-the-shelf technology (before more advanced innovations slowly make their way into the market). Of course, the risk might be that we design only for one metric without understanding the need for a holistic design that gets as close as possible to every metric that represents successful functioning of the system as a whole. And certainly an iterative process that allows our built environment to adapt and respond to the system as it is restored (or perhaps disrupted) will enable us to incorporate new technology and approaches as our understanding and capabilities evolve. Existing efforts to use EPS to address water challenges such as the Seattle Urban Greenprint project, Biomimicry South Africa’s Genius of Space and Durban Urban Resilience Framework projects, Terrapin Bright Green’s project in Buffalo, New York, and Biomimicry 3.8’s current project with Interface all aim to establish what it means and how to apply EPS on a city scale or project site. We are aiming to start a similar effort in Chicago.

We can of course also use the biomimicry methodology to solve for challenges that current design approaches and technology don’t address (or don’t do very well). Within every ecosystem there are plentiful examples of how organisms deal with the same operating conditions – and therefore challenges – that we are trying to solve for. Each of those species presents an opportunity for us to learn a new design principle upon which we might base a new innovative design. This process of looking at local organisms, including the deep patterns we find among them, to solve local built environment problems enables our built environment to be more attuned to place, and thus more likely to be able to sustainably function long term as well as respond to disturbances. In biomimicry we call this “Genius of Place”.

We must take the next step in our built environment design to think about the larger ecological, social and economic systems within which our designs reside. This step must be based on an underpinning of acknowledgement that not only is our success dependent upon the success of thriving ecosystems, but also that we have a direct and crucial role to play in contributing to the functioning of the system and the creation of opportunities for life to thrive. Therefore, it’s not enough to “do less bad” when it comes to our built environment. We need to actively restore and regenerate the functionality and resilience of local ecosystems to try to mitigate the radical shifts of larger planetary systems in motion, while at the same time shore up the resilience of human systems. Because change is coming to both.


  • How do your local city water systems either work with or against your local water cycles?
  • What can you learn from your local ecosystem and species about how to effectively manage water on site in a way that benefits both human and non-human communities?
  • What system metrics can your community strive to meet?

Bio…what? #biomimicry


A blank polite stare followed by “Bio…what?” is the most common reaction I get from people when they ask me my area of expertise. I’ve gotten pretty good at the one-sentence response. I’m sure the look of blissful surprise on my face when someone has actually heard of biomimicry is priceless. It’s indeed not the most common area of study, but it is in my opinion by far the most hopeful approach to (re)imagining our future.

What is “biomimicry”?

If you’ve arrived at my site, you’ve likely heard the term biomimicry. But if you haven’t, we’re talking about solving challenges – any kind of challenge in any industry, from how to filter water to how to rethink our financial system – by learning from and emulating proven solutions evolved in other species and systems on this planet. You might also hear similar terms like “nature-inspired solutions” or “bio-inspired” or “biomimetics” or “bio-utilization”…the list goes on. There can be distinctions and nuances to these terms, but that’s for another blog post.

For now let’s agree on “biomimicry” with the caveat that I am talking about digging deep into understanding and staying true to the biology throughout any given design and development process. This last bit is important – it’s not sufficient to just be inspired by biology and continue on our merry way with our usual cleverness: there will be critical opportunities for radical innovation that will likely be missed.

When using biomimicry in any innovation process, the more you can understand and apply the lessons learned from biology, including the context in which that biological example exists, the more truly revolutionary your innovation has the potential to be with significant positive ripple effects throughout associated systems.

We need more of that.

Why bother?

We are all designers – designers of programs, products, systems, infrastructure, architecture, organizations, education, you name it. We are also all consumers. Every design and purchasing decision we make has an impact. Right now there are a lot of poor designs out there that do not take into account the larger context of our reality. In other words, these designs rely on human activities that trash, rip up, and eliminate the very life systems that support humans in a multitude of ways. But failure of these non-human systems means failure of human systems, something we cannot afford. I’m talking about humans on the path to destroying our ability to meet our very basic survival needs of clean drinking water and food. And this is not just in developing countries. This is a first world problem too.

To illustrate the extent to which we have created significant challenges for ourselves let’s look at water. Fresh water is central to all life – without it there simply is no life. There are an incredible variety of biological strategies for managing water depending on the context, including at the ecosystem level (think rainforest versus desert).

Acacia tree, Costa Rican rainforest. Photo: Rachel Hahs

Water flows at the ecosystem level ensure local species have water in times of drought because plants can’t just up and move away – water is local. Humans rely on those same ecosystem processes to provide fresh water. However, we have been systematically removing vast areas of native ecosystems for decades, which changes the capacity of these same ecosystems to stabilize and create the weather patterns and water resources we rely on. 

For example, rainforests create their own rain – a lot of it. Cut down the rainforests for raw materials or (very poor) grazing land and keep using water the way you always have (wastefully), and the rain doesn’t fall and you don’t have water anymore, just ask Brazil. Or another example – prairie plants are masters of capturing water from the air and from breathing plant roots, hardly ever letting it go and building up groundwater reserves. Replace the prairie with till agriculture, grass and impermeable surfaces, and install a first world water infrastructure system that sends all the stormwater to the Gulf of Mexico, and you have looming water shortages. Just ask Chicago. In the end, around the world we are disrupting the very systems that regulate hydrological (water) cycles we depend on for providing fresh water to us. We are not somehow separate from these systems, but a part of and dependent upon them. Maybe we have not been so smart. 

Products and mindsets generated out of a culture and economy that covet the new and dispose of everything else further perpetuate the problem. Few consumers ever consider, let alone truly comprehend the magnitude of the amount of energy, water and raw materials that go into the new phone model or piece of clothing or food they purchase and then throw away (multiplied by 7 billion people doing the same thing). Very few connect their lifestyle to the destruction of native habitats let alone the drought in Brazil or California or South Africa.  

As Albert Einstein is famously quoted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Even the conversations around “sustainability” are one-dimensional – it’s not enough to just conserve while still operating within the paradigm of consumption, disposal and unlimited growth. As designers it’s our responsibility to (re)design in a way that changes the underlying paradigm, and it seems increasingly unlikely we will get there in time relying on our own ingenuity. We need to restore and regenerate at all levels, including our own thinking. But how?

Why look to biology?

When we start to study and learn from non-human systems about how water, materials and energy are managed, we can see a completely new alternative of how those flows might occur in human systems in a way that benefits everyone – yes, everyone including all other species. It’s hard to fully comprehend what that might look like (although there are many efforts underway to do just that, such as the Ellen MacAurthur Foundation’s circular economy push). And it may be even harder to begin to figure out how to make that transition. A part of that transition effort can and should start with understanding and learning from existing and highly successful alternative strategies and mechanisms, and rethinking and redesigning our own systems accordingly as we learn.

The biomimicry concept gives me hope because it looks to solutions already proven to work on Earth – we do not have to flail around in the dark. Life’s been on this planet for a  l_o_n_g  time and the goal of Life is to survive. And not just to survive one lifetime, but to survive for generations. Which means, to paraphrase Janine Benyus, Life needs to create long-term solutions for taking care of the place that’s going to take care of future generations. Life is damn good at it. Over billions of years, Life has evolved countless intricately connected strategies to survive in every habitat on Earth, and those alive today know how to live under current dynamic conditions (think real-time market testing, with failures resulting in extinction).

How do species survive? They are efficient in everything from leveraging form to achieve a function (instead of engineering the hell out of it like we do – see the picture below), minimizing the amount of material to just what is needed for the functions the material serves, or using existing free sources of energy, like, say, from the giant hot fireball in the sky or the air currents that dance through our atmosphere.

Light post
Can you see the size and diameter of that stoplight post? That is what you might call over-engineering (!). (Central Ave. bridge over I-55 in Chicago, IL)

But Life doesn’t stop there. Species use readily available abundant materials (like carbon dioxide) as building blocks for just about everything. They use chemistry that is life-friendly (even animal and plant toxins/poisons break down into benign building blocks for new life). They respond and adapt to the constantly changing conditions around them and they don’t grow faster than their context allows. They surprisingly often don’t just struggle through disruption, but leverage the sudden change to create opportunities for new growth. And their actions interweave with the actions of every other species around them to create conditions that allow a diversity of life to not just live, but thrive. For billions of years!

So, survival means a species carries on, generation after generation even as conditions change (which they do, constantly)…this sounds a lot like the definition of two hot topics recently flooding the mainstream – sustainability and resiliency.  Biomimicry says perhaps we might solve our sustainability and resiliency challenges not by relying solely on our own ingenuity, but rather by looking for completely new alternatives right under our noses: if we could just quiet our cleverness and look outside we’d find that there are existing solutions to pretty much all of our challenges.

So how do we find and learn these valuable lessons? The biomimicry methodology provides a path forward for doing just that – it is the ultimate “How-to Guide” to sustainability and resiliency. Not that the process and results are or will be cut and dry, and certainly there will be times where our own scientific understanding, technology and cultural systems are not advanced enough to emulate the amazing strategies we find out there. But using the biomimicry methodology to discover proven alternatives is a good start.

The Takeaway

If there is anything to glean from a first glance at biomimicry, it’s that we have a lot to learn. I cannot even tell you all the absolutely mind-blowing biological strategies I’ve discovered through project research. I will have to include some blog posts about those for you; and check out a great resource for some really cool biology in a biomimicry context in Inhabitat’s The Biomimicry Manual.

There are, of course, many significant takeaways for us humans in approaching the future through a biomimicry lens. Here are my top three:

  • First and foremost, humans behave as if the rules don’t apply to us. We are not adhering to Life’s deep principles that provide a blueprint for how to live sustainably and resiliently on Planet Earth. And while it’s great to be innovative – and as a creative species we have innovation coming out of our ears – it will get us nowhere if we don’t innovate within the context of our reality.
  • Second, Life operates on the principles of abundance and generosity. It is not just “net zero” but “net positive” – regenerative – an upwards spiral of increasing complexity supporting a greater diversity of life. Imagine if we change our story from being the scourge of the earth to being conscientious participants with the capacity for creating conditions that result in abundance and generosity for all other living organisms so they can do their thing, which turns out to allow us to do our thing too. By taking care of our place now, we are taking care of our future generations too.
  • Third, there is hope for us if we can stop, listen to, learn from and consciously choose to emulate the profound genius all around us. Life, from the smallest organism to the largest, has already figured it out. All we have to do is ask, “how would nature…?” We can make that choice. Now is our chance.