Author: Rachel Hahs

Water and carbon dioxide and…nothing else, OH MY!

Purple Grapes, Vineyard, Napa Valley, Napa Vineyard
Photo source: MaxPixel

Brzzzzt! You know that sound effect of taking the needle off the record player? I’m pretty sure if you were in the room you would have heard that sound actually come out of my ears the other day. I’ve written about the biomimicry-inspired flame retardant MHE® before, but there was something that hadn’t fully registered in my brain before a couple weeks ago – MHE® is designed such that during a fire, the ONLY gases to escape from BOTH the host material and the flame retardant are water vapor and carbon dioxide. What?? Mind blown.

If you know anything about flame retardants, you might know that the gases released during a fire from the flame retardants (let alone the host materials) can be more toxic than the flame retardant themselves (which is saying something). When breaking down under the heat of a fire, conventional flame retardants, such as organohalogen and organophosophorus flame retardants, can release gases like dioxins which are incredibly toxic, threatening the health of the inhabitants as well as firefighters. So to have a flame retardant that not only itself is non-toxic (made from chemicals derived from food no less!), but also reacts with the host material’s gases so that the only gases emitted during combustion are water and carbon dioxide is nothing less than incredible. Talk about life-friendly chemistry!

With the terrible fires in northern California the last couple weeks – in wine country where the waste product from the winemaking process provides a perfect raw material for the manufacture of MHE® (I’m loving the circular economy potential here), and with flame retardants that may cause environmental health risks when dropped on forest all across the western United States, I can’t help but think the time is right to bring this technology to the U.S.

Trulstech is looking to bring MHE® to the United States market – they need a buyer for their patents in North America and the products are shelf-ready. Know of any interested parties?? I’d like to see MHE® completely disrupt the flame retardant industry for the sake of my health, your health, our children’s health, and the health of all life on this planet, wouldn’t you? Can you help? If so, email me at the link on the bottom of this page!

Biomimicry is Hard

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Biomimicry is super fascinating, awe-inspiring, fun, engaging and a great way to lose yourself down many, many, many rabbit holes…but it’s challenging. Just like when you’re going to have a baby, no one tells you how hard it will be! I’m telling you up front, practicing biomimicry is hard. But so worth it.

Biomimicry requires your brain to twist itself in knots trying to translate challenge to biology to challenge to biology to challenge…in a seemingly endless iterative process. And if it’s a metaphorical application, forget it. All your RAM is taken up and in the background your hard drives are being rewritten and somehow you have to figure out how to think again…in a world that hasn’t changed, but somehow everything is different.

And then you have to communicate it. No one knows what biomimicry is, so you have to start by educating your audience in a way that allows them to make the leap with you as you describe an idea unlike any they’ve come across before. Months or years of work reduced to an easily digestible two-minute elevator speech. And still you know you’ve only scratched the surface and the possibilities of your ideas are endless. How to decide where to take it next…

Full disclosure: no one said it would be easy.

A couple of years ago when I was completing my last biomimicry project for my professional certification/MS, I came to a point in the project where I literally had to step away from everything else so I could focus just on my project. And I had to go back to the basics – I needed to get those little hamsters running in my brain to shift the cogs and process months of research into coherent thoughts. By the time I finished my project, I was happy just to end up with a working metaphor. I had more questions than answers.

I’ve taken a hiatus from my blog over the last several weeks as my brain has been working overtime trying to figure out how to refine and communicate two very different and complex biomimicry-based ideas in bite-sized chunks to people with a wide range of biomimicry knowledge. All the while realizing and exploring the potential depth to which branching ideas expand upon the core idea without losing sight of that very idea. But see, the kicker is, the ideas could be game changers. And like so many other biomimicry-inspired ideas, the potential lies in actual implementation. So I’m rolling up my sleeves. I’ve got work to do.

While my brain is playing catch up, please enjoy Part 1 of my newest photography collection from Botswana. I promise I’ll be back soon.

My Climate Action List, LP Style

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Sonoran Desert, Arizona

On this day of Climate Action, and in light of the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s “pages relating to climate change, climate science, the impacts of climate change and what readers can do about climate change are all gone from the live site” to “reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt” (read: Koch brothers)…

[A direction, I would argue, that can only be described as dragging our collective heads into the proverbial sand – but actually literally Middle East sand, Canadian tar sands, sand at the bottom of the ocean – until we decide to bang our heads against the proverbial wall – that wall of oil shale rock that blankets the United States – anywhere where that black gold can be found and extracted at whatever cost (and let’s not forget to manipulate markets to make it profitable to extract no matter where it lies)…But, I’m getting sidetracked…]

I thought I’d post a list of quickly brainstormed ideas around climate-related actions I can take in line with Life’s Principles so I have less of, and in some cases a regenerative impact on the planet (because remember, it’s not about just doing less bad, it’s about finding ways to be a regenerative participant in life’s systems!). We will change our story through our actions, so paying specific attention to how we live our lives (walk the talk) makes a difference. Perhaps my ideas will inspire you to do something you hadn’t thought of, and I’m sure there are umpteen more things I could be doing – I’d love to know what actions you are taking!

So let me dive right in. (btw, this is the Biomimicry 3.8 Life’s Principles list and definitions, used with permission)

Be Locally Attuned and Responsive

Fit into and integrate with the surrounding environment.
  • Pay attention to the wildlife around me and do not get complacent about the changes I see.
  • Respond with actions to mitigate the climate change that is precipitating the changes I see.
  • Find ways to take action here at home and in my community.
  • Collect, pay attention and respond to feedback when community climate action proposals don’t pass, and adjust proposals accordingly.
  • Notice if plants in my yard aren’t attracting and supporting a diversity of animals throughout the year and insects and adjust plantings accordingly.
  • Identify challenges I have with material goods and see if these are opportunities for neighborhood community-scale responses (like finding second-hand sports equipment, sharing power and garden tools, etc.). (to reduce the amount of material goods needed and all the climate implications of those goods). Love the idea of a community tool library! And we have some email & online platforms for second-hand goods, but some things are more challenging than others to find.

Leverage Cyclic Processes

Take Advantage of phenomena that repeat themselves
  • Leverage my own cycles of purchasing and actions so that I can make myself successful in trying to change my behaviors (like remembering to take bags to the grocery store, remembering to think first about using materials around the house before going to buy new materials, etc.).

Use Readily Available Materials and Energy

Build with abundant, accessible materials while harnessing freely available energy.
  • Don’t simply buy things when a need arises – think about it first and use what’s available before heading to a store!
  • Reuse unused materials in our house for new project when possible.
  • Investigate the possibility of a solar water heater system, or even solar panels.
  • Use materials from our garden (like sticks) to built a trellis for our vegetables.
  • When we have to head to the store, find local second-hand goods where possible.
  • Bike or walk whenever possible. (I need to do better at this, but I try!)
  • Use scrap paper for grocery lists, kids drawings, etc.
  • Use reusable bags.

Use Feedback Loops

Engage in cyclic information flows to modify a reaction appropriately.
  • Participate in local community climate action discussions.
  • Understand and “speak the language” when trying to bring on board potential partners who aren’t necessarily thinking about these issues. What makes them tick, and how can that make a solution even better?
  • Learn more about how to most effectively participate in and use social media to effectively achieve goals.
  • A clear feedback loop is that the old guard is worried about losing its power as we transition to a non-fossil fuel based economy. NOW is the time to step up our actions exponentially.
  • And in line with that, clear indications of the crazy future we will face are everywhere along the coasts as cities are being inundated with sea water, and evidence points to climate chaos nearing at an alarming rate according to scientists. NOW is the time to act.

Cultivate Cooperative Relationships

Find value through win-win interactions.
  • Identify synergies between friends, businesses and communities for opportunities to work together on any of these ideas!
  • Join the Oak Park Environment & Energy Commission.

Use Life-Friendly Chemistry

Use chemistry that supports life processes.
  • Use non-toxic cleaning chemicals in my house.
  • Use methods in my garden that boost resilience against pests, and where needed don’t use chemicals to solve pest problems (use elbow grease!)
  • Buy goods that are responsibly sourced and manufactured (we try our best).
  • Buy organic everything.
  • Never buy anything with a chrome finish.
  • Drive my gasoline car as little as possible.
  • Reduce use of fossil fuel-based plastics (which are so insidious…sigh).

Break Down Materials into Benign Constituents

Use chemistry in which decomposition results in no harmful by-products.
  • See above. I’m not manufacturing anything, so my hope is that by adhering to keeping the use of toxic chemicals to a minimum in what I buy, when they break down they are benign in the environment. This is a hard one to control on an individual level with the exception of controlling what I purchase and use on a daily basis.

Build Selectively with a Small Subset of Elements

Assemble relatively few elements in elegant ways.
  • Hmmm…being creative with what I have and using my stuff in different configurations to achieve different results depending on needs (functions) without buying new stuff.

Do Chemistry in Water

Use water as a solvent.
  • Again, for me this is probably limited to my purchasing power and buying water-based products, such as the oil wax finish I just purchased to stain my reclaimed wood.

Use Low Energy Processes

Minimize energy consumption by reducing requisite temperatures, pressures and/or time for reactions.
  • All those energy efficiency things we are told to do – daylighting, LED light bulbs, turning off and unplugging electronics when not in use, energy efficient appliances, etc.
  • Buy renewable energy from the utility (we don’t have on-site renewables).
  • Walk and bike whenever possible.
  • Combine many errands into one trip to minimize mileage in car.

Use Multi-Functional Design

Meet Multiple Needs with one elegant solution.
  • Learn permaculture.
  • Use furniture that serves multiple purposes.
  • Buy kitchen appliances or furniture that do multiple things, not just one (the number of single-function kitchen appliances is astounding, and you pretty much don’t need 90% of them)
  • Design spaces for multiple functions (like our playroom that is also a guest bedroom that is also a music studio that is also a…)

Recycle All Materials

Keep all materials in a closed loop.
  • Recycle all the materials I can – first in my home through reuse, and if we have no use for them, through our community recycling program.
  • Buy products with recycled content wherever possible.
  • Keep garden clippings in the yard, compost.
  • Incorporate circular economy thinking into any action I try to get done in my community!

Fit Form to Function

Select for shape or pattern based on need.
  • I think the key to this is “based on need.” Hardly anything in our consumer society is based on “need”, but rather “want.” I’ll continue to make sure whatever I buy is based on need and that it effectively and efficiently performs the function, and preferably more than one function.

Integrate Development with Growth

Invest optimally in strategies that promote both development and growth.
  • Keep my actions and learning opportunities aligned. Don’t go off in multiple directions! Make sure everything I do is rooted in my core goals.
  • Teach my kids age-appropriate lessons about climate change (and other related topics) to inform their actions and opinions, and continually add more complex information as they get older to further develop their understanding and actions.

Self-Organize

Create conditions to allow components to interact in concert to move toward an enriched system.
  • I wish I could do this better personally. Haha!
  • Find groups that are interested in climate action and find common ground between them, so they can leverage each other to create better solutions.

Build from the Bottom Up

Assemble components one unit at a time.
  • Choose my battles/opportunities one at a time, and pick the next one to build momentum from the previous.

Combine Modular and Nested Components

Fit multiple units within each other progressively from simple to complex.
  • Hmm…I’m stumped.

Evolve to Survive

Continually incorporate and embody information to ensure enduring performance.
  • Make sure to keep up-to-date on the latest science and actions to learn from others and incorporate their lessons learned in my own actions.

Replicate Strategies that Work

Repeat successful approaches.
  • Try to get community to use Project Drawdown strategies!
  • Learn from others and repeat successful approaches.
  • Take better stock of what does and doesn’t work for me and try to repeat those that do (like
  • how to trick myself into bringing reusable bags to the grocery store)

Integrate the Unexpected

  • Incorporate mistakes in ways that lead to new forms and functions.
Take the time to see my failures as opportunities for positive change.

Reshuffle Information

Exchange and alter information to create new options.
  • Always think about the information I have through different lenses, and exchange ideas with others, to identify new opportunities for action and change.

Adapt to Changing Conditions

Appropriately respond to dynamic contexts.
  • Don’t bury my head in the sand! Grr.
  • Change my approach/actions with respect to climate change when the context demands it. Which means that because it is clear that the Trump administration is waging a war on science and actions to mitigate climate change, and because evidence of the acceleration of climate change is increasingly alarming, we need to step up our response NOW.

Incorporate Diversity

Include multiple forms, processes or systems to meet a functional need.
  • Try to engage people and organizations at all different scales (whether that’s at the individual, community, regional, national, global scales), taking different actions, responding to the problem differently, as it makes sense with respect to local actions.

Maintain Integrity Through Self-Renewal

Persist by constantly adding energy and matter to heal and improve the system.
  • I also need to work on this personally! Find ways to self-renew (through getting outside, exercise, hobbies, etc.)
  • Find out what makes people tick about this challenge – their energy will improve the effort
  • Always reach out to new people to bring into the effort

Embody Resilience Through Variation, Redundancy and Decentralization

Maintain function following disturbance by incorporating a variety of duplicate forms, processes or systems that are not located exclusively together.
  • The fight against climate change will take local actions across the globe. Help to make the local response more robust by creating programs that are diverse, redundant and decentralized, while finding ways to leverage our successes in the global movement (to share and help make other efforts also resilient).

Workshop Takeaways

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy Biomimicry Chicago partner, Amy, and I were fortunate to have a fantastic group of participants attend our workshop last Friday. They were incredibly diverse and all committed to sustainability with an interest in how biomimicry fits into the current conversation. My brain is still swirling from creating and organizing the workshop content and the feedback we received throughout the day.

Below is somewhat of a brain dump of my thoughts. While this is specific to me and our workshop, I think it’s important to realize that even those of us who are steeped in biomimicry and trying to get our ideas out there still have lots of unanswered questions, ideas to test out and many challenges that we face as biomimicry takes shape and evolves.

  1. The awesome power of diversity
  2. Science for designers, but what about design for scientists?
  3. What do people really need to know?
  4. Stories
The awesome power of diversity

At our workshop we had architects, engineers, scientists, landscape architects, sustainability experts, county agency representatives, community organizers and university researchers, many of whom have multi-disciplinary backgrounds themselves. Of course each participant brought a wealth of experience to the table about the challenges and opportunities in their respective industries, and a mindset of trying to understand how they can take our ideas back to what they do. At an individual level, this process is valuable. Get them all talking together about an idea and the interplay between everyone creates a space in which ideas have the potential take shape – this is invaluable.

Because biomimicry is an iterative process that requires translating ideas between vastly different disciplines to make sure both the design and implementation have a chance at success, having such diversity at the “design” table for our kickoff event means that from the start our initiative includes a brain trust thinking about how to make it successful at multiple scales and points in the design and implementation process. This is something Amy and I could never do on our own.

Science for Designers, but what about Design for Scientists?

A former researcher at Argonne attended our workshop. Her observation was that the workshop content was geared towards designers – educating non-scientists about the science that can inform their design. Her question was, how can we engage more scientists in biomimicry? They know the science, but they don’t know design at all. Her suggestion was to perhaps conduct workshops to teach scientists design.

Her comment has me thinking, what are the opportunities for scientists in biomimicry? Other than needing scientists’ expertise as it applies to understanding the biology relevant to a design challenge (the “Biologist at the Design Table” role), what would the desired outcomes be of flipping the discussion from science for designers to design for scientists? A clear advantage if you can find the right scientists would be more “Biologists at the Design Table” who understand why and how to translate biology to design. But what else? Research that can be written to more easily be accessed for the purposes of biomimicry and design? (e.g., explicitly identifying functions, using functions as metatags, etc.?) I’m not sure, but I’m sure scientists could tell me. 😉

What do people really need to know?

With biomimicry being new and exciting but also therefore unknown to most people, Amy and I constantly play with how to move an initiative forward while at the same time educating people on biomimicry as we go – without spending our time constantly doing Biomimicry 101 events.

Our workshop centered around a concept Amy and I are developing, meaning we were not simply holding a “biomimicry workshop”, but trying to get them to understand how we want to use biomimicry concepts, methods and tools to help work towards our goals. This presents a bit of a quandary – in a one-day workshop, how do you address participants’ likely gap in biomimicry knowledge? What do they really need to know to get started and engaged?

We had a group with a wide range of exposure to and knowledge about biomimicry at our workshop. It is a challenge to create content that both provides enough basic biomimicry information that those with zero background can participate in and add value to the day’s activities without having to spend a huge block of time doing Biomimicry 101. We also needed to address people’s lack of knowledge about the science we are using to shape our ideas. At the same time, we wanted to provide enough new content that the group would actually get somewhere with developing ideas around the challenge presented in the workshop.

In setting up the flow of events for the day, Amy and I went back and forth several times about what we would be able to achieve and what core ideas we could realistically get across to enable participants to explore our ideas. To some degree, we threw caution to the wind and decided to put some onus on the participants to educate themselves somewhat on biomimicry before the workshop. There is quite a bit of information out there on the web which can serve as a Biomimicry 101. (But of course, people have to read/watch it prior to the workshop – sometimes (often?) that’s not going to happen!) Instead we spent time at the workshop on educating people about the science that informs our idea by talking about it through the biomimicry function lens.

In the end, I think we struck a balance at our workshop. Certainly some people were left behind at times, but fortunately those with more knowledge were able to bring them up to speed enough to allow them to participate in the activities (again, thank you diversity!). We also got feedback from someone who had attended several biomimicry workshops before that she thought after this workshop the biomimicry concepts were finally starting to sink in and make sense for her.

My current thought is that we find ways to educate people on the biomimicry process as we go – we have people participate and contribute to the effort while also learning the skills for doing biomimicry – a win-win. As I said in my previous post, that might be a messy way to go, but in the end we could have an engaged and educated group who can go off and do great things in whatever they do. So maybe educating the masses first is not required – an “educate-as-we-go” model might work. The challenge will be to make sure we do things in the right order – build skills and knowledge that enable participants to be successful in our next steps. Wish us luck!

Stories

Amy likes to tell stories about how things work (i,e., strategies and mechanisms) to try to get biomimicry concepts across to designers who don’t have a science background. As I thought about how the workshop went after the fact, I think she’s right about stories, and I’d add to it that we need to spend time on crafting the right stories for each audience and project to further our cause. The value of a good story that gets across an idea well enough to get people really excited is key to getting people to take the leap with us.

In the day and age of constant access to information that details change at a fast pace, we are watching the “story of biomimicry” unfold. Biomimicry is promising, and the incredible products resulting from biomimicry innovation processes are impressive and inspiring to learn about. People get excited. News articles get written. But the reality is, as is the case with many new products, these promising products often don’t have widespread commercial success and the reasons are widely varied. Implementation seems to be where the story of biomimicry gets murky and needs to be addressed if we want better stories to share.

I’m thinking it’s critical to figure out just what stories are important to tell and how to tell them. We can tell all the stories we want, but if we aren’t talking about the parts that ignite people’s imaginations, if we aren’t telling it in a way that enables people to see the world we want to create, if we get the “why” wrong, we will leave a lot of potential on the table.

I think we need to tell the story not just about how innovations came to be through the biomimicry process and how they differ from other products in their category, but also about how those innovations change our world and what that looks like. Not just the percentage performance improvement, but the amount of energy saved and what that means for each of us, or what would happen if the whole industry switched. Not just that toxic chemicals aren’t being used, but the resulting improvements in a person’s health and well-being, and the cumulative impact if the entire system worked that way. Not just creating new community networks, but improving local resilience in the face of global uncertainty. We can’t assume that others have the background and expertise to know how to put the dots together and see the potential of biomimicry. We need to set up the framework of stories to enable people to get from where we are now to where we want to be. This vision can be a rallying point for people to come together to figure out how to make it happen.

You ready to sharpen your storytelling skills? Let’s change our story.

Bringing Biomimicry to Our Networks

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From my latest Photography Collection – My Not-So-Big Backyard

I want more people to think and do biomimicry – okay, I want a lot of people to think and do biomimicry in whatever it is they do whenever and wherever they are doing it. I want them to have a basic understanding of what biomimicry is, how it’s done and how it might apply to what they do. Then I want people to do a deep dive like this bee pictured above – to discover for themselves the potential for biomimicry to transform what they do. So I often ask myself, how does someone like myself go about doing that? Is what I’m about to do at any given time going to help me achieve that goal? And if not, how can I change my approach so that it does?

The Challenges

Let’s be real – there are a lot of challenges (which may also be opportunities!) to meeting this goal. I’ve been thinking about how to solve for (1) the broad appeal of biomimicry to people of vastly different backgrounds with vastly different interests, (2) people’s lack of knowledge on how to do biomimicry, (3) lack of capacity to spend time and money on learning the biomimicry methodology, and (4) potential inability to travel to “nature” (i.e., parks and preserves often well outside urban areas). These are not small challenges.

Biomimicry’s Broad Appeal

First, the reality of biomimicry is that it can be applied to every challenge in any context – it is at its core a tool for innovation, evaluation and measure at any scale. The concept itself is something that people seem to instinctively get – it makes perfect sense. This gets a lot of people from a lot of very different backgrounds excited because it is super cool – you can’t deny that the fact that making an LED lightbulb, which is already considered highly efficient, 55 percent more efficient (brighter) just by mimicking the firefly abdomen microstructure on the light cover is amazing and ignites a sense of wonderment and potential.

So after the excitement of discovery, the next question people always seem to ask is, “How can I do biomimicry?” We also have many people come to our Biomimicry Chicago network to say they want “to be involved.”  If we want to be locally attuned and responsive (Life’s Principle!) as biomimicry practitioners and leaders of the network, the next logical question is, how do we transform the interest and excitement about biomimicry into something. And what is that something? But with such a wide variety of people with equally widely varied interests and expertise coming to the table, it can be hard to focus efforts without cutting people out and turning them off. Is it possible to provide something for everyone?

Learning the Biomimicry Methodology

There are a growing number of opportunities in formal education settings to learn about biomimicry. And even where there are no formal biomimicry degree programs (of which there aren’t many), there are classes popping up in universities around the world, which is very exciting. There are also often opportunities to attend biomimicry workshops which seem to be increasingly focused on the application of biomimicry to a more specific challenge, such as resilience in the built environment.

However, most people are not going to take university biomimicry classes or get a degree in biomimicry. And it’s often hard to get away to attend a multi-day workshop that requires travel to a remote place, especially for people with families, and especially when the cost of the workshop and travel itself is high. These are serious barriers to entry for the majority of people interested in biomimicry. So what other opportunities are there? How can we bring people along where they are?

Time and Energy

I do think biomimicry, with its undercurrent of “doing good”, taps into people’s desire to help. Biomimicry solutions benefit people and the planet, and I do believe people definitely come to biomimicry with that hope and promise in their hearts – we all want to see better outcomes. Even more, we want to be part of the solution, a participant in creating better outcomes, especially if it aligns with our personal and professional lives.

However, the desire of people interested in biomimicry “to be involved” has caveats – the ability to be involved is limited by the person’s capacity to commit time and energy to something. And if that something doesn’t pertain to what they are interested in, either in their professional or personal lives, they will probably be less likely to find the capacity to contribute to that something, no matter their interest in or passion for biomimicry (and if they do, they’re probably seeking out formal education opportunities!). And certainly when we are passionate about something, we seem to be able to find greater motivation and energy to sustain us over the long run, even if/when the something is complicated and/or takes time.

Access to “Nature”

Last, I know I for one am not able to get much “real nature time” these days, and the lack of it makes me depressed (Chicago is not known for its nature to say the least). But this is the reality for most people in large urban areas – we are stuck with the wildlife, for better or worse, that lives in our neighborhoods, parks and places of work (some people have it better than the rest of us based on their location!). And while it’s nice to think about getting people out of urban areas and “into nature” to hold workshops, the reality is that on a day-to-day basis, the urban wildlife is the majority, if not the only, wildlife at least more than half the United States population ever sees. So how can we incorporate the reconnect to nature in our own backyards? If we strengthen people’s awareness of the life that shares their home, in the end will local nature experiences be a more powerful way to get people to recognize the need and reimagine the possibilities? I’m not sure, but for most local people we are likely to reach, this approach is a necessity.

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My Solutions (so far)

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that actions I take as a biomimicry professional/ practitioner, need to be attuned to these caveats (limited knowledge, time, energy and money), focus on local nature experiences, and also tap into this desire (and energy) to participate and be a part of the solution. So when I think about potential future projects, I think about how I might involve others, tap into and leverage their expertise to find solutions while also teaching them about biomimicry in their own backyard along the way. The benefits are twofold (or more) – the project gains invaluable knowledge from a diversity of people, and those same people gain experience with biomimicry (while gaining an appreciation of local wildlife) which they can then take back and apply to whatever they do (my goal!).

Consciously thinking about how to do this for projects has opened up new ways of thinking about the potential of projects.

  • Leverage the desire to help, participate in something larger than oneself. For example, to address the desire to participate, to “be involved”, I believe if possible every workshop should include a significant component (if it’s not the entire focus of the workshop) where participants are given the opportunity to learn and apply the biomimicry methodology to contribute their knowledge and expertise to real challenges. Even better if the workshops are set up to solve for challenges of, and therefore benefit, non-profit organizations or communities. How would your interest in a workshop change if you knew that not only were you going to learn biomimicry but at the same time you’d be contributing potential solutions to a good cause?
  • Meet people where they are. Combine that with the idea that these workshops need to be held at a cost, schedule and location that makes it easier for more people to participate (to meet my goal anyway!), and I’m really talking about holding workshops for people in the communities in which they (and I) live. Working with urban wildlife deepens respect for nature at home. Being creative about funding, timing and partners opens up all kinds of possibilities. IF you can work out the funding (always a challenge!), the end result would be a group of people who understand the biomimicry methodology better, understand the benefits of using the tool to come up with innovative ideas and approaches to real challenges, and are hopefully inspired to continue to work to actually apply the ideas resulting in improved outcomes for the nonprofits and communities in the place in which I live and work. That sounds pretty good to me.
  • Find out what people are most interested in! Use feedback loops to ask network members what brings them to biomimicry, what they want to get out of the network and or biomimicry, but maybe even more importantly, what really floats their boat. Because perhaps if we can tap into that energy the rest will fall into place.

Other ideas to get people involved include crowdsourcing projects and hackathons (similar to a workshop but much more fluid and experimental and perhaps a different crowd) where people learn how to do biomimicry while they are contributing to collective projects or solving for local challenges/needs.

I do think taking these ideas into consideration in the projects/programs I am working on will likely result in much bigger, messier projects because there are more collaborators and they include the x-factor of individuals giving their time (potentially even paying to give their time) to learn and participate. But isn’t that the point? Don’t we want more people involved? Don’t we want more people exposed to biomimicry? Don’t we want increased opportunity to have more people participate in creating beneficial solutions to real challenges? And don’t we want them to internalize this thinking and take it back home or work where they can continue to shift norms? Maybe it’s time to take the leap.

Of course doing what I’m trained to do – using biomimicry to help solve challenges – when I evaluate my current thinking against Life’s Principles I see this approach hitting on several LPs:

  • Be Locally Attuned and Responsive
    • Use feedback loops
    • Cultivate Cooperative Relationships
  • Integrate Development with Growth
    • Build from the Bottom Up

I’ll have to explore how other LPs might improve my approach. What do you see? How can I expand and deepen my ideas?

How do you address these challenges, and are you willing to share your solutions? What’s been successful or not? How can our community learn from you?

Just how do we tap the Genius of our Place?

Cherry blossoms, University of Washington

I’m lucky enough to spending the week in Seattle this week on vacation, perfect timing this year for the blooming of the cherry trees on the University of Washington campus. Unfortunately I don’t think I will be here in just over a month in May when Seattle will hum with the buzz around the Living Future’s Institute unConference.

Every year the conference includes activities and presentations that involve biomimicry, and this year is no different. Central to the application of biomimicry to the built environment is the idea that each geography faces specific challenges due to differing operating conditions – the amount of sunlight, rain wind, fire, etc. – and thus buildings should be designed and built to optimally deal with their location-specific challenges. What’s built in Chicago should not be the same as what’s built in Seattle. One way to understand how to modify designs is to look at life that’s well-adapted to the specific location – all life that’s native to the place! We call this Genuis of Place.

This year, attendees to the unConference will get a chance to do some deep dives into how a Genius of Place can be applied to design. Participants will have a chance to learn about the newest Genius of Place for the California coast region from Biomimicry 3.8 and HOK, and get to participate in a workshop specific to applying the biomimicry Genius of Place tool to a Living Building Challenge design by my good friends Joe
Zazzera, Jane Toner, Diana Hammer and Peggy Chu. A third place-based workshop specific to Seattle’s very cool Urban Greenprint project will teach participants apply nature’s lesson’s learned about water flow into their own designs here in the northwest. Their impressive SeedKit compiles the lessons learned and is available to any designer.

A list of freely available Genius of Place reports are included on my resources page. If you get to attend, let me know how it goes!