Tag: future

Giving Tuesday – How I’m making my money count towards climate change

On #GivingTuesday (and every month after), I want to make sure my donated money counts toward addressing climate change. The easiest route might be to donate to large international climate policy advocacy groups like 350.org, or land conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy. In doing research on these organizations, I can see clearly they are working to address climate change, the breadth of their work is so impressive. But I decided they don’t really need my money; I’d rather start at home.

But where to start? There are a lot of actions that fall into the rubric of “climate change action.” So I’m using Biomimicry Chicago’s Deep Roots Initiative (DRI) conceptual framework to make sure my donations fall into different categories of action that both regulate climate and support resilient communities (which in turn do a better job regulating climate). Each of these six categories is important to creating a stable climate.


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Next, I’m starting at the top of Project Drawdown’s ranked list of climate change solutions to make sure the organizations I’m donating to are implementing programs that will have the biggest impact on climate change (and which make sense for my region). I added these solutions into my DRI framework categories and came up with a list of organizations implementing relevant local solutions. These are the local organizations I can support to make an impact on climate change!

Donations chart

As you’ll notice, Project Drawdown solutions are focused specifically on carbon sequestration, so solutions in water and biodiversity are not specifically mentioned in their list. But as we learned from ecosystems through our DRI process, all six categories of system functions – carbon, water, energy, materials, biodiversity and social organization – are critical for maintaining a stable climate.

You can use this approach to create your own list of local organizations that will give you the biggest bang for your buck in addressing climate change on #Giving Tuesday – and everyday thereafter! Have fun!

Links to organizations listed above:

New Biomimicry Resources

When I launched into my #SystemReset series last fall, I felt pretty good about the information I had about the context of three product categories (plastics, flame retardants and anti-bacterials). But some systems are more complex than others, and certainly the fire retardant industry is complex and technical – I’ve been slowed by research that leads me into ever-deepening circles of inquiry!  And, of course, me being me I want to make sure I’ve got it right. So, instead of sharing my own work this week, I wanted to share with you great work by other people – a super helpful video shared this week that helps to expand our understanding of the biomimicry process, as well as a couple of fascinating books coming out this spring. Check them out!


Biologically Inspired Design for Industry: An Evolving Practice

I found this webinar to provide a thorough and helpful case study example from Kimberly-Clark of how this team has been shifting biomimicry from idea to implementation, and the lessons learned. Of course, I’ve included a permanent link on my Resources page.

From the website:

The Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID) at Georgia Tech, in combination with Kimberly-Clark Corporation, recently completed two biologically inspired design projects. These projects successfully generated two new active research lines for improving product performance. Join Michael Helms, PhD, from Georgia Tech, and Marsha Forthofer, Kimberly-Clark, to learn more about the projects and discuss the conditions that enabled (and inhibited) the success of the projects including:

  • best-practice biologically inspired design processes
  • expectation setting across different design domains
  • design team knowledge and skill requirements
  • translating biological concepts into actionable, funded research

New Books Spring 2017

Teeming: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World

My friend, Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker, PhD, has authored a book about her area of expertise – superorganisms – and what we can learn from them. Drawing on fundamental lessons learned from multiple superorganisms, she provides insight into how organizations can restructure to be adaptable, resilient and integral to the functioning of a system.

From her website (book release date: May 2017):

The most successful species are those that adapt to change, and the same is true in business. But there are limits to vertical growth, and our hierarchical structures can only grow so tall before complexity and instability overwhelm them. Today’s global organizations need a new way to sense and respond to change. Earth’s most ancient and successful societies – the ants and termites, and vast fungal networks underground – have already solved the problem. For hundreds of millions of years, they have worked in huge cities – tens of millions strong – compounding their wealth from one generation to the next with no management whatsoever. With just four simple principles – Collective Intelligence, Distributed Leadership, Swarm Creativity, and Regenerative Value – Teeming shows how these simple individuals pool their diverse and independent experiences to create rich hotspots of abundance and exquisite resilience to change. We can do it too.

Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan to Reverse Global Warming

Not biomimicry per se although the premise of the idea is that we need to balance our carbon cycle like the rest of life does (and Dayna Baumeister of Biomimicry 3.8 is a Scientific Advisor!), but I am excited to see what comes out of the research Project Drawdown has done over the last few years in the book that will summarize it all, Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan to Reverse Global Warming. Considering the Biomimicry Institute’s Global Design Challenge focus is on climate change, it will be fascinating to learn from the winners of the competition what biomimicry might add to the list of approaches we can use to balance our carbon cycle. Let’s do this!

From the book website (book release date: April 18, 2017):

To be clear, our organization did not create or devise a plan. We do not have that capability or self-appointed mandate. In conducting our research, we found a plan, a blueprint that already exists in the world in the form of humanity’s collective wisdom, made manifest in applied, hands-on practices and technologies. Individual farmers, communities, cities, companies, and governments have shown that they care about this planet, its people and its places. Engaged citizens the world over are doing something extraordinary. This is their story.

Driving in the Dark

A sliver of moonlight dimly lit up the sides of a cargo train that slipped through the dark night along the highway in the sleepy middle of Illinois on New Year’s. The movement grabbed my eye and in a flash, the juxtaposition of my family in the comfortable bubble of our car with the often hidden mechanisms that make it all possible reminded me of the complexity of our modern lives.

Even while we sleep in the United States, the world is moving to bring us our every desire. Humanity’s vast global interconnected non-stop network is truly a marvel of modern engineering and ingenuity, political dances and pure grit. The pace of change only seems to accelerate, and the limits of the future appear to be constrained only by the limits of our imagination.

In Chicago we have bananas, strawberries, kiwi, and tomatoes in our grocery stores in January. We don’t worry about the lights going out or not having water flow from our taps. We don’t think twice about what it took to get the millions upon millions of products on shelves in stores across our city. Nor do we consider how those same products are replaced by newer models every season (and where the old ones will go). We put our trash to the curb and it disappears.

For years I have been visiting random commercial and industrial properties to do assessments as an environmental consultant. Before I started, I never thought twice about what it takes to put a label on a bottle of Gatorade, create a veneer of wood for cabinets, put a chrome finish on a bathroom faucet, smelt ore into metal rods, manage a train yard, put fresh fruit on shelves in the middle of winter, manage product inventories on vast scales, manage a landfill over the course of its long life, or turn a grassy field into a giant warehouse. But having seen all that and more, I have a deep appreciation for the complexity of systems that support our every day and I know that I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Most people never see any of it.

It’s my belief that if more of us are able to begin to scratch the surface of our daily lives to understand even superficially the life cycle of our disposable coffee cups or our shoes or the journey of a banana in January, we will begin to realize that while our modern marvel is amazing, it’s not magic. With globalization and technology, the often dirty and messy and hot and smelly and toxic occur at points in the supply chain that are increasingly further from our view. But the consequences are coming back to nip at all our heels in the form of climate change in ways we are only beginning to understand. And as we begin to accept not only the benefits but also the magnitude of both the known and unknown ramifications of those systems, we will begin to shed light on the fact that not only are we all driving blind in the dark, but we’re hurtling at 100 miles per hour down on a poorly maintained road.

If we limit our imagination to only picture a future filled with technology that anticipates and satisfies our every whim, one in which we are the center of a world that caters and bends to fulfill our wants, we are missing the larger picture. This same world will no longer fulfill our needs as a living species dependent upon the non-human systems that support us. We will imagine ourselves out of existence. If we allow our imaginations to integrate our needs with our wants, the future is what we make of it. Of course this requires an acceptance and clear understanding that our existence is intricately tied to the survival of all life forms and the finely tuned systems that life relies upon and creates.

It’s no accident that a prairie soaks up and holds onto water like a sponge. It’s how it defends against summer drought. It’s no accident that rainforests have rain, and lots of it, year-round. They create their own weather patterns. This too, while magical, is not magic. In biomimicry, we look from the small form to system-wide examples to understand how life works – not just to find fancy new technology, but to understand how life creates technology and systems that allow life to grow, regenerate and thrive so that we too can do the same.

So in this time of year when we imagine how we’d like to move forward into the future, it’s important to understand and appreciate what we have and where we are starting from. And while we appreciate the systems that have gotten us to where we are today, it’s clear that our vision for the future must include a deep reconsideration for how we can continue to do what we do but do it better. Do it smarter. Do it in a way that not only minimizes the consequences but also generates compounding benefits. Do it in a way that begins with and works backward from the most fundamental goal of all life – to create conditions conducive to life, to take care of the place that takes care of us and will take care of our children. It’s time to ask new questions and answer them with completely new solutions. We can get started by looking to the wisdom inherent in the world around us.

Let’s change our story. Today.