I work almost exclusively in the business world and talking about nature regardless of whether we talking about an issue, a risk or opportunity; it makes a lot of business people uncomfortable. A bit like talking about religion or politics. I think the recent rise in awareness of biomimicry is a great way into those conversations. It’s science-y enough to allow businesslike detachment, creates a ‘wow, neato’ response and bridges the solution to that risk or opportunity within an organization’s everyday goals.
Sustainability proponents have understood for years that moving beyond saving our natural environment toward studying and mimicking nature could be a solution for our industrial destruction. Leonardo da Vinci studied the flight of birds in an attempt to make a flying machine in the 1400s that wasn’t realized until the Wright brothers in 1903. Velcro was invented in 1941 inspired by the burrs that stick to our clothes. That same patterning process that allows us to make machines and products that mimic nature can be used to find solutions for greener, more responsible technologies today, too.
Biomimicry Gains Attention
Biomimicry begins to be widely referenced starting in the early 1980s. Janine Benyus published Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by Nature in 1997, and the concept in solving environmental and technology problems is being discussed even more widely as of the past several years.
A Whale of a Story
In the spirit of the whale theme of this month’s newsletter, it seems fitting to highlight a wind power company that mimics the fins, tale and flippers of whales to increase the efficiency of their wind turbines. The company, WhalePower, has shown their technology to increase efficiency by 20% while also greatly reducing noise. (Inhabitat.com, June14, 2013)
It’s a completely different experience for me when talking to clients about biomimicry versus The Natural Step. Both use nature as the foundational thinking for problem solving, but biomimicry seems to be more tangible and results based than other processes and frameworks focused on nature as design. I’m not saying those frameworks are not good processes. They are. It’s just been my experience in the clean technology and business world that it’s easier for business people to understand and buy into biomimicry as a term that defines designing solutions with nature’s wisdom.
AskNature.org: Answers to Thorny Questions
For those of you that want to go deeper into biomimicry. I really enjoy the process that AskNature.org will take you through to solve real problems using nature. One of my favorites is the example of water collection in buildings using the structure and process of a thorny devil lizard. They walk you through a layman’s explanation of the natural process by which the lizards collect water. They categorize each organism and challenge so that you can find example solutions for what is most relevant to the challenges you face.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you call it – nature’s design, biomimicry or common sense. The increased awareness of using nature to inform innovations that help humans overcome or avoid impending environmental challenges is only good news for all of us - regardless of which side of the issue you fall.