Biomimicry: Looking to Nature for Sustainable Innovation

Photo by Lidija Grozdanic

Humans have lived on our planet for thousands of years, and we have curated a complex society featuring innovative structures, systems and technologies and yet inadvertently, we have and continue to create colossal environmental damage and major sustainability concerns. We forget that nature has existed for billions of years, her structures and systems have undergone the refined process of natural selection and evolution and are the champions of efficiency and sustainability. Animals, plants and microbes are the consummate engineers.

We are starting to remember the genius of mother nature with the rise of biomimicry in design.

Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies at macro and nano-scales. (Biomimicry Institute)

The goal is to create products, processes and policies that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul. Biomimetic scientists, engineers and innovators are looking to nature’s blueprints to bring us a new generation of sustainable solutions.

The last few centuries of industrial activity have been based upon a linear industrial system whose design is inherently degenerative. The industrial system is a manufacturing supply chain of take-make-use-lose.

This model has delivered strong profits to many businesses and has financially enriched many nations in the process. But its design is fundamentally flawed because it runs counter to the living world which thrives by continually recycling life’s building blocks.

This take-make-use-lose model of Industrial activity is breaking our natural cycles apart, depleting natural resources and dumping toxic waste into our earth’s ecosystems inevitably creating massive imbalance and colossal challenge of unsustainability. We are extracting invaluable resources from under our land and sea, burning them and dumping CO2 back into the atmosphere. We are uprooting forests to mine metals and minerals, packing them into consumer goods and then irresponsibly disposing them leaving toxic chemicals to leach out into the soil, water and air.

In nature there is no waste, everything is a nutrient that is recycled and reused infinitely. Mimicking these natural designs and processes can help humans propel towards technologies that sustainably use and maintain energy, reject toxins, reuse material and work as a system to create conditions conducive to life. Such as learning how to create more efficient wind power from the fin structure of humpback whales, or mimicking termite mounds to create sustainable buildings with self-cooling features.

Other bioengineers are studying the formation of coral reefs to understand how corals absorb CO2 and secrete a calcium carbonate to build its hard exoskeleton. They are mimicking these principles by creating carbon-neutral cement and which will reduce the environmental impact of construction by capturing CO2 emissions to create durable building material. Other companies are looking at bioengineering trees to provide infrastructural skeletons for buildings, with the capacity of self-reparation and increased resilience.

The practice of biomimicry encourages innovators to look beyond form and towards natures inherent sustainability strategies, creating designs that are efficient, adaptable, and multi-functional. City and living systems can be redesigned to perform the functions of a natural ecosystem such as harvesting water, flood mitigation, habitat creation, resource recycling, energy maintenance and carbon sequestration. We can design an environment that contributes to the ecosystems we inhabit, truly emulating and enhancing the genius of nature.

If we can manage to mimic biology and nature at all three levels of form & function, processes and natural systems we can begin to do what all well-adapted organisms have learned to do, which is create conditions conducive to life.

By: Denym Stengel