“Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature labor in vain.” – Leonardo da Vinci, painter, draughtsman, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor and architect
Finding sustainable solutions for a balanced ecosystem by empowering people to learn and apply nature-inspired design strategies is the philosophy that lies at the heart of biomimicry. This approach is absolutely critical in effecting systemic change!
Biomimicry design thinking is a process used by innovators across many fields to identify challenges and develop solutions in a creative, relevant, truly sustainable way — based on nature. The typical process consists of five stages:
– Define the intended impact of your design
– Biologize by analyzing and reframing your solutions in biological terms, so you can “ask nature” for advice
– Discover existing organisms that perform the sought-after function
– Draft abstract by restating design strategies in non-biological terms, looking for patterns
– Evaluate the design concepts for how well they meet the challenge and fit into Earth’s systems
Biomimicry moves away from an industry-informed perspective (i.e. what has been manufactured before) to a nature-informed perspective, studying and copying how nature has solved problems to take full advantage of 3.8 billion years of ‘R&D’ and natural selection. Creative problem-solving tools are invaluable in the face of the climate crisis, as we must look towards the age-old design of nature itself to learn how to adapt to and mitigate devastating impacts.
Many inventions we take for granted today are a product of biomimicry. For example, Velcro was invented by George de Mestral in the 1940s when he examined the way burrs attached to his clothing and dog’s fur with a unique hook design. We study the golden orb-weaver spider for its unbelievable ability to produce silk that is five times stronger than steel, a naturally-derived arachnoid material much tougher than the Kevlar in bulletproof vests and able to absorb five times the impact without breaking or the need for high pressures, heat or corrosive acids.
And when you set out with a mission, you need gear with a mission too. Peak Design plans, accounts and takes responsibility for a product’s entire lifecycle, from a banned substances list to low-water low-footprint dying processes, recycled textiles, metals, papers, plastics and other materials to refurbishment and lifetime guarantees. The environmental priorities are a natural outgrowth of its mission, policies and advocacy to improve the lives of employees, contractors, customers, and people the planet over.
Surrounding ourselves with nature reduces stress and increases creativity, allowing us to operate at our highest potential. The more we incorporate nature into our constructed places — even through simple green building design shifts to increase daylight or views of the outdoors — the stronger our connection is to the environment, incentivizing its protection and restoration. It becomes a co-beneficial cycle!
Janine Benyus sums it up well in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature: “After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival… In that time, life has learned to fly, circumnavigate the globe, live in the depths of the ocean and atop the highest peaks, craft miracle materials, light up the night, lasso the sun’s energy, and build a self-reflective brain… all without guzzling fossil fuel, polluting the planet, or mortgaging the future. What better models could there be?”
As human beings, we are innately tied to the natural world. Our fast-paced, tech-focused society can cause us to separate from the ecosystems that surround us, but we are innately drawn to nature, our greatest teacher. Whether we deliberately imitate nature’s best strategies or are simply influenced by our surroundings, what we build often mimics biology. Biomimicry is all around us!
- Look around your neighborhood, home and community, either in person or via Google Earth Street View.
- Where do you see biomimicry in action?
- Ask yourself why things are shaped, colored or placed as they are.
- What fixtures of society stem from biomimicry?
- Here are examples of integrated biomimicry from our partners at the Biomimicry Institute.
Nature has designed complex structures for efficiency. Plants, animals and other organisms are alive today because of adaptation, mutation and shifts. Pay attention to their teachings!
“If the history of life on Earth were put to a 24‑hour clock, humans would have been here shaping the world for mere seconds. As latecomers, it’s time to begin asking the rest of our complex planetary family how to build a more resilient, regenerative, and beautiful world.” — Ask Nature
Time to get inspired!
- Explore the Biomimicry Institute AskNature online library of over 1,800 natural phenomena and bio-inspired applications.
- Explore the Inspired Ideas, Biological Strategies and Collections tabs at the bottom of the page.
- Which aspects of the strategy or system are most compelling?
- How has your perspective of nature changed?
- How can these systems from biomimicry be applied to your own life, campus or community?
“In nature, nothing is perfect and yet everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” – Alice Walker
Today, you have an opportunity to see, hear, feel and experience how the natural world is moving around you, and apply it to a real-world context. Will you lean in?
Reconnection with nature is where biomimicry begins. Biomimicry Institute defines (re)connection as a practice that reminds us to observe and spend time in nature to understand how life works and encourages innovators to think about how a personal connection to nature informs work. As youth climate activists, we believe empathy is essential for understanding and solving environmental problems, yet modern society has lost much empathy for living creatures and our Earth.
- Immerse yourself in nature to listen and learn.
- Spend 20 or 30 minutes in a nearby park, trail hike, or virtual nature walk or national park tour. Find a place where you feel connected to the biological world.
- Bring a notepad and settle into a comfortable position. Observe the natural systems, designs, and interactions around you, writing down what compels, interests, or connects with you.
- What is one system or structure you observed that could be recreated into an object for human use?