Category Archives: Biomimicry

Biomimicry: a “trend” of the last 250,000 years

Dayna Baumeister

Biomimicry—from the Greek, bios, meaning “life”, and mimesis, meaning “to imitate”, is an emerging discipline with an ancient practice. Since humans first wandered the plains of Africa a quarter of a million years ago, we have turned toward our fellow planet mates for guidance on how to live well in the places we inhabited. Throughout the millennia, nature has offered lessons learned for the borrowing. Yet, the rise of the industrial revolution yielded a shift from nature as mentor to nature as resource, the consequences of which have both led to the complete colonization of the planet by Homo sapiens, and significant indications that this wholesale strategy may not be in our or the planet’s best long-term interest.

Natural_Beauty

Bringing i2® to another level, Kaleidoscope takes inspiration from the serendipitous pattern of a multicolored, leaf-strewn forest floor and allows random mixing of i2 tiles in four colors to create a unique look every time. Designed to be installed in any order, the tiles comprise a highly efficient and sustainable system that further enhances selective replacement capabilities.

Over the last 15 years, curious designers and innovators of all walks of life have been revisiting the inspiration and guidance from the time-tested strategies of the other 30 million species on Earth. We recognize biomimicry today as the conscious emulation of nature’s genius. Media is filled with amazing, hopeful stories from around the world of how designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and biologists are asking nature for solutions to some of the world’s most critical sustainable design challenges. Through careful emulation of biological strategies, the wisdom of the planet is changing everything from the way we create color, communicate, and package and transport goods, to maintaining health, designing cites, and growing food. Inspiration from the smallest of organisms like termites and bees and sponges are changing the way we design buildings, manage traffic, and improve ventilation. While whales are teaching us to better harness wind, forests teach us how to manage industrial systems, and lessons from deep sea vents are transforming energy production.

Ivy_League

Inspired by the principles of photosynthesis and the growth patterns of ivy, Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology devised a means of applying photovoltaic technology to vertical spaces in an aesthetic way. Solar Ivy is a customizable, non-toxic and completely recyclable modular system that brings a technology traditionally restricted to rooftops to almost any architectural surface.

By reconnecting nature with what it means to be human, our opportunities for fostering a world mentored and empowered by nature’s genius abound. And this potential lives within all of us. The next opportunity you have to spend time in nature, don’t forget to ask, “how would nature solve this?” Her answers might just create the foundation of your next brilliant and sustainable innovation.

For more information about biomimicry and the trainings and certifications that Biomimicry 3.8 offers, visit www.biomimicry.net

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What a Ponderosa Pine Could Teach a Business

Lindsay James

If you’re familiar with InterfaceFLOR, you may also be familiar with Biomimicry, the practice of emulating nature’s genius to improve human design of products, processes, and systems — a favorite source of inspiration for our sustainability journey.

I have a deep passion for biomimicry as it is one of the most hopeful approaches to achieving sustainability that I have encountered. Nature has thrived on this planet for 3.8 billion years, and we too can learn to sustain ourselves if we quiet our cleverness and learn from nature (and remember that we, too, are nature). Biomimicry puts sustainability within reach for our species, and that is why I enrolled in the intensive two-year, master’s equivalent biomimicry certification program offered by Biomimicry 3.8.

In our in-person sessions, which are held in seven different ecosystems around the world, we seek to learn about the “genius of place” within each system. One key tenet in nature is that life adapts and evolves in context – meaning that life develops strategies for survival that are specific and dependent on the environmental conditions of the local ecosystem. By studying the natural history of each location, we develop a deep understanding of this principle and an appreciation for the genius found in nature.

While in Montana’s montane forest ecosystem, I took a particular interest in the ponderosa pine’s adaptations to fire disturbances and researched this species for my Genius of Place exercise. Ponderosa pines are well-adapted to resist the potentially damaging impacts of fire through a variety of mechanisms. There are four mechanisms that confer fire resistance to this conifer:

1) the ponderosa sheds its lower, more vulnerable branches as it matures, so there are no branches in the “fire zone”; 2) a thick, corky, fire-resistant bark insulates the tree’s inner cambium from killing temperatures; 3) a deep taproot provides access to water during and after a fire and therefore provides protection against fire desiccation; and 4) in the event of a more intense fire that reaches the ponderosa’s branches, the lengthy needles (up to 7 inches long) provide protection for the pine’s growth buds – the critical resource for future growth.

So what can we learn from the ponderosa’s spectacular suite of adaptations? In biomimicry we practice abstracting design principles to translate biological wisdom into tangible guidance for human problems. In this case, I abstracted the following design principles: Utilize a diversity of strategies to gain resistance to disturbance, including: 1) maintain separation between vulnerable resources and the likely disturbance zone; 2) for elements that will be exposed to the disturbance zone, invest in ample protection of the most critical aspects of the system; 3) provide reliable access to critical resources during and immediately following the disturbance; and 4) have a less costly (multi functional) backup mechanism in place for resources that typically are not exposed to the disturbance zone but could be during an atypical event.

The next step in biomimicry is to apply the abstracted design principle to a human challenge in order to create design application ideas. I believe there is room to explore specific applications of these disturbance strategies in supply chain management. How many businesses are affected by unanticipated disturbances in their upstream flow of raw materials? How could we apply the strategies found in nature to improve the resilience of our business systems? These are the questions that I will continue to explore in my biomimicry studies, and I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you through the InterfaceFLOR blog.

What other critical lessons can business learn from nature? Share with us in the comments.

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Lindsay James on Creative Nesting

Inspiration and influence can come from almost anywhere. In the case of InterfaceFLOR, our inspiration came from the Bowerbird, who’s resourceful building skills inspired our Creative Nesting concept.

Our Creative Nesting concept pulls its influence from the Bowerbird. The Bowerbird is visually dull (by male bird standards); and so must attract a potential mate by decorating its nest with bright colored materials. Much like the Bowerbird, InterfaceFLOR brought vibrant and creative designs to the previously grey-only work environment at NeoCon 2011.

In the video below, Lindsay James discusses the Bowerbird’s influence on Creative Nesting and its influence on InterfaceFLOR products and recruiting structure

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Lessons from Nature: Biomimicry at the San Diego Zoo

Lindsay James

I was fortunate enough to attend the Biomimicry Conference at the San Diego Zoo recently, where I heard from many inspiring speakers and had plenty of opportunities to observe plants and animals from the Zoo's spectacular collection.

One of my favorite speakers was Tom McKeag who illuminated the amazing features of bird's eggs.  He looked specifically at the largest bird egg on the planet, the ostrich egg.  Tom pointed out that the ostrich also has the smallest egg, relative to the size of the full-grown adult.  Eggs successfully protect and nurture the growing embryo, stay closed until the precise moment at which they need to open, and block dust or dirt from entering while allowing oxygen and other materials to selectively enter. 

This is a short excerpt of the functions we discussed; and the implications for rethinking product packaging are enticing.

I interviewed Paula Brock, Chief Financial Officer of the Zoo, to learn more about the Zoo's role in accelerating the adoption of biomimicry, especially in the San Diego area.  In her comments, Paula discusses the role that biomimicry can play in conservation.  I am especially drawn to the role biomimicry can play in moving society beyond exploiting nature to learning from nature.   This shift has the potential to create a fortuitous cycle: as we learn more from nature, we will be more inclined to protect nature.  As businesses begin to realize game-changing innovation drawn from biomimicry, they will see that protecting wildlife and habitats is akin to investing in better science education for our children: the long term success of the company could depend on it.

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Use Less Materials

Dematerialization by conscious design

The Sustainability Dictionary hosted by the Presidio Graduate School defines Dematerialization as, “Reducing the total material that goes toward providing benefits to customers; may be accomplished through greater efficiency, the use of better or more appropriate materials, or by creating a service that produces the same benefit as a product.”

Just as firms seek to economize on energy, labor, land, and other factors of production, they are searching for opportunities to economize on materials. Encouraging examples of more efficient materials use exist in many sectors, functions, and products; however, the taste for complexity, which often goes with so-called higher performance, may intensify other environmental impacts.

Innovation inspired by nature

In her thought-provoking book, Biomimicry, author Janine Benyus opens with a quote by Vaclav Havel, “We must draw our standards from the natural world.” This is the heart of dematerialization by conscious design and what the Biomimicry revolution is all about – the conscious emulation of life’s genius. Biomimicry requires a shift in mindset from thinking about what we can extract to what we can learn from nature. It requires changing our relationship with the natural world to mentor, measure and model. “[L]iving things have done everything we want to do without guzzling fossil fuel, polluting the planet, or mortgaging their future. What better models could there be?”

How would nature design a carpet?

The answer is Entropy – the biggest selling product in the shortest period of time in InterfaceFLOR’s history. InterfaceFLOR’s principal designer David Oakey observed how no two square yards of a forest floor are the same, yet they blend perfectly together in a harmonious whole. There is no solid color. It’s a diverse system. He asked, “How could you make carpet so that in one production run, the color and design of every single carpet tile would come out slightly different?”

In his most recent book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, Ray Anderson, founder and Chairman of Interface, Inc., reflects on how designing carpet the way nature would has many advantages. “We could actually lay it randomly instead of in a monolithic fashion, saving installation time. It was easy to make repairs because the tile didn’t match exactly to the other tiles. Off quality practically vanished, inspectors could not find defects among the deliberate “imperfection” of no two tiles alike. And it practically eliminated installation waste.” The goal is to make the best looking, most durable product while using the least amount of raw materials, ultimately reducing environmental and financial costs.

Toward a sustainable materials economy

A next step in our research is to develop a scenario for a significantly dematerialized economy and to explore the changes in technology and behavior needed to achieve it. What would a dematerialized, sustainable materials economy look like? Such an exercise should include careful examination of hazards as well as benefits to natural systems associated with a qualitatively and quantitatively sustainable materials economy.

In other words, how does the overall growth of a system offset any efficiency gains in its components? We must measure product life cycles, industry sectors, and the total materials economy at several stages, in various contexts, drawing our standards from the natural world. Imagine a sustainable materials economy that respects its place as a subset of the biosphere, and actually enhances life on Earth as products travel through their life cycles!

Nadine Gudz
Manager, Sustainable Strategy

Source: Materialization and Dematerialization: Measures and Trends

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