Category Archives: Biophilia

Connection to Nature – An Interview with Sir Cary Cooper

Interface

As some of the world’s most forward-thinking designs seek to integrate the efficient ingenuity of some of Nature’s rarer creations, the case for incorporating the most basic of natural elements – sunlight and green plants – has reemerged with renewed vigor.

Equal Measure

Workplaces that incorporate natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, can increase productivity levels.

The findings of a survey of 7,600 workers in 16 countries led by Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University and co-founder of Robertson-Cooper, make the unambiguous case for biophilia in the workplace. According to the survey, workplaces that incorporate natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, report productivity levels 6 percent higher than those without these elements.

The productivity boost adds up to compelling numbers. According to one example in Cooper’s report, while it can cost about $1,000 to shift the position of a workstation in one office so that an employee’s peripheral vision can take in the window view, the resulting 6 percent increase in the employee’s call processing capacity equaled about a $3,000 return.

Human Spaces Report

Source: Human Spaces Report

Still, only 42 percent of the employees surveyed report having live plants in their offices and 47 percent report having no natural light. “Working in an office is not where we come from,” said Cooper. “Offices are intrinsically antithetical to our nature.” It’s not surprising that the advantages of biophilia in the workplace don’t equate exclusively to the hard measure of productivity gains. Employees in the Robertson-Cooper survey reported a 15 percent increase in creativity, along with a 15 percent higher level of well-being when working in spaces with natural elements—two measures typically associated with job satisfaction and engagement. Perhaps most remarkable about the survey results was their consistency, said Cooper. The countries included in the survey are at varying stages of urbanization, and though some preferred greenery and others water ponds or sunlight, the longing to bring the outside inside and the corresponding boons to productivity, creativity and well-being were universal.

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Natural Healing with Biophilia

Jean Nayar

If there’s truth to the adage that we’re all products of our environment, then it makes good sense to ensure the spaces we work in are as conducive to bringing out the best in us as possible.

There’s a lot of buzz in design circles these days around the idea of biophilia—the notion that humans possess an instinctive tendency to seek out connections with nature and other forms of life. Described in 1973 by the German-born American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive,” and expanded on in 1984 by American biologist Edward O. Wilson, who proposed that the human proclivity to affiliate with nature and other forms of life is based, in part, on genetics, biophilia has become the foundation for a movement among proponents of sustainable design to incorporate aspects of nature into products and spaces to support a sense of well-being that’s vital to human health and productivity.

There’s also a growing body of anecdotal and scientific research that validates the benefits generated by a proximity to nature—or elements that mimic it—and supports the trend toward nature-centric design. Read on for five expert design strategies that rely on nature or biomimicry to enhance our health and well-being in built environments.

Cultivate a green wall

Living walls composed of an array of small plants not only delight the senses by bringing color and dimension to lobbies, atriums, and other communal spaces, they also promote health and well-being by absorbing carbon-dioxide and other toxic gasses and replacing them with life-giving oxygen.

As an alternative to green walls composed of grasses, succulents, and other plants, Joseph Zazzera, a certified biomimicry professional, LEED AP ID+C, provisional WELL AP, and co-owner of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Plant Solutions, suggests installing a low-maintenance green wall made of moss and lichens, which Buddhist monks began to cultivate a thousand years ago in temples or on stones and walls to turn their attention away from daily distractions and facilitate meditation. When their varying textures and chartreuse, olive, soft gray, and pale green hues are coalesced within a framed composition, maintained with a patented preservation process, and mounted on a wall, mosses and lichens also engage the eye like an abstract painting. “We think of these as biomimicry art pieces, connecting us to our human nature and innate love of living things,” says Zazzera. “Each one is like a shrine at the edge of the wilderness between our offices and our primeval nature.”

moss art

Living walls composed of an array of small plants not only delight the senses but also promote health and well-being by absorbing carbon-dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. Image credit: ©Plant Solutions

Consider the senses

Nature-inspired elements that we can see, hear, smell, or feel can positively impact our physical and mental well-being and also reduce stress. A work space that supports eye health, for example, should allow for depth of view beyond computer screen of at least 20 feet, but ideally 60-100+ feet, to allow eye muscles to completely relax and prevent prolonged ocular stress, according to Chris Garvin, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, and managing partner with Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainability consulting and strategic planning firm.

“If you have manual controls for window blinds, be sure to use them and not keep the blinds down out of forgetfulness,” Garvin says, who also advises incorporating the sound of running water in work spaces as well. “Trickling or gurgling water can contribute to concentration and stress reduction,” he explains. “A small desktop fountain can cost as little as $10.” To address the sense of touch, Garvin recommends incorporating a sense of “thermal variability,” in air flow or temperature “either through manual controls, operable windows, an oscillating small desktop fan, or material choices with different thermal qualities—including a mix of metal, wood, fabric and other material surfaces.”

woman looking through blinds

Nature-inspired elements can positively impact our physical and mental well-being and also reduce stress.

Echo nature’s textures, forms, and patterns

From crystals and leaves to seashells and snowflakes, the naturally occurring forms in nature are built upon patterns that humans instinctively respond to in a positive way. The late designer Buckminster Fuller looked to these patterns as the ultimate source of inspiration in his whole-systems approach to problem solving. “Fuller was impressed with how efficient nature is in her use of materials,” says Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. “As a result, none of his structures have right angles because nature doesn’t use them—natural forms are all based on the triangle and tetrahedron,” she adds.

When surrounded by structures or elements based on such patterns, she explains, “you feel something that has a resonance with the natural world.” The use of biomorphic forms, or forms that mimic those in nature, has been found to reduce stress and increase visual preference, concurs Garvin. “This would also include the use of fractal ratios and other patterns that occur within nature,” he notes.

Human Nature

The flooring options in Interface’s Human Nature trigger positive signals in the brain by bringing a sense of nature underfoot with both textures and patterns that emulate moss, sand, gravel, and other natural surfaces.

Open a window on the world

As workspaces shrink to reduce carbon footprints and limit energy and real estate costs, designers, facility managers, and corporate decision-makers have found that introducing a view onto a natural setting can compensate for a perceived loss of space. As an example, Lindsay James, a certified biomimicry professional and vice president of restorative enterprise for Interface, points to furniture manufacturer Haworth’s renovated headquarters in Holland, Michigan, where more traditional offices were exchanged for updated smaller-scale open workspaces, and an enclosed garage was removed and replaced with prairie grasses and an atrium to provide access to daylight and views.

“An early post-occupancy survey revealed a negative response at first, as workers felt the space to be more crowded, but over time a family of wild turkeys moved in to the prairie and people began to check daily on the eggs as they were nurtured and hatched,” she explains. “After workers reconnected to the rhythm of life, positive responses went up dramatically in a subsequent survey as they found unexpected fulfillment in witnessing nature at a slow pace,” she adds. “As we see nature unfolding over the seasons, we are reminded on a daily basis of how the bigger picture can affect our world view and reinforce the feeling that we’re connected to all life on the planet.”

Haworth headquarters

Haworth’s renovated headquarters in Holland, Michigan exchanged more traditional offices for updated smaller-scale open workspaces. An enclosed garage was removed and replaced with prairie grasses and an atrium to provide access to daylight and views. Image credit: Haworth

Follow the light

“Daylight, with a sky view and exposure to natural diurnal patterns, supports concentration during the day and helps maintain healthy circadian rhythms,” says Garvin. “When quality daylight isn’t possible, one strategy is task-ambient electric circadian lighting design with biologically-correct LED light bulbs for task lamps.”

Posted in Category Biophilia, Biophilic Design, Design Inspirations, Sustainability | Leave a comment

What Does Beautiful Thinking Mean?

Jean Nayar

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. But when we see beauty—whether in a glorious sunset, a majestic mountain, an inspired building, or a fellow human being—we know it. Visual beauty is tangible.

When it comes to thinking, though, how do we know when our ideas are beautiful? Interface has been dwelling on this question a lot lately—particularly with respect to how it impacts a sense of well-being in sustainably designed spaces. They also recognize that visionaries both past and present—from the legendary architect, R. Buckminster Fuller, to the brilliant founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, to the CEO of the International Living Future Institute, Jason McLennan, one of the most influential individuals in the green building movement—have pondered this question, too, and have applied their theories to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with transformational results.

beautiful thinking

What is “beautiful thinking?” The people at Interface have been dwelling on this question a lot lately—particularly with respect to how it impacts a sense of well-being in sustainably designed spaces.

To give shape to the idea of “Beautiful Thinking,” we asked some thought leaders: “What does ‘Beautiful Thinking’ mean to you?” Their responses yielded some interesting common threads. Read on for seven of the most compelling of them.

What does beautiful thinking mean?

Nature and beauty are inseparable—and humans are part of it

“Research has shown that humans have an innate love of and need for nature,” says Jason McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute and the founder and creator of the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most progressive and stringent green building program. “Our ‘biophilia,’ according to studies, is hard-wired,” he says. “We naturally seek out environments where nature is present and react negatively to environments that are sterile, cold, and without any connection to nature.”

Science and beauty are innately interconnected

“Buckminster Fuller would take on any challenge with a systemic approach to problem-solving,” says Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. “For him, there was no greater source of ‘Beautiful Thinking’ than in the patterns of nature, and in how efficient Nature is with her use of materials. He was sometimes referred to as a ‘radical utopian,’ who relied on fundamental truths of science and research to uncover truths about how the universe is structured to get to the root of things, and it’s been said that if you’re at the root you’re touching the spiritual,” she adds. “Fuller himself once said, ‘When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty, I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.’”

In other words, beauty may not be the goal of “Beautiful Thinking,” but invariably it emerges as a result of it.

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“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty, I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” -Buckminster Fuller

Nature has much to teach us about creating great human habitat

“In the same way that nature creates conditions conducive to life,” says Lindsay James, a certified biomimicry professional, “businesses can think of ways to create conditions that are conducive to life, both for the larger ecological system and for the well-being of the people in the company. One step we can take is to create spaces for our people that promote health and wellness. One of the pitfalls we seem to be running into is to define health in buildings purely in terms of the absence of potentially hazardous chemicals. This has the potential to allow fear of chemicals to overshadow other ways that we can make buildings ‘life-friendly.’

The increasingly robust research on biophilic design shows us how better designed buildings produce some of the proven physiological and psychological benefits of spending time in nature. Our current value-engineering practices don’t take this kind of benefit into account,” she explains. “But when companies see health-care costs of employees declining in biophilically-designed spaces, then there’s an economic argument for good design.”

Variety is the spice of stimulating spaces

“We should strive to create places where we fit and where we belong; places with both prospect and refuge that appeal to us on a deep psychological level,” says McLennan. “There is additional emerging evidence indicating that we also crave beauty in the form of order, proportion, texture, color, and localized symmetry. I refer to this instinct as ‘’ The pleasure we experience when we witness symmetry in nature—as in sacred geometry or the elegant layout of the human face— demonstrates this powerful force.”

Holistic environments inspire creativity and innovation

Spaces derived from “Beautiful Thinking” can have a ripple effect on people and the broader systems they’re a part of. “Interface is a carpet tile company that mimics nature in its manufacturing process and continues to develop restorative circular economy strategies to drive all industries to a new level of success in business,” says George Bandy, Mohawk Group’s Vice President of Sustainability.

morning room

Spaces that allow people to be connected to nature while providing them with the freedom to push their professional and productivity limits creates a contagious spirit of success.

“This model considers financial profitability on the same level as environmental and social success on the balance sheet. It also involves the type of mental engagement that delivers a comprehensive positive impact on ‘tomorrow’s child.’ A space that allows people to be connected to nature while providing them with the freedom to push their professional and productivity limits creates a contagious spirit of environmental, social and economic success.”

What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves

“Biophilia implies humility on ourpart in and respect for the four billion years of life’s existence,” says Canadian environmental activist, Dr. David Suzuki. “We are a very clever animal but now our clever inventions are so powerful, that they can have immense consequences and we don’t know enough to anticipate them,” he adds. “When DDT was found to be insecticidal, we didn’t know about biomagnification until eagles began to disappear. When atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, we didn’t know about radioactive  When CFCs began to be used in spray cans, no one knew about their impact on ozone. Over and over, our clever inventions have unanticipated deleterious consequences. Biomimicry asks nature for solutions to problems and nature has had billions of years and a multitude of ways to resolve them. Chances are nature’s solutions will be far more benign than ours.”

We can improve the quality of our lives by mimicking nature

“When we think about biophilic design that’s evocative of the patterns, forms, and textures in nature, it isn’t limited to literally copying or using natural features in our spaces. We can strive to mimic the type of sensory stimulation our brains receive when we are in nature, including things as simple as flooring with variable hardness and texture, just as you would find underfoot in any forest,” James suggests. “Our brains have evolved over the past 200,000 years in natural settings, so if we want our spaces to bring out the best in people, Nature is where we should look for design inspiration.”

human nature

We must look to Nature for design inspiration.

Posted in Category Biophilia, Greenbuild, Sustainability | 1 Comment

From Daylighting to Skateboards: An Exploration of Restorative Potential – Part 2

This is the continuation of a discussion on the potential of restorative business between David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green. Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.

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David Stover (left) and Bill Browning (right) discuss the potential of restorative business.

Lindsay James (Q): Do you think that there is potential for a restorative approach as more and more businesses embrace this idea and begin generating restorative technologies? Will those become leap-frog technologies that will allow our society to avert some of the pending crisis?

Bill Browning (A): I am going to go back to the social on that because I think it’s the mindset. When you have folks who are doing the work that David and his team are doing, it inspires other people to start thinking about different ways of doing things. When Ray first had his epiphany to go this route, a lot of folks doubted his proposal, but over time it became part of the culture. It inspired a lot of knockoffs—a lot of other companies looking at Interface and trying to do the same things. In some ways I think the technologies come along after that—after this inspiration and new way of thinking about the world.

David Stover (A): We founded one solution but we’re not in this alone. We look to other partners and other people doing great things around the world like Interface. We’re enticing people to do this on a broader basis. Bill’s point is that Interface is using its project to inspire others. Because we make skateboards, we get to touch a younger generation, which is really great.

Last year, we visited around 55 schools, telling kids our story. The younger generation is pretty inspiring. Last week I visited The Island School, which is a school set up in the Bahamas for people interested in ocean research. These are high school students from 15 to 18 years old. We watched a presentation about three 16 year-olds who were catching fish in the Bahamas, studying all the toxins in them and looking at their impacts on our environment. It made me realize that I became aware of environmental issues later in life. Through early awareness the next generation has a jumpstart on finding viable solutions.

Lindsay James (Q): What role should beauty play in designing our desired future?

Bill Browning (A): Everything. (laughs) If it’s not beautiful, we’re not going to take care of it. If it’s not beautifully designed, it’s not going to last. One example of biophilic design that we use quite a bit is the Great Workroom at Johnson Wax by Frank Lloyd Wright. A lot of times we’ll show a picture of that space and ask the audience how old they think the space is. It’s a contemporary picture that we took a couple of years ago. No one in the room guesses that it was designed between 1936 and 1939 and that it’s still used in the original configuration. We’ve talked to people who work in that space. Some of them are the grandchildren of the people who worked in the space originally. They love being there. It’s inspiring. It’s gorgeous. And it’s a productive space. Now think about that – an office design that is so good that it lasts that long.

David Stover (A): Beauty comes in from the beginning. You have to think about the end-product. We knew we wanted to set up a recycling project and make an eco-friendly product, but we had to make a great product that stood up next to competitors and in the market. If you don’t do that, then you really don’t accomplish what you want. If people aren’t buying it and people aren’t putting value into it, then you’re not able to create a sustainable program. It’s evident when there’s a lot of sustainability and eco-friendly practices going on, but most importantly there’s a beautiful product put in front of people. I think when you have that effect on people, you get them to smile and you get them to enjoy something. Afterwards, you explain that the product is created from collecting discarded fishing nets and cleaning up the water. You explain that the product is 100% recyclable. You’re able to capture them from the start with a beautiful product, then blow them away with the story behind it. I think it’s a powerful approach. I think it’s definitely changing the world of design and changing the way things are made.

Bill Browning (A): Look at this board! (holds it up) It’s beautiful with the reference to the fish tail and scales. How awesome is that?

Bureo Board

The “Minnow Cruiser Skateboard,” made from discarded fishing nets. Photo: @bureo Instagram

Lindsay James (Q): How important is happiness/well-being to the broader sustainability movement?

David Stover (A): There’s a saying on our team, “bringing joy in the marvels of risk.” This highlights the joy that you feel in nature, which was a lot of the influence behind our project. One of the things that hit home for us was that this place, the ocean, was special—being in the water, whether it was sailing, surfing, or swimming. This was where we were seeing the impact of pollution and we wanted to do something. But we also wanted to make a product that would bring joy and happiness to people while they were using it. I think a lot of people feel doom and gloom about what’s going on in the environment. But highlighting some of the more beautiful things that are out there and making sure to expose nature in design is really important.

Lindsay James (Q): If you had the power to change anything in our world, what would it be?

David Stover (A): Let’s go back to the issue of waste. Think about a cleaner tomorrow and what the world may look like without waste. If you can eliminate that word, you could live in a cleaner eco-system. I think that’s a pretty awesome world to think about.

Bill Browning (A): I want to conclude with the topic of restorative. One of the things that really pushed us when thinking about biophilic design is the fact that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Some of those cities around the world are huge and sprawling but they don’t have much nature. It’s about how we reconnect people with nature in the built environment as a way for them to be healthy and more whole.

About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing nets into high quality, high design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.

Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront. Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.

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From Daylighting to Skateboards: An Exploration of Restorative Potential – Part 1

Interface

Our relationship with the natural world should be a two-way endeavor. Understanding how our surroundings impact and restore us can help us to recognize our relationship with our environment as a reciprocal one. How do we expand our sustainability practices beyond eliminating bad behavior to actively creating positive impacts for us and the planet?

We had the pleasure of hosting David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green, at our Chicago showroom during NeoCon for a panel discussion on the potential of restorative business.

Our panelists discussed the ways in which biophilic design practices and restorative business models take inspiration from Mother Nature to create a happier, healthier environment for earth’s inhabitants, with insights from their own unique experiences and compelling case studies.

Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.

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Pictured left to right: Lindsay James, David Stover, Bill Browning

Lindsay James (Q): What does restorative mean to you and how have you established restorative practices through your business?

David Stover (A): Restorative for us is taking an eco friendly practice a step further. It’s not just worrying about the ecological footprint of your products. It’s about creating products that have a positive impact on the community as well as the environment. Through our Net Positiva initiative, we’re collecting and recycling fishing nets in Chile, providing local fisherman an environmentally sound way to dispose of nets and creating a source of recyclable materials for manufacturing Bureo skateboards.

Bill Browning (A): Our take on restorative is similar but we may be a step further. Through biomimicry we are looking at ecosystem services. For example, how does the ecosystem in your workplace deal with water? How does it deal with energy? What is its net biological productivity? Basically, developing a set of metrics around the ecology of your workplace, then asking yourself, “Could I design an operative building in a way that performs as well as the original ecosystem that was here?” It is really place-based.

In the conversation about resilience, you get into this question of how to harden technology. People are holding conversations about the next flood but the next natural disaster that could kill more people than another flood will probably be a heat wave. The way you solve a heat wave, besides building stuff, is setting up resilient social systems: resilience for the people themselves, restorative of community and restorative of social relationships.

Lindsay James (Q): I’m glad you brought in the resilience aspect of this as well. In the study of biomimicry, we learn that nature is not sustainable as much as it is restorative and resilient, and it is those two emergent factors that have allowed life to survive. So what would the world look like if every business embraced its restorative potential?

David Stover (A): I think our program and our system in Chile is honestly just a small part. We work in six communities right now. One thing that we have learned is this idea of utilizing a waste material to put into a product. It’s important to think about how you’re making a product from that material and what your end of life solution will be for the product. For us it was making a product that is recyclable – the skateboard decks. When you talk about the world and embracing restorative practices, I think one thing that we see is this idea of waste not necessarily going away immediately, but looking at waste as a different word. The thought of living an almost waste free lifestyle with compost and recycling solutions and the idea of a closed-looped system is something that we are really excited about. For us the biggest concern is the waste and toxins leaking into the water ways. This was our motivation for starting the project. We should be thinking about how a waste free life might impact the health of our society.

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“For us it was making a product that is recyclable – the skateboard decks,” said Bureo CEO David Stover.

Bill Browning (A): I love what you guys are doing with the nets. A fishing net, even after it is discarded, is still catching things; it is still having negative ecological impact. Besides the fact that it is trash and it is material out of place, nets don’t stop catching and killing things. Removing these out of the ecosystem and recycling that fiber is really beneficial for those places.

Lindsay James (Q): Bill, you and I were having a conversation recently on this topic. If every business embraced restorative potential, not just at this macro scale, but also at the individual impact level when talking about biophilic design, do you think that there is some potential to cultivate a shift in awareness for building occupants?

Bill Browning (A): “Connection to Nature” is one of our 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. It’s sometimes the hardest to explain because it’s not like “Prospect.” This is about how we, in our design, do things that make people aware of the processes and things going on around them.

For example our sister firm, CookFox Architects in New York, installed a 4,000 square foot green roof right outside the windows of the studio that can be seen from almost any desk in the work space. It was originally planted with Sedums and now has some native grass. When we put it in, it was beautiful, But it was beautiful in a way that people thought of as decorative. Then we started seeing insects and dragonflies hunting the insects, and birds chasing the insects. A pair of Kestrels (sparrow hawks) took up the roof as part of their hunting territory. One day a Kestrel killed a bird right in front of the windows and ate it. Some people were horrified; some were spellbound. But it got everybody’s attention and it shifted the whole culture of our relationship to that roof. People suddenly realized that this was not just decorative, it was a functioning ecosystem right outside. That led to people becoming much more engaged, so we ended up putting in a big vegetable garden and kept bees out there as well. It went from being a place of simple restorative effect to a place of deep engagement.

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Photo: ©COOKFOX Architects

The team I work with at Google has said publicly that this “Connection to Nature” pattern might be the most important one of all.

Lindsay James: It reminds me of the Rachel Carson quote, “The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

More Q&A to follow in Part 2.

About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing net into high-quality, high-design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.

Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront.  Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.

Posted in Category Biophilia, Biophilic Design, NeoCon, Net Works, Sustainability | Leave a comment