“The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of Nature.”
In 1997, author Janine Benyus defined “Biomimicry” as the conscious emulation of nature’s genius. She elegantly explained that for billions of years nature has been refining strategies for surviving on this planet and that through biomimicry we can create more efficient, sustainable and beautiful designs by learning from these elders.
Velcro is a classic example of biomimicry. It’s the fastener that was inspired by the hooks of the burdock burr that annoyingly stick to your pants, or your dog’s hair. It’s not the most sustainable solution but it does highlight an ingenious design that was directly inspired by nature. It also highlights the business case for copying nature, as Velcro has been quite a successful product.
Velcro was invented in the 1940s. Thus, the concept of emulating nature is not a new idea. Think, for example, First Peoples in North America who copied arctic hare feet to make snow shoes or Leonardo DiVinci, who would often take inspiration from nature in his designs. The concept of biomimicry is not new, but the term is, and it’s ushering in a wave of sustainable innovation that can help to transform our systems to be more in harmony with the natural world.
At Biomimicry Frontiers, our mission is to transform our collective perceptions for how we can integrate into the natural world by applying biomimicry. The challenge is, biomimicry is a difficult thing to “do”. As Janine says, try to imagine designing spring – new flowers emerging from benign packaging, dynamic solar panels opening up to collect the sun’s energy, underground information networks being created through mycelium. Spring is complex. There are so many interwoven parts that are working together – like a symphony – to create a higher form of beauty. This complexity is why we believe that “doing” biomimicry requires a shift in our perception and access to deeper levels of our own creative potential. However, we are taking inspiration from the greats before us who have already adopted this new perception and created from a new level of ingenuity, like:
- Toronto’s Whale Power, who copied the bumps of the front edge of humpback whale fins to create a wind turbine blade that is 20 percent more efficient, quieter, and runs at slower wind speeds than traditional blades
- Entrepreneur Jay Harman who developed an impeller in the shape of nature’s ubiquitous spiral – think nautilus shells, kelp strands and pinecones – which can move 100 million gallons of water with the same energy footprint as three 100-watt light bulbs
- Architect Mick Pearce who emulated the ventilation system of a termite mound to create a shopping centre in Zimbabwe that avoiding traditional air conditioners and saved $3.5 million in the first five years of operation
With emerging technologies like 3D printing, big data, nanotechnology and green chemistry, we’re seeing incredible advancements of what’s possible. Think, for example, walls that can breathe like skin, buildings that can self-heal, communities that generate no wastes like a forest. Each of these technologies exists already, and there’s no end to what’s possible.
Biomimicry, by Janine Benyus:
The growing field of biomimicry…
Year that Janine Benyus coined the term “Biomimicry”
Percentage of jobs that will exist in 2030 that haven’t been invented yet: Dell