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Sustainable practices inspired by nature

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Can we borrow designs from the natural world to make our designs more sustainable, allowing us to develop practices to protect our natural resources? Janine Benyus, biologist and founder of Biomimicry 3.8, answers yes to that question and encourages designers to look to nature to find solutions to our challenging environmental concerns. Since her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature was released in 1997, Benyus has been working with students, educators and professional organizations to develop the design and sustainability advantages to be had by designing products, manufacturing systems and materials using aspects drawn directly from nature.

According to Benyus, “Biomimics study nature’s best ideas: photosynthesis, brain power, and shells – and adapt them for human use. They are revolutionizing how we invent, compute, heal ourselves, harness energy, repair the environment, and feed the world.”

Biomimicry 3.8 is the global leader in biomimicry innovation consulting, professional training, and educational program and curricula development. Their mission is to train, equip and connect engineers, educators, designers, architects, and business leaders to sustainably imitate nature’s brilliant designs and strategies. Over the past 14 years, Biomimicry 3.8 has helped more than 250 clients and partners redesign carpets, furniture, manufacturing processes, airplanes, and even entire cities, all in nature’s sustainable image.

The Biomimicry 3.8 Institute, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit arm, focuses on academic and public education, offering trainings, curricula, tools and resources for schools, universities, museums, zoos, nature centers and other public forums. Their evolving offerings of workshops, online courses and research tools include AskNature.org, the award-winning online library of nature’s design strategies and solutions.

How can biomimicry be applied to policies and politics? According to Biomimicry 3.8, in nature there are three types of systems. “A Type I system is a pioneering system, like annual plants in a newly plowed field. They hardly put down any roots because they’re not going to stay long—in a few years, their seeds will blow to the next opening. What comes in next would be the berry bushes. They put down roots and begin to build a more stable community; they build closer networks with one another. That’s Type II. Then, finally, the Type III system is the mature forest that finally comes after the berry bushes. That system isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to stay on that site until the next big fire or hurricane—hundreds of years in some cases.

“ Herman Daly says we are now a large population in a limited world so need to start acting more like a mature forest that isn’t going anywhere. In the forest economy, very few material resources come in, and no waste goes out. There’s an incredible transfer of energy and information, however. There are deep roots, symbiotic relationships, much more mutualism, much more cooperation, tighter feedback loops, because there’s nowhere else to go. How can we encourage cooperative strategies? If we truly believed there was nowhere else to go, perhaps we’d start acting like Type III organisms and we’d put in place the laws and policies—habitat conditions—that would bring forth that behavior.”

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