Biomimicry: A sustainable world already exists

“If I could reveal anything that is hidden from us, at least in modern cultures, it would be to reveal something that we’ve forgotten, that we used to know as well as we knew our names. And that is that we live in a competent universe, that we are part of a brilliant planet, and that we are surrounded by genius.”

This 2009 TED talk opening statement belongs to the biologist, author, innovation consultant and self-titled “nature nerd” Janine Benyus, who gave this talk titled “Biomimicry in Action” and has done significant work in the field of biomimicry. As Benyus has stated, biomimicry reminds us of the fact that we all know naturally, yet many of us are not aware of today.

Nowadays, there are a lot of discussions about product and service design, architecture, and new designs that are sustainable and functional. The question of what should be a reference for designs that can adapt to severe changes, create awareness, and create a robust framework is still on the table. What is clear is that such designs require excellent inspiration and modified facts. The main question is why are we going in all different directions despite the fact that mother nature is there to inspire us?

Nature-inspired design approach

Man, a creature with intellect, even if it is unintentional, has created significant sustainability problems for future generations – not too far from today. However, thankfully, specific solutions to each of these global challenges are all around us. If we are willing and ready to see, biomimicry, which comes from such a lean and staggering movement, is an approach that seeks sustainable solutions to human-made challenges by imitating the patterns and strategies of nature that have been tested in time. Its purpose is to create products – processes and policies – new ways of life – that are well adapted to life on earth in the long term.

In short, the basis of biomimicry, which is a nature-inspired design approach, lies in the idea that nature has already solved many of the problems we are facing today. Through scientific research, we have come to know that animals, plants, and microbes are excellent engineers. So, after billions of years of research and development failures became fossils, how can we deny the fact that what surrounds us today is ‘the secret to survival’?

“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning”.

Steve Jobs

Two basic missions of biomimicry

  • Experience: The concept of inspiration from nature as a whole comes with the experience of “evolution over a million years.” Various forces of nature have tested solutions developed for multiple processes of nature. By adding our research to this experience, we can achieve a perfect design solution.
  • Sustainability: Design based on biomimicry inspires solutions that are adaptable, visually compatible, and energy-efficient. Eventually, nature has also redesigned its processes for the same problem. Its reference is that this process, which is imitated over time, is effectively present. Nature has also optimized resource consumption in its natural processes. Thus, sustainability is ingrained in the development of designs from nature.

“Biomimicry is the conscious emulation on nature’s genius.” 

Janine Benyus

Brilliant inventions inspired by nature

Let’s embody the subject with three examples designed with biomimicry and converted into a product:

1. Velcro

Scott Camazine; Custom Medical Stock Photo

In 1941, after returning from his hunting trip in the Alps, the Swiss engineer George de Mestral noticed that his dog was covered with burdock burrs. Mestral examined one of these burrs with a microscope to discover that it had a simple hook design which made it easily lock on to furs and socks. After working on it for many years, he finally invented the velcro (or velcro tape), and in September 1955 he patented his invention. According to Benyus, this product is probably the most famous and commercially successful example of biomimicry.

2. Dew collection bottle

Michael & Patricia Fogden/Minden Pictures

The Namibian beetle which lives in the desert collects drinking water from fog, which hit his raised shell and flows into its mouth. Designed by Pak Kitae from Seoul National University of Technology, the “Dew Bank Bottle” mimics the Namibian insects’ water gathering system. The product condenses the dew in the morning and stores it in its chamber.

3. The mind of the hive manages the honeycomb

Temmuz Cam Arsiray; Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

The bees are hardworking and quite agile animals. Despite limited brainpower, individuals can sense what the colony needs, and instinctively get to work. On the other hand, the problem with complicated human-made systems such as electricity grid is that separate divisions are unable to communicate and interact with each other.

The individual components in this type of mesh-like system cannot see the entire network in a single moment – it does not know the big picture. Regen Energy transforms all the power-absorbing tools and machines of a company into a system that can balance the load at peak moments when electricity becomes costly or, worse,  unreliable source of energy. Therefore, each of the company’s tools and machines has become a control point, which maximizes productivity by communicating with each other wirelessly – just like bees are synchronized in a hive.

With the increasing momentum in recent years, many nature-inspired design ideas in a short time continue to play a role in our lives without us even noticing. Nature has been doing this both for itself and for humanity, and just like these “new” design ideas, we have been mostly oblivious to them even when it has self-destructed and redesigned when necessary. As stated by the sociologist, designer and self-titled “sustainability agent” Leyla Acaroğlu, who has done significant work in the field of sustainable design;  “We live in a world that designs us just as we design it by considering our needs and interests.”

Whatever our role in life, our title in our sector or our company might be, it is possible to find in nature the manual guide to everything we are trying to solve. It is essential for us to turn our faces to the sun and our minds to nature.

References

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