learning from nature to build sustainable and resilient solutions
19 september '22
Reading time: 7 minutes
In challenging times, biomimicry paves the way for sustainability and resilience by learning from nature and mimicking its efficient and effective strategies experimented for 3.8 billion years. Let's discover together the uniqueness of the science.
Words by Francesca Stabile
Picture by The Biomimicry Institute
Everyone of us needs to deal with challenges at a certain time in life. Since we’re children, there has always been someone that taught us how to fix issues. Challenges happen when we grow, we study, we work, and hopefully, we often find a tutor or a mentor that can ease our tormented ways.
Now, consider that bigger challenges are happening in your life, challenges that you think are not your concern but you’re in over your head, such as scarcity of resources, global warming, plastic pollution, and loss of biodiversity. And imagine that you still have a teacher, but it’s not a person, a leader nor a politician. Imagine that it’s a mentor that learnt with trial and errors how to fix issues for 3.8 billion years, and that teacher is just nature. Would you believe that?
Biomimicry: mimicking nature’s strategies
Defined as a science that offers an empathetic, interconnected understanding of how life works and ultimately where we fit in, biomimicry learns from and mimics the strategies used by living organisms to create designs that contribute to solve human challenges profitably, sustainably and in solidarity with nature.
Biomimicry derives from the Greek bios, which means life, and mimesis, which means imitation: “to imitate life”. According to Janine Benyus, scientist and author of the book “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature”, “when we look at what is truly sustainable, the only real model that has worked over long periods of time is the natural world”. Nature has been creating conditions conducive to life for 3.8 billion years, taking into account all the deep patterns present on Earth, which results today in perfect solutions for resilience and survival.
From the initial writing of Benyus’s book, biomimicry has continued to evolve, refine and detail. Nowadays, this field can be defined as “an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time tested strategies”, according to the Biomimicry Institute. Biomimicry aims at coping with how living organisms adapt and survive in changing environments, it learns and understands the deep patterns behind every single strategy, and it finally uses these principles to solve human issues sustainably.
Picture by The Biomimicry Institute
A new definition of nature
Biomimicry is offering us a new way to consider and value nature: if people decide to consciously emulate its genius, a different perception of nature is needed.
First, we need to consider nature as a model, which stands in the definition of biomimicry itself: researchers emulate its forms, processes and systems to solve human problems sustainably.
Besides providing the model, nature is also providing the measure. Biomimicry teaches how nature can offer an ecological standard to judge the sustainability of humans’ innovations, which Benyus refers to as the Life’s Principles. These principles represent patterns used by nearly all species to survive and thrive on Earth, thus, they can be used as parameters, behaviors, and requirements for innovations to function more sustainably.
Specifically, the Life’s Principles include:
- Use life-friendly chemistry;
- Integrate growth and development;
- Be locally attuned and responsive;
- Be efficient with both materials and energy;
- Adapt to changing conditions;
- Evolve to survive.
Therefore, to create conditions conducive to life in this complex system called Earth, nature applies Life's Principles and biomimicry suggests people to do the same in their innovations: the more principles are applied, the better the solutions can integrate in the environment.
This leads inevitably to ultimately consider nature as a mentor. It becomes a source of learning, innovation and inspiration, a teacher with 3.8 billion years of knowledge, which evolved and gained experience of living organisms in creating complex, efficient, resilient and adaptive systems. By simply asking “how would nature do…?”, businesses now have the chance to learn and find new ways of doing their work more efficiently, while engaging in a deep relationship with nature based on reciprocity and mutual benefits.
Picture by The Biomimicry Institute
What can we emulate?
Nature is able to efficiently and effectively govern its processes using the least amount of energy, strictly renewable, and transform waste into new opportunities for other living organisms. Furthermore, nature is cost-efficient, which means that it is able to avoid any redundant and not needed expense, and it only uses life-friendly chemistry. With billions of years of experience over humans, nature has been able to create ecosystems which work in the most efficient way possible, ecosystems which are highly resilient and adaptable and which do not produce negative impact. The natural diversity superimposed with Darwinist trial and error iterations ultimately converges to better solutions, making nature creations smarter than many artificial innovations. Companies that decide to mimic these principles ultimately find themselves successful in cutting costs, being energy efficient, increasing sales and margins, while highly benefiting and preserving the ecosystems.
The need to reconnect with nature
Our evolution might have pushed us far from the concept of reciprocity with the living world. The exponential urbanization of the last decades, technological progress, highly processual innovations, virtual recreation options and the elevated speed of metropolitan life are some of the reasons for which humans’ modern life became disconnected with nature. Humanity's disconnection from the living world ultimately led us to learn about nature, instead of learning from nature.
Humans have always been part of the Earth system: the numerous benefits linked with biophilia, the positive feeling of being surrounded by nature, show how people feel an important affinity for other living things and living systems, which highlights our mutual connections and interdependence with the planet. By observing patterns in nature and applying its principles, biomimicry can help businesses enhance environmental positive impact, be profitable and cost-efficient, and help humans increase their resilience to an array of critical challenges to which we are progressively subjected, in the respect of nature’s balance and operating conditions.
With our newest column, Your Guide To Sustainability: We Learn From Nature, we’ll highlight many interesting cases that show how asking the right questions to nature can be beneficial to the overall closed loop system we live in, which we deeply wish will pave the way for many other businesses to do the same.