nature-inspired design doesn’t fit in “the real world”
Nature’s design strategies and solutions are incredible. By our technical standards, they are radically innovative. By our environmental standards, they are the very definition of sustainability. Nature’s designs are also beautiful and evoke our sense of biophilia, our innate love of nature. So, nature-inspired designs are radically innovative, sustainable, and often beautiful and inspiring, too.
Now let’s take a look at “the real world.” Think about the last time you heard or used that expression. How was it used? What was it referring to? What kind of a world view did it represent? When I think about that expression, it conjures up an image of men in suits with folded arms and furrowed brows making power decisions that could make or break you. It’s a world based on ruthless competition, exploitation, and profits. In “the real world”, nature is only valued as a reservoir of natural resources, and sustainability has no short-term value at all.
In my experience, when people share new radically innovative and sustainable nature-inspired designs, inevitably they will hear, “That’s cool, but it will never work in the real world.” Or, when they get their first few rejections, they’ll hear, “Welcome to the real world.” Anyone who has tried to take a nature-inspired radical sustainable innovation beyond the ideation stage has likely run into that expression.
That’s because what we all call “the real world” is constructed with topdown hierarchies where risks are pushed down and rewards are pulled up. It’s filled with silos, where systems thinking, co-creativity, and radical innovation are all but impossible. The metric of success is money, and the goal is to make as much as possible, as fast as possible – for yourself. That’s “the bottom line”, right? The construct and the culture of “the real world” just isn’t set up to measure and manage radical innovation, let alone nature-inspired sustainable and biophilic design. That’s the bad news.
The good news, what I hope to share in the book, is that we can apply the
tools of biomimicry to “the real world” to help it foster and forward natureinspired
design and, in the process, make “the real world” more adaptable, more resilient, more sustainable, more human–like nature, which is the REAL real world.
problems to solve by biomimicry & its contribution to sustainability
Some of our most pressing problems include climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental injustice – all of which are linked. We created these problems by ignoring nature’s basic rules for living sustainably as a species on earth. In biomimicry, these rules are called “Life’s Principles”. They include designing products and processes that create conditions conducive to life, and that are able to adapt and evolve.
Biomimicry provides us with a design process, evaluation criteria, and endless examples of sustainable design alternatives that can address our most pressing problems and work together to create a sustainable future. As a side benefit, we can use nature’s rules for creating businesses, organizational structures, and leadership models that are also sustainable.
the role of biomimicry in the future
We know the climate is changing and is beginning to wreak its chaotic havoc – flooding and water shortages, endless wildfires and hurricanes. We know that plastics and man-made toxins can now be found everywhere on earth, from remote mountain tops to mothers’ breast milk. We know that no one is unaffected by the misguided, exploitative, and greed-driven design and manufacturing decisions that have created this mess. More people are realizing this – even those in power – and are demanding that something be done. We clearly need new paradigms, principles, and practices to turn things around or even survive.
At the same time, businesses are struggling to deal with increasing unpredictability and uncertainty. They recognize that change is happening, that change needs to happen, and that failure to change equals failure, yet most businesses are designed to resist change. They, too, need new paradigms, principles, and practices to sustain or even survive.
Beyond protests and changing policies, social and environmental sustainability can only be achieved with big radical innovative and inspiring design ideas. This is exactly what biomimicry can deliver. Luckily, more and more people are discovering this (and being trained to implement it by programs like ours.) I’m looking forward to the day when all design is nature-inspired and sustainable.