Humans have been learning from nature since humans began designing, but for Biomimicry 3.8, the biomimicry story started when one of our co-founders, Janine Benyus, wrote her book ‘Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature’. That was published 20 years ago. Our company was founded shortly after her book was published. The co-founders Janine Benyus and Dr. Dayna Baumeister began doing consulting about biomimicry. In the beginning, they were focused on consumer product goods and the built environment. With the consumer product goods, they got hired to do projects about folding and packaging, and we’ve kept doing those types of projects but the company has also moved into biomimicry applied to the manufacturing process. How can we learn better chemistry from nature? How can we turn the manufacturing line into something more integrated, where manufacturing is more than just putting materials in and producing a product and that’s the end of it? Let’s learn from nature and add in the idea of getting the product back after its useful life and having those materials re-enter the cycle.
For the built environment, our earliest projects were about the building itself, focused on topics such as temperature regulation, new ideas for the building skin – how to control daylighting and heating. But recently the company’s work in the built environment has evolved, and the next phase is to apply biomimicry at a larger systems level. I know a building is a system, but I mean the next level up from that, the larger system of a campus, a region, or a city. What Biomimicry 3.8 has been doing with biomimicry at the system level is what we call EPS (Ecological Performance Standards). EPS is about designing for ecosystem functionality. So the inspiration from nature is to see what a healthy ecosystem is doing. For example, Biomimicry 3.8 has done a recent project with an architecture firm in Virginia. With Ecological Performance Standards, we are learning how a healthy forest is performing in Virginia – what system contributing to creating new soil, cycling nutrients, managing the water cycle, or reducing erosion. All of these kinds of functions that happen at an ecosystem level. Then we are bringing those goals into a campus or a master plan or city planning. The last project was a school campus and we were looking at how campus can perform like a healthy forest. Not making it so that we just plant more trees and bushes, but how can the buildings and the designed landscape function as well as the forest, and contribute in a positive way to this ecosystem functionality.
People ask what area or what industry Biomimicry 3.8 works in. Biomimicry 3.8 can work in any industry. We even work with companies who want to rethink their organizational development. Biomimicry 3.8 can work with the human resources team, or with the leadership team about how their business can be structured in a more biomimetic way. Biomimicry 3.8 has worked with companies about using
biomimicry principles to help the company decide strategies for reaching out to potential partners. Biomimicry is based on learning from other creatures, and since there are other creatures in nature that are communicating and making partnership choices, we can learn from those species. Our research team can look at those strategies, for example, how birds communicate, and pull out patterns and basic strategies for communication that can then be applied to the challenge.
problems to solve by biomimicry & its contribution to sustainability
I think that we are seeing many global problems and biomimicry can fit into any of that work. Climate change, designing for climate resilience, having enough food for
people in the world, transportation, clean water. Any of these big, global problems, I think that biomimicry can contribute just because of the way that Biomimicry 3.8 does biomimicry. Our approach is not just about the designs that we can do but it’s also about reconnecting with nature, and also about having a biomimicry ethos, an ethic of how we should relate to nature not just using nature for a resource to extract, but that we can learn from nature. Humans are a part of nature and should be able to contribute to it in a positive way. So the ideas of reconnection with nature and the sustainability ethos, as well as the most obvious part of biomimicry which is emulating – using what we learn from biology and integrating that into the design. Those three aspects are how Biomimicry 3.8 teaches biomimicry, and are the essential elements of how Biomimicry 3.8 does biomimicry when we are consulting. Even if a company calls us and are interested in a new packaging design the way that we work with them also gives them a new perspective on being connected with nature and sustainability.
the future of biomimicry & projects
I think that biomimicry is something that will never go away. Biomimicry is a strong tool. We teach many workshops and we do a lot of professional training. Everyone who finishes our biomimicry programs is so excited to add biomimicry as a tool to whatever they do. We have architects, industrial designers, but Biomimicry 3.8 also teaches chemists, teachers, and CEOs of companies who want to re-think how to do their business. Biomimicry is still growing. I don’t think the practice of biomimicry has reached a tipping point for becoming baked into every design process. Biomimicry is not quite there yet, but I think that biomimicry is continuing to gain practitioners. I think there is still a lack of case studies. When enough people have heard about biomimicry and can understand how they can use biomimicry as a tool, then biomimicry will really reach its full potential. A lot of people right now have heard about biomimicry and biomimicry makes sense to them, but they don’t know what it means to integrate biomimicry into their process or their design methodology. As we get more and more biomimicry examples built in the real world, then people get to look out at these different case studies and see the breath of where biomimicry can be used as a tool. I think that will help to get more and more people using biomimicry.
For me, my background is in architecture so I work in a lot of our architecture-built environment projects. Looking at some case studies we’ve done a lot of recent
work with the HOK office in San Francisco. Some of the work that we’ve done with them is to create a genius of place report. With the California office we looked at the different biomes and ecosystems, basically the different climate regions that are in the California coast area because the HOK office does a lot of local projects. Biomimicry 3.8 can do some base research that gives HOK’s team design strategies from nature that they can apply to many projects. We’ve done a biomimicry Genius of Place for the California coast with HOK.
Our Biomimicry 3.8 team does biology research and identifies design strategies, and their design team creates the design ideas and concepts based on biomimicry knowledge. The data and ideas that have come out of that report have been integrated into multiple projects of theirs. That has been a good success because they continue to use those design strategies in many of their buildings. One of the examples that came out of the Genius of Place work is called Central and Wolfe. That project has integrated some of the ideas from the Genius of Place California coast. Biomimicry 3.8 has also done an East coast Genius of Place with HOK. Out of that report has come the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters. I also mentioned the most recent project that we have done with the EPS, and that was the school campus master plan worked that we did with an architecture firm called VMDO for the Lancaster County Public Schools campus.