Ever wondered how nature has inspired the way we as humans design, create and live? Being avid ocean wildlife and conservation supporters we are fascinated on a daily basis by the environment we work in and the marine mammals and wildlife that we work with. Has the behaviour or structure of our seas and / or its inhabitants played a part in modern technology? We asked leading British Biomimic William Lawson to deliver us a series of blogs around the subject so that we can share a sneak peek into this wonderful world of science with you………..
For a lot of people, Biomimicry is still a completely new concept. The reason being, it was only formalised in the 90’s by one visionary (who we will come to later). Prior to this it was wrapped up in isolated cases of ‘nature-inspired innovation’, such as Velcro inspired by sticky plant seeds.
It has appeared sporadically in magazines and online over the last decade but hasn’t gained a huge amount of momentum in the public sphere as most of its achievements were confined to academic institutions or hidden in the lab still being tested… But all this is gradually changing!
The way I like to describe my role as a biomimic (a person that uses biomimicry) is as ‘Mother Nature’s middle man’!
That might sound a little contrived, so let me explain: Biomimics look to nature for inspiration or more specifically: for lessons and solutions. The lesson is how other species successfully adapt to each daily challenge they face, and the solution comes in finding a way to mimic these adaptations to solve human challenges. So actually what biomimicry is, is in the name; bios means life and mimicry is to copy or imitate, in this case, life!
As we often refer to ‘human nature’ and ‘Mother Nature’ as 2 separate, unrelatable concepts, some people may think that finding solutions to human challenges from nature is unrealistic. However, using a biomimicry approach, we see that this gap is constructed by a misunderstanding and underestimation, by us, of the species we live alongside (which I will explain later).
As biomimics, we hope to act as the middleman between the two concepts to create an environment when it is impossible to tell where ‘human nature’ begins and ‘Mother Nature’ ends. And so, this is why I see biomimics as ‘Mother Nature’s middle man’!
For example; a biomimic might study exactly how a leaf creates energy using photosynthesis, then use that knowledge to revolutionize solar panels, or how a jewel beetle produces it’s brilliant colour and use that blueprint to eliminate the need for chemicals in paint or how a mangrove tree turns salt water into fresh water using no electricity, so we might do the same.
Over this series of blogs I’d like to show you that biomimicry is something anybody can do, I’d like to inspire you to want to do it, and also show you that it’s a tool and a way of thinking to complement but not replace, other problem solving techniques.
So how do people get into biomimicry in the first place? All the biomimics I’ve met became involved in one of three different ways: 1. Some begin with an interest in the philosophy that biomimicry presents; that as a species, humans can and will do better, that we will aspire to enhance the environments we live in like other species do, and not degrade them. 2. Others are inspired by the biomimicry success stories: the people that have looked to nature for solutions and found them. 3. And then there are those who are simply drawn to nature itself: the opportunity to connect with nature for the first time or reconnect with it and see the natural world in a new light. These are often referred to as the 3 seeds in biomimicy and it was this final ‘reconnection seed’ that initially grabbed me. But how I became a biomimic has, like everything, a bit of story to it… I grew up in the north of the UK and had a very outdoorsy upbringing.
a young lad, like many of us, I had no idea what I wanted to be, but two things were certain, I wanted to be outside and I wanted to do something important.
In university I made friends with a group of Kenyans who introduced me to Africa. It was my experiences out there that made me realize; I wanted to learn everything there was to know about nature!
Over the next 3 years Claire Janisch and myself, who I also hosted with Janine, grew biomimicry thinking in South Africa and with it my learning, understanding and appreciation of biomimicry blossomed, and continues to do so. During this time, my understanding of our relationship with the natural world evolved; it changed from a thirst and desire to learn ABOUT nature to a realization that we can in fact, learn FROM nature: this is the very essence of biomimicry thinking.
There have been many other important lessons and realizations I’ve gleaned from biomimicry over the years, but three actually form the foundation to its understanding:
1. The first thing that became very clear was that building things, growing food, cleaning water, making energy, and every other action we are tasked with as humans, are to a greater or lesser extent, the same jobs most other organisms are also faced with everyday.
2. I realized that out of all of these organisms alive today, humans are one of the youngest; in fact I found out that of all the organisms that have inhabited the Earth over the last 3.8 million years, 99.9% of them are now extinct, they simply couldn’t hack it! But, the 30 million or so species we share Earth with today could, and are therefore the ultimate success stories! That’s a lot of ‘crème de la crème’ survivors to learn from!
3. And finally, one of the most humbling fundamental lessons I’ve learnt, is that when other species elegantly solve one of their Earthly challenges, the resultant adaptation does not create other problems in the process; a regular, though unintentional by-product of human invention. In fact, they actually positively contribute and even enhance the environment in which they live. Now that really intrigued me and also forms part of the philosophy of biomimicry.
It’s been 7 years since I met Janine and what continues to drive my enthusiasm for biomimicry is how it has it’s place in everything we do; whether it’s construction, design, waste management, water treatment and even politics! I think that it’s this broad application that biomimicry has, that attracts such a range of people to it. Regardless of belief, background, training or aspirations, it quickly becomes obvious to those I’ve casually spoken to or trained in biomimicry, that there is more to learn from the rest of the natural world, than we ever imagined……..
Part 2 of 4 to follow….’Oceans of Biomimicry’
Image credit: http://interfacedesignspace.com/biomimicry-basics/