By Taryn Mead
First in a series
Companies that are trying to improve their environmental performance and create greener products are increasingly exploring biomimicry, also called bio-inspired design, biomimetics or bionics.
Biomimicry is the study of biological models, processes, systems and chemistries that can be emulated for sustainable solutions to human design challenges. The premise of biomimicry is that the other 30-100 million species that live on planet earth have been adapting to thrive here for 3.85 billion years and there is an immense amount that humans can learn from these other organisms. In light of the environmental challenges that lie before us, the rise of biomimicry as a design and innovation framework is timely.
So what does this mean, in practice? It’s really quite simple. People notice patterns in biological systems and then apply those patterns to a human system. The most frequently cited example is Velcro which was developed by an engineer named George de Mestral. Legend has it that he was out for a walk in the Swiss Alps when he noticed the structure of the seeds of the burdock plant as they stuck to his dog’s fur. Upon further examination with a hand lens, he realized that there was a fantastic loop and hook attachment strategy at work. He found a manufacturing partner and the resulting material is Velcro.
A more recent example is product called Ornilux, a insulated structural glass panel. Many bird deaths in urban areas are the result of bird collisions with the glass panels of highrise buildings. Arnold Glas, a German glass manufacturer, sought a solution to this by mimicking the strategy of some species of spiders that incorporate strands of silk that reflect ultraviolet light into their webs. The silk is a warning to birds and other large organisms that may run into the web and destroy it, but are invisible to the spider’s prey and to the human eye.
The examples of biomimicry are endless and date back for centuries. As we move into the future, this process of listening to natural systems is merging with our use of technology to produce some very interesting results. Stay tuned for more on what this means for companies seeking innovation strategies for sustainability.
Taryn Mead is a biologist, sustainability strategist and Certified Biomimicry Professional who has consulted with over 30 corporate, municipal and nonprofit clients using biomimicry as a tool for innovation and sustainability. She is the founder of Symbiosis, a biomimicry consultancy.