W.W.N.D.?

When was the last time that you looked to the sticky feet of a gecko for inspiration on a work problem? Or how about considering the irridescent qualities of a peacock feather in an attempt to solve a puzzle? I admit that sometimes cutting edge theory or science can be too far removed for me to tie my brain around and presented in any other context, the idea of biomimicry might have been one of those stretch concepts.

A dragonfly shedding it's exoskeleton

But here I was sitting with a cup of locally roasted java at our Downtown Public Market across from Joe Zazzera, a well-known Green Guru and the Founder and President of Plant Solutions. Joe’s an active participant in our community and passionate about his work of interior plant design. He was excitedly telling me about the concept of biomimicry.

It seems that biomimicry promotes learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Nature has been actively building solutions and solving problems for 3.8 billion years without excess waste or devastation so we might tap into some of that knowledge in order to resolve current issues.

Joe pointed to Interface Carpet, the company that studied the organized chaos of the forest floor which inspired the creation of carpet tiles with random patterns that can be laid out side by side or reorganized even though no two tiles are exactly alike. He went on to describe the toxic chemicals often found in carpet adhesives and how the company examined the feet of a gecko and their ability to adhere to a wall in order to create a more sustainable but equally sticky solution that required minimal application.

I hadn’t considered the concept of biomimicry before but looking back, I’ve heard tales about things inspired by nature. Wasn’t there the burr in a pet’s fur that ignited the creation of velcro and how about those winged drawings that Leonardo DaVinci drew despite the fact that he wasn’t the first person in flight? I’m enthused by what I find at the Biomimicry Institute; a material saving PET bottle design derived from whitebark pines, the Arnold Glas company designing windows that reduce the opportunity for bird collisions after looking at the UV reflecting threads of a spider’s web, and how the color of a butterfly’s wings led Qualcomm to develop electronic displays that remain bright even in daylight.

What’s most exciting to me about biomimicry is that by providing a completely new context or way to approach a problem, it enables transformational breakthroughs. That’s so refreshing when most of industry is worried about achieving year over year incremental gains. Suddenly I find myself thinking about this at my home and my office. Are there places where we’re looking for a solution and the answer has already been discovered?

Give it a try. Next time you’re facing an issue, ask

What Would Nature Do?

Leave a comment

57 Comments

  1. Very interesting.Thanks for the strategy. Love your line about has “the answer already been discovered.” So, my challenge: Turn to biomimicry for communicating. Lots of great examples in nature, aren’t there?

    Reply
  2. I have done this . . . sort of.

    Someone had a problem. I tried to shared a solution. It went in one ear and out another.

    Then, watching the birds in my yard ignoring the LARGER pieces of bread to concentrate on the CRUMBS, I realized that I needed to break the solution down into bite-sized pieces to increase communication and understanding.

    Voila!

    Reply
  3. Wow! This is so fascinating, thanks for sharing, Tammy. Those “windows that reduce the opportunity for bird collisions after looking at the UV reflecting threads of a spider’s web” have me enchanted!!

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  4. Gosh, very complex, Tammy. A totally new way of looking at how we live life!

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  5. Very thought provoking. Interesting.

    Reply
  6. I’ve heard and read about biomimicry (under another name which I forgot now – gah) with regard to plain wings that are constructed after bird wings, or architecture that uses hexagons like in honey combs because hexagon structures maximize use of space and stability, or wall colors that imitate the surface of lotus petals so nothing sticks to them and they never get dirty. It’s so fascinating! And it’s absolutely right: Nature has invented such great and easy techniques and principals to make things work, and I believe this is the was to go with further technical development.

    Reply
    • Yes, it’s a fascinating new area of study – way out there but so interesting and the results that are published are amazing.

      Reply
  7. I knew about bird-repellent windows but the rest is new to me. Very intriguing Tammy.

    Reply
  8. I like your approach, Tammy, and love your passion! You’re such an inspiration :)

    Reply
  9. WOW – many things to ponder! Yes, we can learn much from Mother Nature, and indeed we have. Can’t look at a dragonfly without knowing that heliocopters were mirrored after them. Or, how the power of natural waterfalls polish stones smooth or carve out gullies leading to the creation of water lasers.

    Once again, an educational yet, mesmerizing read!

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  10. It’s an exciting field for sure. I wonder just how many designs from nature we have used over the years without even thinking about it.

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  11. Biomimicry – a new word to me. I’m claiming it. I’ve watched nature all my life. Not that I invented anything that has sent me off to buy mansions. However, I just peeked outside at one very lazy cat stretched out in his cushioned cave, catching a breeze away from the hot sun. Completely zonked – not even waking when I laughed. I’m going to now practice some biomimicry. See ya!

    Reply
  12. Tammy, there is something in this that excites me and gives me hope! Thank you for your great writing skills and always ready mind, that brings us so many wonderful ideas to think about and put into practice.

    Reply
  13. My mom’s blog is my favorite. I wish some of these biomimicry ideas were on youtube.

    Done :D

    Reply
  14. this is very thought provoking!

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  15. I love this concept, Tammy. Learning from nature seems the wises course of action: after all, she’s had millions of years to get it right and she’s still tweaking…

    Reply
  16. Jane Ward

     /  August 17, 2011

    As always, your post makes me stop and look at the world around me in new ways, with refreshed eyes. These ideas get to the very basics of coexisting on this planet, something that has nothing to do with conquering or dominating nature. Thanks for this!

    Reply
  17. This is so inspiring. I don’t know why but I’m so tempted to bring in discussion the story of King Bruce and the Spider, for me, that is biomimicry too but on a psychological level.

    Reply
  18. Sally Mom

     /  August 17, 2011

    I loved this blog especially, if that is possible! A new word for old visions. Leonardo de Vinci, The Wright Brothers, Ancient greek physicians, in fact ancient physicians, analyzing nature, etc. FAscinating the window revelation from Arnold Glass co. Burdock root and Cleavers also inspirational for velcro.
    Biomimicry. A wonderful logic!
    Thank you Tammy!

    Reply
    • it is really fun to think about Sally! I have to look up burdock root and cleavers though.

      Reply
  19. Great post! It’s a little arrogant of humans to ignore nature for solutions isn’t it? Funny that biomimicry should be such a novelty, really.

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  20. Very interesting and it just goes to show that Mother Nature is wise and holds many answers! Enjoyed reading! blessings,Kathleen

    Reply
  21. Great post Tammy, It’s awesome to read the Ah-ha moments when people make the biomimicry connection. One of the things I like best about biomimicry is that its principles are the principles of life; nature is material and energy efficient, uses life friendly chemistry (water), is locally attuned and responsive, celebrates diversity and nature must evolve for survival. These the same set of principles that create a successful business model, non-profit, community or product. Nature is the greatest design lab with the most experience, it makes sense for us to ask the question “how would nature….”

    Reply
    • Thanks Joe. You’re my inspiration. I hadn’t really ever heard of it before and I think it’s fascinating.

      Reply
  22. Kristy Hall

     /  August 19, 2011

    I am pursuing a master’s degree in holistic nutrition and have been studying the anatomy of the human digestive system. I am fascinated by how incredibly efficient our bodies are at recycling. Did you know that our bodies reclaim about 3 gallons of water in the colon each day and that water stays in general circulation? The colon also recycles bile and electrolytes. And that is just the beginning. We reclaim protein and fat from broken down cells in the GI tract and amino acids and glucose in the kidneys. The human body is an incredibly complex recycling program that models for us how we should recycle as well. I have to admit I’ve not been a recycler, but following the example of our bodies, I am changing my ways.

    Reply
    • That’s a great example and application. I’d love to be studying something like you are so that I could make that direct connection. Come back and let me know how you do.

      Reply
  23. This just in. For those interested, Janine Benyus will be on BBC radio tomorrow morning discussing natures genius.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00jhrt6

    Reply
  24. Nature is always beautiful and inspiring :)

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  25. It’s sad…I truly believe most–if not all–of our issues, hang-ups, problems can be solved by looking to nature, and not just our own :) It really is interesting, living in a world where we have to consistently *remind* ourselves to turn to the beauty of the world.

    -b

    Reply
    • It is odd, isn’t it. There’s so much wonder there and it’s so beneficial for us in so many ways.

      Reply
  26. I love this and I love Tammy that you always make us think. Thank you!

    Reply
  27. wonderful post, Tammy, because it provides hope in a creative way; with every problem, we have been given a natural course to resolve it. it’s a matter of being open to what nature tell us.

    Reply
  28. Love this. I want to make a W.W.N.D bumper sticker now. I think I’ve always kind of thought this way, though I’m much better at pondering and conceiving ideas than putting them into practice.

    Reply
  29. Great post!

    Reply

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