Being thankful is part of the joy of being a biomimic. Once you see that the living world is teeming with tangible wayposts that direct us to a more sustainable future, it’s hard not to feel profoundly grateful each time you step outside.
With the holiday season approaching, the Biomimicry Institute and Biomimicry Global Network want to share what makes us thankful in nature and invite you to do the same. Post a pic of yourself or a loved one holding a #THANKOUTSIDE sign in your favorite outdoor spot, explain what you’re thankful for in nature, and post to Twitter or Instagram using the #THANKOUTSIDE hashtag. From now until Nov. 26th, we’ll repost our favorites. Don’t have a Twitter or Instagram account? You can send your pic and blurb to hello(at)biomimicry.org.
“90% of all the redwoods in the world reside within one, relatively narrow 400-mile strip in California. To me, they are the Sistine Chapel of all trees. Every time I get to be near one, be it a “baby” that’s the size of a house or an elder that’s a couple hundred feet into the sky, I feel an unquestionable reverence and am grateful that I live in their presence.”
“I am thankful for the Great Lakes, holding 21% of the world’s fresh water. And for the beautiful freshwater sand dune ecosystem along Lake Michigan’s east shore.”
Jen Schill, Project Manager
“I’m grateful for Colorado’s mountains because they center me by reminding me how small we are in this big, amazing world. And because from the foothills to the alpine tundra, their diverse flora and fauna offer unwavering inspiration.”
Erin Connelly, Communications Manager
“I’m thankful for rain, especially after a hot, dry summer. It may be soggy and gloomy sometimes, but we live in a temperate rainforest here in the Pacific NW, so we need lots and lots of rain keep our ecosystem healthy and green.”
Jeanette Lim, AskNature Content Coordinator
“I’m grateful that nature regularly causes me to stare in wonder — at an alpine landscape, hovering hummingbird, or busy tidepool. It reminds me to appreciate the incredible diversity we find in nature.”
Adiel Gavish, Social Media and Communications
“I’m grateful for the temperate deciduous forest outside my window and how the gorgeous changing leaves connect me to the Earth’s cycles. You don’t really get to experience this in a city.”
Courteny Morehouse, Operations Manager
“Besides the green they bring to our very golden hills, the trees of California are some very rad plants. A single Blue Oak can hold and treat 57,000 gallons of water in the soil in a 12 inch flash flood and a 100 foot Redwood can harvest the equivalent of 4 inches of rainwater from coastal fog in a single night! Talk about water management.”
Diana Lee, Individual Giving and Outreach Manager
“I especially love the bits of nature we have even in a fairly urban setting. Gardens, parks – all give us relief and beauty amid the paved surfaces, cars and buildings.”
Megan Schuknecht, Director of Design Challenges
“I’m thankful for creeks because they remind me of nature’s cycles and the interconnectedness of all life. I’m also thankful for the biodiversity they support. In my home ecosystem, you can find caddisflies, cutthroat trout, dippers, kingfishers, beavers, white-tailed deer, mountain lions, black bears, willows, and cottonwood trees all making use of cold, clear, creek water.”
Cookie, Chief Walk Strategist
“I love being outside – so much to sniff!”
This story was originally printed by the Biomimicry Institute on their Asking Nature blog.
Our cities are constantly growing and an ever-rising number of people live on a very small fraction of the world’s surface area. By 2050, about 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. Half of the population of Asia alone is predicted to live in cities by 2020. Over 60% of the land projected to become urban by 2030 remains yet to be built. Mobility no longer remains an optional luxury for an elite but has transformed into a non-negotiable to participate in society. Consequently, smart mobility solutions are gaining importance. How do we tackle such a challenge of global dimension? How do we serve people’s needs for mobility while simultaneously sacrificing neither biodiversity and environmental values nor human health and well-being?
“The light bulb was not invented by improving the candle.”
Reinventing the wheel
Despite our pride of having invented the wheel (which is, by the way, not entirely true given that the golden wheel spider has been using wheel motion for millions of years before us) humans are not the only species tackling mobility challenges. In fact, mobility is an inherent phenomenon shared by all living systems. Everything alive moves, from cells to organisms to entire ecosystems. Over billions of years, organisms and systems have evolved to be remarkably adaptive to their surroundings with regard to transport, mobility, and logistics.
“Everything alive moves, from cells to organisms to entire ecosystems.”
Such design stance — looking at living systems — provided the basis for a mobility concept that I developed with architect Max Schwitalla and transit expert Dr. Paul Friedli, within the Audi Urban Future Initiative. Using biomimicry — a discipline that abstracts biological design principles and applies them to human problem solving — to understand how living organisms and cells organize and realize transport opened up new ways of thinking and led us to question the typology of urban vehicles and infrastructure. The design we developed transforms urban transport systems into a dynamic three- dimensional mobility landscape. Leveraging existing resources, it combines the qualities of public and private transport and generates a hybrid solution, increasing efficiency and user experience.
“Only such a function-oriented mindset will lead us to entirely novel solutions as opposed to trying to pimp mediocre existing ones.”
Analyzing the status quo
Current urban mobility is characterized by countless (mostly accepted or ignored) inefficiencies: traffic jams, noise, hazards, pollution, waiting times, standing resources. The utilization rate of a car is below 5%; 95% of their lifetime cars are parked, consuming valuable urban space. Up to 70% of city space not occupied by buildings is reserved for cars. In Berlin, up to one third of the traffic in the city center during rush hour is caused by people searching for a parking lot. The relation of mobility to urban space and resources in the modern city has failed in all aspects of sustainability. Any biological system running at such disastrous rate would collapse within no time. We wouldn’t accept such lousy stats in our companies, either. Yet, we seem to be blind on a systems level. Why?
“The relation of mobility to urban space and resources in the modern city has failed in all aspects of sustainability.”
Shifting paradigms: function instead of convention
To achieve a real breakthrough in urban mobility we have to rethink urban traffic and the underlying functions it serves. Any designer knows that it is not about the object but about the jobs-to-be-done. Only such a function-oriented mindset will lead us to entirely novel solutions as opposed to trying to pimp mediocre existing ones. The light bulb was not invented by improving the candle. Making a bad solution more efficient doesn’t make it good. Employing a combined methodology of biomimicry, user-centered Design Thinking and system dynamics, we designed a mobility solution offering a compromise between the convenience and status of personal transport and the civic benefits of public transport. Blurring the boundaries between those modes, our team aimed at combining resource conservation, user needs, and city development.
Modular and emergent: 1+1=3
After more than 100 years of automotive history, the typology of our cars has barely changed: four wheels, a passenger cockpit, four seats, four doors. Yet, this form has undoubtedly become obsolete in today’s metropolitan regions. Nature fits form to function. Overdesign is avoided. Looking at a car, it is obvious that aerodynamics are negligible at speeds around 50–60 km/h. We suggest to radically redefine the typology of urban vehicles and to decouple the functional fixedness of the power train as well as the passenger capsule just like the molecular motors in all our body cells do. In our bodies, “cargo” is routinely transported by motor proteins that are specific to certain cellular roads (microtubules). Switching cellular “road” systems is facilitated by changing from one prime mover to another, thus decoupling two separate functions. Transferring this principle to urban transport led us to functionally and morphologically disintegrate and decouple the car as we know it and to come up with a modular design.
Such vehicles, which we dubbed the “Flywheels”, will be able to accommodate up to two passengers in their single mode and merge to longer “trains”, allowing for the transport of any number of people sharing a common destination, if desired. This design strategy capitalizes on another important biological design principle: modularity. Structural composition out of modular and nested sub-units allows for scalability, appropriate resource allocation, and robustness and resilience of the system.
This design also utilizes another systemic concept from nature: emergence, the generation of more than the mere sum of its individual parts. Imagine the wall of a vehicle being transformed into a door, and after coupling with another vehicle it becomes a wall again in the train that is being formed. The original two-seater becomes more than twice as big. Instead of 2 + 2 = 4, there is suddenly space for 6 passengers. During night time, unused vehicles could potentially be used for cargo transport making them multi-functional and increasing their utilization rate even further.
And there are more concepts nature provides: does a car have to consist of rigid materials or can we use flexible membranes and pliable elements in the future that allow for novel functions, appearance, and behavior? Biological examples of this can be found abundantly. The cell’s regulating transpiration and gas exchange in plants (stomata), for example, have diverse shapes depending on water content. The sea raft (Velella), a marine creature, uses flexible structures in order to be driven by the wind. Can we employ similar strategies in order to equip our cars with new looks and functions?
Current mobility systems in cities are two-dimensional and dominated by two mutually exclusive systems: public versus individual transport. We envision future city mobility to remove that division and the competitive behavior witnessed on our streets. Our approach breaks the tradition of the car being individual by imperative. We propose an evolutionary step of shared use of existing infrastructures. “Hacking” the current mobility landscape by using subway tunnels as fast underground links not only allows for a better use of built structures but also significantly reduces car traffic on the surface therefore freeing valuable urban space for other uses. This creates an entirely new mobility and innovation platform allowing for the emergence of novel transport technologies, typologies, business models, and importantly social synergies.
Just in time: From competitive to collaborative, agent-based mobility on demand
Looking at natural systems, it is obvious that all components in healthy ecosystems are interconnected, operate collaboratively, and without central organization. The Flywheel concept constitutes a just-in-time system that increases the utilization rate of urban vehicles and infrastructure and allows for an individualization of use. By employing destination control algorithms that are operational in elevators worldwide, the collective execution of individual needs will improve the performance of the whole system. The system individualizes urban mobility whenever needed while merging traffic units to larger entities when sharing common routes. A paradigm shift of that kind — moving from object to system — was successfully undergone by elevator companies introducing vertical transport logistics based on mathematical destination control algorithms. To date, elevators are the only vehicle of the urban mobility chain serving as a collective hybrid of individual and public transport.
Further, the Flywheel concept has advantages beyond mere efficiency. As a collective transportation system it constitutes a social enabler and builds on collaborative relationships. By sharing the same destination, the chances to meet your neighbor on the way are much greater. Moreover, the system could become an open innovation platform for the sharing economy.
“Turning what is unexplored today into an ecosystem of vibrant, sustainable innovation.”
Novel urban morphologies
By defining the future aspects of a symbiotic relation of mobility, infrastructure, architecture, and people it creates novel urban morphologies and thus shapes a new experience of urban space. Based on individual destination control and autonomous driving the system is transforming the static station-based concept of public transport into a dynamic traffic landscape.
Driven by the prospects of disruptive innovation, biomimicry remains a magnet for solving design challenges in novel ways. By forging a positive instead of an adversarial relationship between technology, business, and the environment, we envision biomimicry to be a societal and economic game changer. Turning what is unexplored today into an ecosystem of vibrant, sustainable innovation.
Dr. Arndt Pechstein
is founding partner of the Berlin-based innovation agency phi360 and founder and director of the Biomimicry Germany Think-Tank. Arndt holds a PhD degree in Neuroscience & Biochemistry and a diploma in Biotechnology. As an expert in Biomimicry, Design Thinking and sustainable development he runs innovation & co-creation workshops and advises companies & organizations on human-centered innovation & strategic foresight. He teaches students in sustainability & cross-disciplinary problem-solving and is a coach for Design Thinking at the Hasso-Plattner Institute (D-School). For his work, Arndt received the German Innovation Award in 2014 and the German Sustainability Award in 2015. He authored several articles about responsible innovation, including a chapter about Biomimicry as a tool to assess entrepreneurial sustainability and has been featured by national and international media.
Have you ever walked through an evergreen forest in the rain? There is a hush all around. The forest floor is spongy and soft beneath your feet, and the layers and textures all around you create a coziness, a feeling of being protected. As you take a deep breath of fresh, clean air, you know it’s raining big drops up above, but all you feel is a cool mist floating down through the canopy.
You can find expansive sections of this forest all around Puget Sound. For many people, it is a mental and spiritual health reservoir, a place that helps us reconnect and remember that we are nature. But it is also an ecosystem services powerhouse. It stores carbon, cleans the air and water, regulates temperatures, and provides shelter and food for critters big and small.
Before urban development, this forest dominated Seattle’s landscape. Dotted with bogs and meadows, with wetlands proliferating along the rich edges between forest and water, the vast majority of the region was forest. And the system operated in dynamic balance.
CURRENT GAP BETWEEN FOREST AND URBAN WATER FLOWS
Now, the forest mist is an unchecked rain that washes across polluted streets and sidewalks. The urban hardscape of Seattle and surrounding areas interrupts the balanced ecological flow of our pre-development forests and wetlands. We know imbalance creates stress on a system, but how do we regain ecological equilibrium in areas that are now urban? What can we learn from nature that will help our cities thrive?
How can we design our buildings and infrastructure to function like the natural ecosystems that preceded them? The Urban Greenprint is a project that asks these questions, applying biomimicry at a city scale. The project looks at issues not only of water flows, but also of carbon flows and biodiversity.
EVAPORATION AS A “NEW” APPROACH TO STORMWATER MITIGATION
The initial focus of the project is Seattle. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most eye-opening research to-date is related to rainfall. In the water-rich region of Puget Sound, the forest holds a critical role of helping regulate water flows. When we study these flows, we learn a very important fact: when it rains on our region’s forests, 50% of that rainfall is “evapotranspirated” — used by the plants and then returned to the atmosphere. This is important. For Seattle, as for many cities across the globe, polluted runoff is an enormous problem — considered by many to be our most critical environmental issue. The rainwater that washes across polluted roads and sidewalks flushes toxins into water bodies. What our research tells us is that if we can design our cities to evaporate half of the rainfall, as our local forests do, we will go a long way towards solving our polluted runoff problem.
50% of that rainfall is “evapotranspirated” — used by the plants and then returned to the atmosphere. This is important.
Regulators and the building industry are putting forth tremendous effort to slow and filter water, but evaporation is rarely, if ever, emphasized. This is a primary component of our regional water cycle, and it needs to be addressed.
NEXT STEPS — ENGAGING YOU
The current focus of the Urban Greenprint is to generate building design techniques and use of materials that take cues from our local natural ecosystems, including methods of construction that encourage evaporation.
Textures, layers, and permeability all contribute to a system that holds water like a sponge until it infiltrates or evaporates.
Remember the mist you feel on your face when you walk through a coniferous forest in the rain? The layered and textured canopies of red cedars and other conifers break up big raindrops into fine droplets that readily evaporate. Tree trunks, lichen, and moss hold onto moisture, as does the detritus on the forest floor and the rich organics in the soil itself. Textures, layers, and permeability all contribute to a system that holds water like a sponge until it infiltrates or evaporates.
The Urban Greenprint is working with a diverse group of experts to determine how buildings and infrastructure can mimic these functions, researching materials and digging into questions such as:
What if rainwater, after being used inside a building, gravity-fed out to a spongy façade where it was held until it evaporated?
What if building skins had hydrophilic and hydrophobic surfaces, like moss, to hold onto water and slowly trickle it off the building, increasing the opportunity for evaporation?
What if curbs were built of material mimicking mushrooms to remediate stormwater and store it until it could evaporate?
What if downspouts coming off our buildings were designed to pool water in staggered trays along their height, allowing for evaporation, like the leaves of a tree?
The Urban Greenprint is exploring these and other ideas through community engagement and workshops with design and material experts, and we are eager to expand the conversation to include you. What other ideas come to mind when you think about ways that nature evaporates? How could these strategies from nature be mimicked in our construction practices? How can we transform the way we look at buildings, how we design and construct them, and how we interact with them? Please share your ideas with us!
About the authors:
Jennifer Barnes, AIA, LEED®AP; Architect & Sustainability Consultant at 55–5 Consulting
Jennifer Barnes is an architect and sustainability consultant with over 20 years of project experience. She splits her professional life between her own sustainability consulting company, 55–5 Consulting, and her work on the Urban Greenprint, a project that applies biomimicry at a city scale. Jennifer is a co-founder of Biomimicry Puget Sound and is very active in the Northwest green building community. She speaks frequently at conferences on various sustainability topics including deep green construction, biomimicry, and water issues. Jennifer has a BA in Architecture from Princeton University and a Masters of Architecture from the University of Washington.
Alexandra Ramsden, Principal/Director of Sustainability at RUSHING, LEED®AP BD+C, cSBA, LEED for Homes Green Rater, Built Green Verifier
Alexandra Ramsden leads Rushing’s sustainability consulting practice and is the cofounder of Biomimicry Puget Sound. At Rushing, she guides teams to identify project appropriate sustainability solutions for both buildings and businesses, and develops green building educational programs. Alexandra’s passion for reconnecting people to nature inspired her to found and develop Biomimicry Puget Sound, a local network of biomimicry enthusiasts gathering to foster change in policy and design through the perspective of nature. Alexandra is also an instructor for the Sustainable Building Advisor Program (SBA), teaches Green Operations & Maintenance, and lectures on Integrated Design, Biomimicry, Living Building Challenge, and LEED.
Reprinted via AskingNature – the Biomimicry Institute and Global Biomimicry Network blog.
If you are in the social innovation and regenerative design space, then this track is where you will meet other social innovators, entrepreneurs and cutting edge leaders thinking about how we can re-align our companies, cities, products, policies and business practices with those of the natural world.
“Creating that marketplace for exchange of ideas and progressive thinking is what South by Southwest Eco is all about.”
Here are the top 5 reasons why you should be at SXSW Eco this year:
1. Hear from cutting edge biomimicry innovators and thought leaders
SXSW Eco, “creates a space for business leaders, investors, innovators and designers to drive economic, environmental and social change”. Their annual conference which follows SXSW Interactive, attended by over 30,000 per year, “celebrates innovation in technology and design that positively impacts the economy, environment and society”.
“Creating that marketplace for exchange of ideas and progressive thinking is what South by Southwest Eco is all about.” – Forbes
This partnership will help to shepherd biomimicry into mainstream culture and allows for the pollination of cross-sector, cross-industry collaboration within an annual gathering focused on innovation for good.
Interactive playtime at SXSW Eco 2014.
The goal of this biomimicry track is to inspire and create bridges beyond a very close-knit biomimicry community. With 7 hours of programming, the conference track focuses on finding the most unique 60 or 90 minute sessions that are interactive, engage the audience and will leave attendees wanting to not only learn more, but take that next step in creating partnerships, collaborating, and bringing biomimicry to the world.
Special Biomimicry Track Themes
Nature’s Hidden Patterns: the patterns and processes that are always there, but elude the human eye (rapid fire presentations) – also open to poster displays during lunch hour
New Insights & Discoveries: learning from related fields and science visualization
Business as Nature: new models of decision making tools
Beyond Biophilic Cities: solutions rooted in genius of place (a series of rapid fire presentations)
This slot is reserved for submissions that do not fit into the above, but are a crowd favorite.
SXSW Eco 2014 welcome party.
How to Submit Your Proposal
Because SXSW Eco utilizes a unique crowd-sourced system, each submission must go through their Panel Picker process.
The Biomimicry Institute will post additional information and submission guidelines shortly, so keep checking their page for more info.
The launch was held at the beautiful Loft Space at Pier A Harbor House overlooking the Hudson River and with views that included our Lady of Liberty.
Over 100 guests including sustainability professionals, business executives, architects, engineers, students and designers joined the festivities, which was also attended by sustainability pioneer Amory Lovins.
Jonce Walker of Terrapin Bright Green with Benita Hussain of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Jonathan Simkins of American Express.
Attendees had the privilege of hearing from Bryony Schwan, founder of the Biomimicry Institute who lauded Terrapin’s stalwart effort in bringing the breadth and depth of biomimicry innovations in the marketplace to light. Noting how in the early 90’s biomimicry was focused more on mimicking shape or form, she emphasized the importance of the report’s in-depth analysis of market impact biomimicry is making across all industries including chemistry, materials and energy.
The forecasted impact of bioinspired innovation in 2030.
According to the white paper, the forecasted impact by the Fermanian Business and Economic Institute of bioinspired innovation could account for $425 billion of US GDP by 2030. Building construction, chemical manufacturing and power generation and distribution hold the predominant share.
Congruent with GDP, bioinspired innovation could also contribute approximately 2 million jobs by 2030.
Bioinspired innovations forecasted impact on employment: 2 million jobs.
The paper also notes that biomimicry has a long way to go as the vast majority of, “…company leaders and government policymakers are not yet familiar with the idea of looking to nature to solve human challenges.”
Chris Garvin, managing partner of Terrapin Bright Green and BiomimicryNYC board member then took the stage to walk attendees through the report’s unique interactive graphic entitled, “Market Readiness of Bioinspired Innovations” which “showcases over 100 examples of bioinspired technologies, ranging from early concepts to profitable commercial products.”
“Market Readiness of Bioinspired Innovations” which showcases 101 examples of bioinspired technologies, ranging from early concepts to profitable commercial products.
“What we’re really trying to show is the vast opportunity that exists for biomimicry to transform the world to be a better, healthier, more sustainable and resilient place,” Mr. Garvin concluded. His remarks and Terrapin’s leadership in bringing further biomimicry awareness to industry, academia and the general public were met with an enthusiastic round of applause.
Their work is vital to illuminating just how powerful innovation inspired and mentored by nature can be to the future of all industries and sectors.
In addition to the biomimicry track, the Biomimicry Institute will offer a series of pre-conference workshops for educators, and networking opportunities for biomimicry practitioners and enthusiasts. More info to follow soon!
The Biomimicry Institute is offering a series of 7 webinars, free and open to the public, focusing on how to apply biomimicry and nature’s regenerative patterns to solve global food system challenges.
The webinars are being offered as support for social innovators, entrepreneurs and those passionate about changing the world, who are participating in the annual Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation which will award $100,000 to the Challenge winners through their “Ray of Hope” prize.