by Mary Hansel
There is no greater scripture than nature, for nature is life itself – Hazrat Inayat Khan
Following in the steps of mystics and artists long inspired by nature, designers of the human-made world are taking inspiration from nature in ever growing numbers as well. Biomimics are learning from prairies to grow food sustainably and studying the geometry of schools of fish to optimize energy capture in wind farms. Other examples include modeling the spiral growth principle of pine trees to reduce material use in plastic bottles, and fashioning the nose of a high-speed train in Japan after a kingfisher’s beak to improve efficiency and reduce noise.
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.1 It is an old practice and a rapidly emerging discipline, fueled by improvements in the tools we have to peer deeply into how nature works, our advancing abilities to emulate what we learn, the enormity of the challenges facing us... and a growing recognition that nature has already figured out how to do the things we want to do.
“... After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.” - Janine Benyus
Biomimicry is about learning from nature to help us survive and thrive over millennia. Of course, we are nature... so all we make is natural. The question is whether our technologies are well adapted... are they life supporting... over the long haul? How well do we fit on our home planet? Sustainability for all species can best be achieved when the built environment and nature adhere to the same principles.
Biomimicry looks to nature as model, measure, and mentor. Nature as Model means we can take inspiration from nature’s models for our own designs. The central question is, “How does nature...?” How does nature create color? Build materials? Cooperate? Nature as Measure means using an ecological standard to judge the appropriateness of our designs. A central question is, “What wouldn’t nature do?” If we are the only species digging fossil fuels and uranium out of the earth to generate power, should we be doing that? Nature as Mentor is not so much a practice as a belief, that suggests a new way of viewing and valuing nature, based on what we can learn from it, rather than for what we can extract from it. The central question is, “How can I give thanks to nature for inspiration?”
If we commune with her soul rather than extort her yield, she sanctifies us, making us whole, and therefore holy and healthy. – Pir Vilayat Khan
Although we humans have created a huge ecological footprint on our world, the good news is that we are just one among many... scientists estimate that although more than 95% of species ever present on earth have gone extinct, we still share our planet with 30 – 100 million other species who have already solved many of the problems we want to solve in life-friendly ways: capturing energy, producing food, using safe chemistry, transporting, communicating, collaborating, and more. If we can identify and emulate the strategies of these successful creatures, then we too can develop well-adapted designs that do what other critters do... create conditions conducive to life2.
Ziraat is a bridge between our inner and outer worlds, offering nature [as a] path leading to God3. Biomimicry offers a bridge between nature and human design... yet another way of exploring the magnificent world in which we live... offering guidance to a relatively young species (that’s us!) on how to fit in here on this home that is ours, but not ours alone2.
The silent voice of the Divine Presence, of the Divine Message, is whispered by all beings as they announce their names respectively as their contribution to the symphony of the spheres.4 If we quiet our human cleverness2, listen to the symphony, and apply what we learn, therein lies my hope for our world.
Want to learn more? Get started at The Biomimicry Institute website: https://biomimicry.org/.
2 Benyus, Janine, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, 1997.
3 Holterman ten Hove, Firoz, The Working Basis of Ziraat.
4 Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, The Meaning of Ziraat.
About the Author
Mary Hansel is passionate about collaborating with others to create mutually beneficial approaches to improving lives. Her focus is on consulting nature’s genius and connecting people with each other and with new ideas, and her specialties include organizational sustainability and accounting services for non-profits. Mary is a Certified Biomimicry Professional and a candidate for a Master’s of Science in Biomimicry at Arizona State University. She teaches a one-month online biomimicry course for the International Institute of Sustainability Professionals. As co-founder of Biomimicry Oregon, Mary served as project manager, outreach facilitator, and primary author for their Genius of Place Stormwater project.