Theme: Biomimicry – The Genius Design of Nature
with Guest Speaker Janine Benyus
Summary:: [[Yarrow Kraner]] and [[Byrony Schwan]] interviewed [[Janine Benyus]] on the amazing work that she’s been doing with the [[Biomimicry Institute]]. We explored her journey, the lessons that have been learned along the way, and got a sneak peek of what she’s preparing for the future. The key lessons and takeaways are that (1) We must re-evaluate our relationship with Nature from one of extraction to one of mutual exchange (2) By slowing down and engaging in deep observation with Nature, we can find many of the answers we are struggling to solve on our own (3) We need to focus on doing more than Net Zero harm and start to do Net Positive Good. [[Janine Benyus]] shares a small handful of fascinating examples of the amazing lessons that nature has to teach us if we just take the time to ask.
Backstory on Janine Benyus
- [[Janine Benyus]] is not a biologist. She is a Natural History writer, and her work on biomimicry was about matching Organisms and Place to understand How shall we want to live, and how it’s been answered already by Nature.
- She wrote the book [[Life’s Principles of Biomimicry]], founded the consultancy Biomimicry 3.8 – after the 3.8 Billion years on the planet – started the [[Biomimicry Institute]] with [[Byrony Schwan]] and laid the foundation for an entirely new field of research.
Janine Benyus’s current work
- She’s working on a new book right now using information that she’s been collecting for over a decade – about Nature’s Universals: An encyclopedic look on the things that all organisms (or most organisms) have in common.
- Her first chapter covers: How does nature reincarnate materials over and over? Of the whole periodic table, life uses only a few elements and it uses very elegant reactions. With Big Data, they’ve been able to do network analysis on metabolism using neural nets to see motifs & reoccurring patterns… And there’s not that many of them.
- She’s building the “chemistry book” for chemists – She’s profiling people, highlighting them – and trying to bridge it back to design as she did with biomimicry.
- She’s looking for design principles for people who want to do biomimicry. Most biomimics are not biologists. They are policy makers, builders and Designers.
- We now have better tools like [[Big Data]] – to perform stem collecting to find the recurring patterns within the diversity of the world. Very few people are like Darwin – capable of extracting general principles from a body of information – and that’s what she hopes to do.
- There is a renaissance going on in the scientific world right now, where biologists are wondering:
- What are the principles that nature uses to heal?
- How does nature grow without overshooting? (Principles of optimization and right-sizing)
- What are the principles of self-organization and collective action?
- How does nature exhale so many benefits?
- Why is nature so much more generous?
- How does nature shape COMMUNITY.
- Most importantly: Why are there so many mutualisms in nature? Establishing trust, maintaining them, passing them on, working them out in the biological literature except for nerds like her.
- Within nature, what’s most beautiful is the unity inside of the diversity. Life is built from the bottom up using very simple building blocks.
Biomimicry and the Pandemic
- Homo Sapiens has been on the planet for only 200,000 years vs. 3.8B years of life. We’re such a young species. We’re toddlers with matches.
- This pandemic is a reminder for us to see ourselves as biological beings
- We need to change how we see ourselves in relationship to the planet. We have been taking from nature – like a child taking from nature. We expect nature to take our waste, clean it, and give it back to us fresh and clean with no reciprocity in the relationship.
- Nature gives us clean air, clean water, fragrant soils, everything – when do we return the favor? Biomimicry can help us do that – if we see ourselves as students and not masters.
- How is possible that nature is able to consistently “exhale goodness”? What can we learn?
- It’s time for us to get to the grandparent stage where we’re giving back to the natural world. We don’t need to be heroes – every species that gets to stay here, stays here because it actively contributes back to creating life. The way it excretes, the way it builds, the materials that it uses – it needs to contribute to making things better over time.
- How do we learn to give back? We need to start making everything into a biomimicry practice.
- The biggest secret that’s hiding in plain sight around COVID?
- The bats know the answer. Who’s looking at the bats that are living with this virus? They know how to manage it. We’ve maligned them as carriers and not seen them as mentors. What’s kept us from asking the bats? We haven’t asked the bats why don’t they get sick while carrying high loads of these viruses? They’re mammals like us. They’re not that different.
- People are starting to notice now when they don’t have a tree outside. They’re noticing spring for the first time thanks to COVID. They’re seeing the best concert they’ve ever seen.
- 30 Days of Re-connection (Link) – They are inviting people to go out and do deep observation and getting deeply reconnected using nature journals.
Mutualism : Nature and Organizational Development
How is it in the natural world that there’s very little cheating?
- What if the fungus doesn’t give the tree something for a day?
- Why aren’t there more freeloaders?
- Wouldn’t those that cheat for their own benefit rise in their population?
- That’s not what happens in the natural world. In order to have true reciprocity, these organisms make sure that their reputation as a partner is important. And if you slack off, there are other partnerships that get formed. Natural selection is reflected in your partnership characteristics.
How do two organisms go from competitors to mutualists?
- In order to get to the point where you feel trust, you need
- 1. Frequent Recurrent Interactions.
- Get the two teams and get them to work together not just once, but several times.
- 2. They need to have a Choice
- The different organisms (and incidentally people) need to choose each other. You can’t mandate that, as an organization. It has to come from the bottom up. But you can put them together, you can institute management practices.
- How might you transform a client relationship into a mutualist relationship?
- 1. Frequent Recurrent Interactions.
- In order to get to the point where you feel trust, you need
Using Nature as a Guide
- When we try to solve a problem, the most natural thing is to ask the elders that have solved these problems in the past. The question that we should be asking is: What in the natural world has already solved that I am trying to solve? Everything that we are trying to do, the natural world has been trying to do. Anything that we want to do, we can ask: Is there anything in the natural world that has done this.
- We are not the first ones trying to solve the problem of “how to live well in Community”. Biomimicry is about realizing that – listening deeply, echoing what you hear, and giving thanks.
Reframing our Relationship with Nature
- What is your physical space generating for wildlife and the ecosystem? Your backyards? Your corporate campus? How are you giving back to nature?
- 40% of homes in cities have backyards. What are the programs for building ecosystems into backyards?
- How many ecosystems are you touching with your supply chain? What about your cardboard packaging? Through your contracts, can you change the way something is grown so it sinks carbon, stores water, etc…? Where do your employees get their food? etc…
Bio-mimicry and Cities
- In an ideal world, a city would function like the forest next door – so she’s started creating a new standard around regenerative design – an [[ecological performance standard]].
- We focused not on economic values (though that could come later) but on quantities. How much carbon is being stored per acre per year? How much water is being stored in a storm? How much air and water are being purified? How many nutrients are cycled? How many degrees of cooling happen? How much soil is created? We use biological literature paired with GIS models to get those quantities on a per acre per year basis. Then we say to the city managers and planners, or even people in the district or a block: here’s a new performance metric. Can your acre of development—buildings and sidewalks and streets and green landscapes combined—perform as well as the equivalent acre of wildland next door? We call them “[[ecological performance standard]]s.” Now it’s not just a matter of providing ecosystem services in a metaphorical way—it’s a matter of meeting or exceeding local, measurable amounts. It’s an incredible, aspirational goal that we know is doable because it’s happening right next door. I like it because it’s locally relevant and because it gives communities a framework to design into. Once a visionary city signs off on these metrics, every design intervention—every green roof, every foot of permeable pavement, every self-watering landscape—would add up. Cumulative goodness. All by asking the question—how much should this city give back to the region around it?
- To be truly bio-memetic, a settlement would be functionally indifferent from the wildland next door. It would create as much clean water per acre, it would create as much clean air per acre, it would sponsor as much habitat as the wildland next door, it would store as much carbon in rainfall. Our natural ecosystem does this for free to improve human wellbeing. We need to build bio-memetic buildings, blocks, districts, cities for us.
- How many ecosystem services could we be producing for free? Instead of a parking lot, you might make a permeable pavement. You might want to cool the area so you can put solar sails or trees. It’s not just planting – your buildings can sequester carbon. There are so many different ways of thinking about how we build. We haven’t asked enough of our designs.
- Examples of facilities being transformed:
- Factory As a Forest:: Forest right outside the factory is 15 degrees cooler. What if you added a forest inside not just outside, creating daylighting streams, making community gardens for neighboring communities, involving organizations like the Nature Conservancy, etc… Regenerative projects bring people in together and have positive benefits that cross-over to many different sectors.
- Corporate Campus:: If you have a corporate campus that’s going to have a pond with no vegetation around it – how might we do this in a different way? Could you create an ecosystem and have school kids come and do the testing? It can produce more ecosystem services and include neighborhood monitoring programs to start to use these areas as healing gardens near to hospitals.
- When you say “Design for ecosystem services”, all you’re saying is: let’s design for positive benefit beyond our walls, beyond our little island.
- The world is hung up on Net-Zero – but [[Janine Benyus]] believes we need to focus on [[Project Positive]]she’s focused on [[Project Positive]]. Link
- Project Positive is a learning cohort – including Microsoft, Google, Ford, Aquafil, etc…
- They are working with [[Kate Ralworth]] because they want to ensure that the social benefits are also highlighted.
- This creates tons of jobs.
- If you create something that replicates a forest – you have less asthma.
- These will be nicer places to live.
- They’re working together now to combine the ” Donut and the Citrus ” (thinking tools) – that help the world thrive both socially and ecologically simultaneously.
Group Question: How could you each apply the principles of Project Positive in your company, vocation or place?