The Industrial Revolution could best be described as the adolescence of humanity. It was a time of discovery and endless possibilities for our future, a future built upon choices made at that critical juncture in our development. We had many successes of which we should be proud. However, like most juveniles, it was also a time of rebellion, defiance, chemical experimentation, and our first kiss from industry — the one our mother warned us would betray us... but we were fools in love, living only for the moment.
What would the world be like today had the “Titans of Industry” looked for industrial solutions in natures designs, 3.8 billion years in the making? What if they had collaborated with those in the sciences to evaluate the long term implications on climate, ecology, and our true anthropological needs before moving products to market? What if European exploration had been for cultural exchange and the study of sustainable practices of peoples which had gained an intimate understanding of their lands over millennia? And what if the answer to the climate crisis lies in reimplementing aspects of those practices and cultures now, in combination with technology developed through biomimicry?
As we enter the Anthropocene we also enter adulthood–ready or not. We are out of time. We, like a child of parents with substance use disorder, must be the adults in the family. Our guardians, unwilling to seek treatment for their fossil fuel addiction, have maxed out the family credit and have put us in ecological debt. To resow the roots of our grass will require a grassroots effort through our collective ability to see the forest for the trees – while there are still collections of trees left in the forest to see.
It’s time we listen to Mother.
Mother nature has never filed a single patent. Indeed, the very concept of ownership is both contradictory and detrimental to evolution.
Biomimetics or biomimicry is the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. It is an approach to design and innovation that finds inspiration in the function of living organisms. At its core, biomimetic philosophy is that nature's inhabitants including animals, plants, and microbes have the most experience in solving problems and have already found the most appropriate ways to last on planet Earth. Living beings have adapted to a constantly changing environment during evolution through mutation, recombination, and selection. To not utilize design created by nature is to recreate the wheel.
The idea of connecting biologists, ecologists and other life scientists with designers and product engineers in the design process was introduced by Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute. This design methodology can be applied to the creation of materials, products, and solutions for a wide variety of fields and human systems including biochemistry fluid mechanics, physical chemistry, materials design, architecture, energy, textiles, medicine, transportation, and agriculture.
Nature has gone through evolution over the 3.8 billion years since life is estimated to have appeared on the Earth. It has evolved species with high performance using commonly found materials. Surfaces of solids interact with other surfaces and the environment and derive the properties of materials. Biological materials are highly organized from the molecular to the nano-, micro-, and macroscales, often in a hierarchical manner with intricate nanoarchitecture that ultimately makes up a myriad of different functional elements. Properties of materials and surfaces result from a complex interplay between surface structure and morphology and physical and chemical properties. Many materials, surfaces, and objects in general provide multifunctionality.
Various materials, structures, and devices have been fabricated for commercial interest by engineers, material scientists, chemists, and biologists, and for beauty, structure, and design by artists and architects. Nature has solved engineering problems such as self-healing abilities, environmental exposure tolerance and resistance, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy. Economic impact of bioinspired materials and surfaces is significant, on the order of several hundred billion dollars per year worldwide.
Design anthropology is a form of applied anthropology that makes use of ethnographic methods to develop new products, services, practices, and forms of sociality. Building on a long lineage of thought from the social sciences, design anthropology can trace its roots back to the interdisciplinary field of material culture which brought together history, sociology, psychology, archaeology, and anthropology to understand the creation and consumption of objects, as well as the meaning ascribed to objects.
Sustainable design requires a multi-discipline evaluation of the true human need of the product and consequential environmental affects of mineral extraction and manufacturing. Material culture studies are relevant to design anthropology because physical objects, and increasingly intangible objects, play a role in mediating relationships between humans through time and space. In fact, within material culture studies as well as design anthropology, researchers are more interested in the sociality that surrounds the object such as the behaviors and rituals that the objects create or take part in.