Biomimicry, often hailed as nature's blueprint for innovation, is a design approach that draws inspiration from the natural world to solve human challenges. It involves emulating the ingenious solutions that have evolved in various species over millions of years. From Velcro inspired by burrs to efficient wind turbine designs influenced by humpback whale fins, biomimicry showcases how nature's designs can inform and revolutionise human technology.
One of the, one of the best solutions to solving the the real crises that we have from climate change to ecological restoration, to a number of other problems. And I think the, you know, the best way out of a problem is really to innovate, and that, at the core is what Biomimicry is about. And I think when we looking at sustainability, and the sustainability challenges, what's so unique about biomimicry is that it puts life in the center .
Welcome to rethink what matters the podcast dedicated to aligning the economy and ecology with everyone for improved business performance stronger families, and a greener cooler planet. And today I'm joined by Alastair Daynes, MD at Learn Biomimicry and co-founder of Rewild Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. And we're going to be discussing Biomimicry.
Perhaps if we could just start off with, if you could please tell us what Biomimicry is first, please, and then a little bit more about Rewild Africa and, obviously, learn Biomimicry.
Sure. So, Paul, biomimicry is this incredibly fascinating practice that looks to mimic or copy nature's genius and apply it to our human designs.
So, you know, you might have heard about biophilia, which really looks at making things look like nature or making use of natural materials.
Biomimicry goes a step further and makes, human designs function like nature So what's quite interesting there is things might not necessarily look exactly like nature, but if it functions like nature, it is a great deal closer to, sustainability or possibly even regenerative new ways, as well as its innovations that are hiding in plain sight. And so what we term biomimicry is really nature inspired innovations.
I would ask you just to tell us a little bit more about Rewild Africa.
Back in 2016, Rewild was on its founding adventure, where we were set up to map a hundred and eighty different hiking trails using this camera called Gary, Gary, the Google tracker.
And we were mapping these hiking trails in all of South Africa's national parks, and it was this incredible journey, and one which sparked rewild Africa. And the the general thesis between Sam, Chevron, and and I was really to find solutions to ecological restoration. We're incredibly passionate about the environment and about solving the the crisis that we're seeing with our biodiversity today.
And so much like a mini thesis, we went out in and and researched and met with some incredible examples and along the way this is what spawned rewild.
So today, rewild aims to find and shine the light on solutions to ecological restoration.
We focus primarily on films documentaries and short stories, and work with an incredible bunch of organizations across Southern Africa, as well as internationally.
And what's been your personal journey that's brought you to Biomimicry? Right. Yeah. So along this way of finding solutions to ecological restoration, We came across Biomimicy, Sam and I, and we met with his incredible ecological angel, Claire Janice.
Based in this beautiful part in the midlands.
Of all the solutions that we found on this journey, you know, Biomimicry really stands out as one of the one of the best solutions to solving the the real crises that we have from climate change to ecological restoration, to a number of other problems. And I think know, the best way out of a problem is really to innovate, and at at the core is what Biomimicry is about. And I think when we're looking at sustainability, and the sustainability challenges.
What's so unique about biomimicry is that it puts life in the center And that's one of the things that I think is so missing in today's world. We haven't really focused on putting life in or considering life as a as a design or parameter. It's it's usually this afterthought where say you might have a EIA assessment. And then after this assessment, you say, okay. You know, we've done the environmental assessment.
Now how do we mitigate for life or for the biodiversity here instead of, you know, starting from the beginning and saying, Let's consider life from the get go, and let's create conditions conducive to life.
I think it's such a great idea, such a great concept.
Certainly something which has been missing as as you say and fits very well with regeneration, which is the focus on at Awardaroo. Could you tell us a little bit then about Learn Biomimicry. Yeah. Sure. So Learn Biomimicry began with Claire Janice and Jess Belina. Today, the organization stands to find, ways to make Biomimicry accessible. Affordable and applicable.
And so I'll start with the applicable side.
Biomimicry is an incredibly complex field much like nature. And it's really one where I practice trump's theory You know, we we had learned by rank who don't necessarily believe in too much theory, but rather practice. And we consider ourselves not a university, but a technic on a a place where you really are there to put it into practice.
And that's what biomimicry really is. So, you know, much like yoga or meditation, the more you do it, the better you get, and that's really the essence of a of a practice. And so when we're learning from nature, it can be initially a little bit hard to build that muscle.
But once you get going, it really becomes second nature. The other two aspects making it affordable and accessible we're achieved through Learn biomimicry focus on purely being online.
So this allows us to really ensure that the costs are not exorbitant and anyone around the world can access a biomimicry course or become a biomimicry practitioner, in the in their part of the world.
Okay. And who are the customers for learning biomimicry, sort of disciplines do they come from?
Or Biomingary is really well suited for those who wish to seek, and create change in the world. And so that can range from designers, engineers, architects, educators, as well as business professionals and business consultants and leaders who are are willing to push their organizations to innovate.
And are you talking about both form and function then in the way the biomimicry is applied?
Yes. Yeah. That's correct. I so biomimicry at the the form level can really take on something which we can easily relate to or see some comparative look that nature has at the process or at the system level it gets a little bit more grainy, and it's it might be harder to see the function, miss necessarily.
What's quite interesting here is if you look at a kid when they're learning from, say, the age of four, they are really good at nouns. You know, they can call out things like computer or leaf or tree or mountain. But along their learning journey themselves, they start to use the word, the verbs, the doing words, the function.
And that's really where it gets a little bit more complex. And I think at a more global level that that's really where we are today only recently as Biomimicry come to the forefront.
In this cambrian explosion of of biomimicry.
What is the history of biomimicry then? Who coined the term first?
The history of biomimicry is it's it's fascinating for. It's it's an emerging discipline of an ancient practice, but it has been around for many, many years and found within a majority of indigenous cultures But at some point, we just forgot for for some reason, and that innate practice, we lost it somewhere in between agricultural, industrial, and scientific revolutions.
And so, you know, you might ask how did that happen? And how is it that biomimicry would emerge once again. So if we look back to the fifteenth century, we had Leonardo Davinci create an incredible flying machine. And I think this is one of the earliest examples of Biomimicry. It was a a spark of the emergence of the early Biomimicry innovators.
Fast forward to the late or mid twentieth century, and we then saw the emergence of modern biomimicry. That was where it was first termed and then later popularized by Janine Benyus who wrote a book, Biomimicry Innovation inspired by Nature, in nineteen ninety seven. A little bit after that, we then saw the professionalization of biomimicry. So you could actually go in study it more formally at a university.
If we could perhaps talk about a few examples then, some case studies just to bring this to life for people. I'm inquiry at his heart is innovation and innovation inspired by nature.
One great example, which I know you are incredibly passionate about is agriculture.
So in today's world, we're seeing about forty percent of food being lost along its journey on the cold chain to going off, essentially an incredible organization called green pod lab based in India, has really taken this on and used biomimicry to come up with an ingenious solution by asking what would nature do. So when we look to solve for our fruits and vegetables going off, there are two main drivers to consider the microbial growth and actual ripening of the fruit itself.
And so green pods studied plants, and their defensive mechanisms, and mimic that into a sachet that you put into a box of fruit, and that reduces the ripening and microbial growth and extends the life of our fruit and vegetables. Incredible way to reduce our need on cold chain storage, as well as hopefully keep our vegetables and our fruit fresher for longer.
I know that in nature, there is no such thing as waste. You know, everything, decays and becomes food for a another organism. But we don't have that do we? We we that isn't something which we've created in the twentieth century. We create a lot of waste and that becomes toxic and that destroys the environment. So does that is that an important part of biomimicry then?
Definitely, you know, if we were to look at a forest, there's no unemployment in a forest. There's no waste. It's completely cyclical.
And what's more, it's generous by design. And I think that if we can mimic that in our cities, in our products and within our services, we can really rethink the way in which society shows up to support life.
Additionally, I think a lot of the mistakes that have been made previously is on this progression, it's happened so fast, ecologically speaking or geologically speaking.
One of the key points that we've overlooked is green chemistry, and this is where it gets really quite technical, quite quickly.
But, you know, the chemical engineers and our chemists play a critical role in ensuring that whatever is created at the molecular level, it can degrade appropriately.
I think there's been this lack of green chemistry and Only now recently, are we seeing the emergence of that life friendly chemistry?
And this is essentially the building blocks of biology, and very much the building blocks of biomimicry is ensuring that we have green chemistry at not in the hands or making everyone wear. But just specifically, you know, those chemical engineers and those chemists or those business owners and business leaders to ensure that it is prioritized as a as a heat spend on the the R and D budget.
So you've got chemists, who are taking your courses. Are there landscape architects? And what other disciplines are taking your courses on the environment.
There's a an eclectic bunch that have enrolled in to become biomimicry practitioners and biomimicry educators. We've seen individuals who are product designers from very large bicycle manufacturing companies through to architects, landscape designers, as well as business leaders who are looking to put nature inspired innovation at the forefront of what their organization is about.
We've had chemical engineers come through we've had biologists.
It's a crazy cool bunch of really inspiring individuals that have applied the genius of nature to their respective fields.
Generally speaking, we see a large amount of designers, engineers, architects, and educators, as well as passionate business consultants.
I'm just wondering which areas get the most focus then, do you think, with biomimicry?
Recent research has suggested that the built environment probably has the most amount to gain from from biomimicry. It's not to say that it is the only field, but generally speaking, there's A lot of development, and there's a lot of space for innovation, especially in a space that is context specific.
To a specific place, so making designs that are locally attuned and responsive.
Innovation such as software development is also another incredibly large and fast moving field, replicating or mimicking evolution in algorithms is something that we're seeing more and more of. Generative design is one such example of this. And so Autocad has recently come out with number of software developments that is generative design. So these designs really look exactly like nature. It's kinda like a a bone structure that you would imagine, and it really is a great force diagram.
And it seemed that biomimicry and AI are made for each other.
Now very much, artificial intelligence at its core is, is biomimicry.
It seems that, you know, it could also help with energy, maybe energy efficiency in the way that we convert one type of energy into another perhaps.
Solar panels maybe in the way that that gets converted into, you know, some form of storable, some all of storeable energy because nature is always storing energy, isn't it? All this energy arrives from the sun and it gets wrapped up and gets stored in nature if we could somehow mimic that, that I'm sure would be gonna be very helpful in terms of creating more sustainable world.
One hundred percent. And just to add to that nature is incredibly resource efficient. You can have species which can live for two hundred years. And they live for two hundred years because they are so re resource efficient. There's very much a an approach there from a circularity perspective of moving away from a take make waste approach of energy generation into one that is more circular, and natural by design.
Is biomimicry a part of biophilic design as well?
Very much so biomimicry and biophilia overlap and hold hands incredibly well.
Biophilia is just really at at its core, though, about loving nature. And that's in the words of bio meaning nature and philia meaning love.
Where biomimicry is more focused on the function, making things function like nature. And I think that things go that biophilia and biomimicry go so well hand in hand because there's this component of biomebiomimicry , which we haven't yet spoken too much about. And that is the third seed of biomimicry. So we've got three seeds. We've got the emulate, which I think is quite easy to understand, you know, the the mimicking of nature.
We've got the ethos, and then lastly we've got this reconnect, and that's understanding that we are nature.
And what biomimicry does so well is really bring us back to reconnecting with nature. It invites nature into our worlds that invites Nature into our offices, to our homes, and into our cities.
And I for one just thoroughly enjoy being art in nature to where I get my best ideas, and that combination between biophilia and biomimicry, I think, is one that is incredibly beautiful.
What about on the marine side of things then? Does biomimicry apply to marine life too?
It does, biomimcry is incredibly wide and diverse.
There's great innovations that are happening in the space of port construction and creating ports and specifically the smaller parts such as the concrete blocks, making them look more like coral and function like coral so it invites life into it What's quite interesting with that approach to building a port, for example, is that the port becomes stronger over time, and that's this idea, which we see so often in nature, but so rarely in our human designs, and that is anti fragility So much like an arm, you know, if we go to the, lift and weights, even though we're breaking those muscle fibers, we come back the next day stronger.
Nature does this incredibly well, anti fragility. It it things get stronger over time, unlike, say, a box of champagne glasses, you know, they're set, they're fragile, and they're not gonna get any stronger than the than than today.
So building ports, for example, that are getting stronger by having more growth on them and inviting nature into them, is just Simple example of biomimcry being put into practice.
A second example is concrete, and the concretes of using bio concretes This is a little bit of a danger place where if we look at the the Romans, their concrete was incredibly strong, and you can still see it today. You know, recently, I was fortunate enough to visit Greece, and you can still see these statues that are two thousand years old, where, you know, often in our homes, you might find a crack and you would think how is it that two thousand years ago their concrete was stronger. What's quite interesting, the the Romans had figured something out, which we're only coming back to And that is by including certain microbes within the concrete that are able to restore cracks and and and stop them from cracking early on.
This gives it huge amounts of ability to last, say, two two hundred years or more, and maybe a whole lot longer.
And can you tell us a little bit about the market for biomimicry then? How you've seen that change maybe over the last five years?
A good leading indicator. Here is the number of universities that are offering courses in Biomimcry. We've seen an increase that is growing potentially I'd say at a thumb suck, probably around thirty percent year on year. It's incredibly fast.
Fortunately, a lot of those lecturers, we're meeting with and have enrolled in our Biomimcry educators program. Which we assist them in building their curriculums and building an integrating biomimicry into their courses or into their universities.
Alastair, thanks very much for your time on this podcast and in helping us to better understand biomimicry c and how it can help us to create a much better world in the twenty first century.
Thank you, Paul. I've thoroughly enjoyed having this conversation with you and wishing you a lovely day further.