“The wilderness holds answers to questions that we have not yet learned to ask.” ~Nancy Newhall
I’m pretty jazzed that my final assignment for one of my biomimicry classes is giving me the opportunity to lay down the very first tracks for the invention company I’d like to build with biomimicry when I finish my graduate degree. At first, I was so excited about this prospect that I was actually afraid of it. This felt like a big commitment to make to myself. And once I put these dreams and hopes out into the world, I couldn’t take them back. Once I had to admitted what kind of business I really wanted to build in this field, I could unsee it. Sure, it could morph, but there would be no denying my dream. There would only be choosing to do the work to make it happen, or not. And so, I went for it.
The assignment was to imagine my career in biomimicry 25 years from now and the business I would build with a sustainable framework. Here is what I came up with. What do you think?
25 years ago in the winter of 2019, I took my first class in biomimicry. At the time it was a burgeoning field and in many ways felt like the Wild West, a new frontier. Every day there was a new discovery, a new way of seeing and being in the world.
At the time, our planet was racked with difficulty—climate change deniers, enormous and growing islands of plastic in our oceans, rampant habitat loss, and painful species extinctions. This is not to say that we don’t still face difficulties today; it’s just that now in 2044 there is no denying our role as the chief contributors to climate change. We wore out the planet’s welcome and her resiliency; now it is common place for most people to consider the environmental consequences of their actions and purchases. We simply don’t have a choice to ignore our responsibility now as we so often did in 2019.
After graduating from my Master of Science in biomimicry program at Arizona State University, I put together my 20-year career in product development with my passion for science and started The Green Atelier, an invention shop that reimagines, patents, produces, and commercializes sustainable products, systems, and solutions that mimic the deep design principles found in the processes and structures of nature. We work with for-profit, nonprofit, and local and international government agencies. We are a small and mighty team with skill sets in product development, business, science, design, and engineering. We determined that we must begin this business as we wish to go. And so from Day 1, we fearlessly put a stake in the ground and committed to create conditions conducive to life.
Zero waste and maximum resource efficiency
We operate as the planet operates, taking only what we need and returning as much as we can to the greater communities where we work and live. This conservative approach to resource management means we have what we need for today and also ensure that we and others have what we all need for all of our tomorrows.
We do not and never will use any type of toxic chemicals in our products, processes, and operations. When we must do activities such as travel, which is now much-improved with high-speed trains but still has a long way to go in terms of air travel, we make sure to pay a monetary contribution that covers our cost to the environment for that activity.
Locally attuned and responsive solutions
Context matters to us. Before we take any action in our product development process, we thoroughly research and incorporate all of the environmental factors in which our solutions must exist. We use locally available resources—including physical goods, labor, and mindshare. Community-involvement in our co-creative processes is always top of mind and a part of every project. We are guests in the areas where we work, and we act accordingly—with gratitude and grace. We listen much more than we talk.
Integration of development with growth
We recognize that progress can and must coexist with conservation. Indeed, the two can feed one another in a symbiotic relationship so that everyone wins. There is a level of give and take that fluidly happens in the course of our work. However, it is not without effort and consciousness. Every player is aware of every other player, and respectful of their right to survive and thrive in the same space. The investment of our time, attention, and action with this mindset is crucial to our success, and the success of our clients, customers, and neighbors.
Respond and adapt to changing conditions
In the past 25 years, our planet has become more diverse than ever. This diversity has driven a compassion, curiosity, and resiliency that has become the backbone of our strength as a species and as a cohesive, cooperative biosphere. Relationships are the cornerstone of everything we do. We experiment, expect the unexpected, make changes based on new information and learning, and then replicate that work. We are committed to continuous improvement with every breath.
While all of these operating principles of our business seemed aspirational 23 years ago when we officially opened for business in the first days of 2021, to us they were an absolute necessity. We could see what our planet would become without this unwavering and sincere promise to operate and build in a sustainable, healthful way. A world without a sustainable ethos was not a world we want to live in. Indeed, it was a world none of us would actually be able to live in. Without exaggeration, we were on the doorstep of extinction and we were the only ones who could pull ourselves back from the brink. We had seen the problem, and the problem was us.
And so we set about becoming our own saviors, our own solution, and thereby the saviors of our elders in the natural world who were counting on us to make amends and drastically change our wasteful ways for the benefit of all beings. We would not, and could not, disappoint them. They needed us to be successful in our pursuit, and so we did everything we could to live up to our potential and responsibility while taking on the genius of nature as our wisest teacher and guide.
23 years on, we have no regrets at The Green Atelier about our brave and bold choices to build a business on the foundation of a sustainable framework. Our only regret is that we did not do this sooner, that our society had to quite literally be on a burning platform before we would make the necessary behavioral changes to survive.
We cannot change our past, but now that we are awake, we will never go back to sleep when it comes to the consciousness with which we make all our decisions, as a business, as a community, and as individuals who are but brief flashes of light in the landscape of deep time. We are privileged to be here in every sense, and we’re grateful for the opportunity that life affords us to support life.
I’m glad to be a turtle in the race of life. Slow and steady progress makes the wins sweeter and the journey more interesting.
Last week, I wrote about the value of age diversity in the workplace. This weekend, I read this amazing article about Dr. John Goodenough, a 94-year-old scientist who is on the verge of inventing a battery that could turn the way we power our world on its head in a good way. In the very best way. In a way that replaces fossil fuels, and drastically reduces the cost of energy to our wallets and to the environment.
The article goes on to talk about the successes that so many people, particularly patent-holders, find later in life. And by later, I don’t mean their 40s. I mean their 50s, 60s, and beyond. In an age where we find ourselves obsessed with 20-under-20 and 30-under-30 lists, I’m embracing all that is beginning to bloom in my life now and all of the blooming that’s destined to find all of us in the decades ahead. The data shows that the best is yet to come, and I believe in data.
My Facebook feed is filled with friends who are angry, sad, frustrated, confused, and at a complete loss about why there is so much senseless killing happening. I am, too. I worry about what kind of world we’re leaving for our children, and then I read this article from Time about a 10-year-old-girl named Eva who lives in Paris. She was granted a PhD level fellowship. Her pitch was: “The streets of Paris are sad. I want to build a robot that will make them happy again. I’ve already started learning how to code on Thymio robots, but I have trouble making it work. I want to join the program so the mentors can help me.”
Yes, technology can isolate us. It can also be used to build a better, kinder, happier, and safer world. And I think that if we begin to think about technology the way that Eva does, we’ll be able to build a better world together, a world in which every life matters.
“Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” ~ Paulo Freire
I was talking with someone on Friday about the boxes we put ourselves in and the boxes other people put us in. Those boxes are unnecessary limits that stifle creativity and imagination. The only way to break out of them is to try something new, take ourselves out of the comfort zone, and explore. We’ll discover that we have new talents, interests, and ideas. We’ll realize hidden strengths and capabilities. Our lives are made richer through reinvention. The world is made better every time we look at the world and ask “what if” followed by “why not?” And in that intersection, we find the magic.