This week, I have the great pleasure and honor to teach biomimicry to 300 high school and college students through a program run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. (WCS is famously known in the U.S. for all of New York’s zoos including the Bronx Zoo, central Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium!) The feedback was terrific with some of them saying this was the best presentation they’ve had in their entire summer program and a few of them reaching out to me personally asking if I’d mentor them.
They’ve filled me with joy and I’m grateful to all of them and to WCS for the opportunity to share my passion for nature as our greatest design teacher. I’m one tiny step closer to my goal of finding a way to get biomimicry into every high school and college in the country. If you’d like me to present to your group or class (young children, teens, or adults), please let me know!
When COVID-19 started to spread across the U.S. in March, the Biomimicry Institute started 30 Days of Reconnection to help people stay connected to one another by reconnecting through nature. Each day they sent an email with a nature topic, resources to learn more, and a prompt. Then they asked people to reflect on the prompt with something creative and share the reflections on Twitter and / or Instagram with the hashtag #30DaysOfReconnection. https://biomimicry.org/30days/
I was finishing my Biomimicry graduate program in March and April so I didn’t have time to participate then but I do have some time now. Luckily, the 30 days of prompts are all available on the Biomimicry Institute website. I started yesterday and will be doing a prompt each day for the next 30 days with the lens of building back better after COVID and to create equity and justice in our society.
I’ll post my creations each day. If you’d like, please join me and share your creations with me. I’d love to see and hear them! Here’s my Day 1:
Day 1 was about the topic of regeneration. I created a word map about what regeneration means to me and drew a sketch of the Eurasian Wolf. When wolves return to an ecosystem, their presence is a sign that we’ve turned the corner from regeneration to restoration. I also included what I think is my superpower: an endless supply of joy and curiosity that keeps me strong, hopeful, and active even in tough times like the times we’re facing now.
Destruction and ruin are often heartbreaking to witness. Destruction is now visible in every corner of our country. Some of that destruction is causing intense pain and suffering among people who were suffering even before the pandemic—job losses, hunger, and intense fear about our democracy and the future. Some of that destruction is tearing down structures that have grown brittle with efficiency—our food supply chain, education system, healthcare, and housing to name just a few. It all hurts.
The only hope I can find in all of this wreckage is that through regeneration we have the opportunity to build back better, with more justice, more equity, and for better mental, physical, emotional, and economic health. I’m committed to that process, and that commitment is what’s getting me through the pain, fear, sadness, and uncertainty I have faith in our will to collectively choose to create a braver, brighter future for all us.
“Though my soul may set in darkness,
it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night.”
~Sarah Williams, poet and novelist, “The Old Astronomer”
If you’re a stargazer, winter is your season. With more nighttime hours and the brightest, clearest, and most beautiful skies of the entire calendar, winter is something to celebrate. Having more time with the stars is one of the main reasons I love this season. So if cold temperatures and long nights have you down, look up. There’s so much out there to love.
“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 studying sustainable coastal resilience strategies in the face of climate change and rising sea levels. Seawalls don’t provide sufficient protection, harm wildlife, pollute waterways, and are difficult and expensive to maintain. Artificial walls don’t work in nature. What works is building longer buffet tables and larger homes that make accommodations for all stakeholders—coral reefs, mangroves, oyster beds, and salt marshes. This idea is much more than a metaphor or allegory. Seawalls are a cautionary tale of what happens when we exclude beings who have all the same rights that we do to survive and thrive. Sustainable solutions have successfully played out over the course of 3.8 billion years of natural history’s R&D lab. We would be wise to follow its example.
Something cool happened today. I was walking my dog, Phineas, in Riverside Park, and I started to look at the trees differently than I ever have before. Now, I’ve been to this park hundreds of time. Maybe even thousands. But after studying trees for my biomimicry grad program, the trees seemed to speak to me in a different way than they ever have before. I could identify the trees, and see how they protect themselves. I could sense that they were in their deep sleep mode for the winter, and I let their peace wash over me, too. We are living in stressful times in this country right now, and today I am immensely grateful for the example and wisdom of these trees. Sometimes what we need to do most is rest. When in doubt, go outside.
200-600 octillion microbes live a mile underground and thrive in 250°F water. Some breathe rocks, specifically uranium. Others eat leftover plants that are hundreds of millions of years old. And they can wait to reproduce for thousands of years when conditions are favorable. Add up all these wild subterranean microbes and they weigh as much as 200 million blue whales, much more than all 7.5 billion humans. And you know what? They’re related to us far less immutable surface dwellers. Bats hear shapes. Songbirds see UV light. Most animals are bioluminescent (including us!) but our eyes are too weak to see it without visual aids. Wonder is everywhere, a gift for all of us. Stay curious, friends. We have so many discoveries to look forward to.
Despite the cold, my senior dog, Phineas, took me on a 2-hour hike through the North Woods of Central Park yesterday. The late afternoon light was just perfect. Time in nature is like a massage for the brain, heart, and spirit. It prompts my creativity. The movement jogs my imagination, restores my resolve to do work that builds a better world. If you need to be restored, get outside. Your restlessness has a purpose. It is meant to move you. Don’t fight it. Go with it.
Last Sunday, my dog, Phineas, and I took an invited tour through the North Woods of @centralparknyc. Though I’ve walked through there dozens of times for many years and am a proud donor to the park, I didn’t know the ins and outs of the design elements and how connected the design is to spirituality, art, and literature. It takes so much work, care, and knowledge to make a manicured place wild. I’m in awe of the incredible staff who works tirelessly to make the entire park such a special place for all of us. The city wouldn’t be the same with it! Huge thanks to Jessica, social media wizard at the Conservancy, and our incredible tour guides, Marieka and Juan. Check out all the available tours at www.centralparknyc.org/tours.
Dinosaurs are great teachers. Kingfishers & their quick, quiet, and precise diving abilities inspired the Shinkansen Bullet Train’s design. This is the power of biomimicry. Most of the manufactured world is a mess; copying nature helps.
More info on this incredible innovation from Biomimicry Institute here: https://asknature.org/idea/shinkansen-train/#.W3Q8EPlKiUl