Nature has evolved over 3.8 billion years into a model of sustainability, offering a guide for our own human endeavours to live in harmony with natural cycles and systems. Nature recycles waste efficiently, uses renewable power from the sun, is resilient to sudden changes, is adaptable over time to new conditions, and self regulates through feedback. What if we could use the operating principles found within nature to rethink how we live as humans? To flourish without permanently damaging the natural ecosystems we depend upon for our survival?
Biomimicry (meaning ‘to copy life’) takes us on a journey to discover the principles (see list below) which make nature a model for sustainability; a model which achieves dynamic balance, sustains the whole, and provides the conditions for survival. Biomimicry offers an opportunity to explore how these principles can help tackle some of the greatest challenges facing humanity today – such as climate change and increasing levels of waste and pollution – and empowers students to creatively apply their new competences to discover real solutions that work.
Biomimicry has been defined as “learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs.”[i] It does this based on three intertwined values:
When these values are taken together, biomimicry offers a different way of seeing nature; supports a shift in view of learning about nature to learning from nature. It explicitly places the natural world as a source of solutions to human challenge, providing a moral and practical reason for the conservation of the natural world. It facilitates a deeper looking at the natural world, through which a sense of sacredness can emerge.
As the three values briefly laid out above suggest, biomimicry is not simply taking ideas from nature to create better products to serve human needs. It necessitates a deep observation of how nature works, the inter-relationships between organisms and their environment, and an innate sensing of nature’s cycles. In this way, biomimicry offers a method to rethink our relationship with nature, rediscovering our place within the natural world, finding balance, harmony and renewal. In this sense, biomimicry can be far more than a neat engineering solution; it can be used to engage learners deeply with the natural world. In this way, biomimicry can itself become a ‘natural pedagogy’ rather than simply a tool.
Biomimicry offers multiple points into the natural world. It can be entered from a deep ecology point of wholeness and connectivity, broadening out into seeing how nature works and applying nature’s principles to address human needs. Or it can be entered from the perspective of an engineering challenge, exploring nature to see how organisms have solved similar challenges; or even stripped back to look at the properties of materials and structures and how they can be applied in a variety of situations. In this sense, biomimicry can appeal to a wide range of people regardless of their current views of nature.
As a result, biomimicry can help us see beyond the usual events and patterns of our daily lives. It can suspend our usual way of seeing nature, and offers a new mental model to reshape our relationship as a part of nature. Biomimicry provides inspiration to go beyond simply copying nature, and presents learners with opportunities to enrich and broaden their learning beyond facts and into a new relationship with the natural world.
Janine Benyus[ii], who coined the term biomimicry, offers nine principles to guide us:
This article is an introduction to the BioLearn project, taking place within five nations across Europe. BioLearn has created lesson plans and learning modules for secondary schools, particularly meeting the needs of STEM. These are freely available to download at https://biolearn.eu/united-kingdom.
If you would like to find out more, please get in touch.
Richard Dawson, Director, Wild Awake – email@example.com
Lewis Winks, BioLearn Project Office – firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Baumeister, D. (2014). Biomimicry Resources Handbook: A Seed Bank of Best Practices. Biomimicry 3.8.
[ii] Benyus, J. (1997). Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. HarperCollins.