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Biomimicry Guild’s Dayna Baumeister says designing a future world without oil is possible
Relates examples of forward-edge organizations designing products that mimic nature, minimize oil use
TORONTO - We’re all responsible for the world we live in and we can all contribute to re-designing it to eliminate oil dependency and create a sustainable future. This was the message delegates heard from Dayna Baumeister at the Jan. 21 World Without Oil symposium, a new addition to the Toronto Interior Design Show.

For the bulk of Earth’s history, life has existed without a dependency on oil, and it is possible and critical that we rethink and redesign and recreate our current production system to achieve that state again, said Baumeister, co-founder of the Biomimicry Guild.

She held up biomimicry — defined in its simplest terms as the “conscious emulation of nature’s genius” — as a vital tool in achieving this objective.

“What this is about is moving ourselves from a place in which we design things that don’t fit in, to a place in which we are well-adapted (to nature),” said Baumeister. “To me, that is a better design, that is the best design.”

She related a number of examples of forward-thinking organizations now designing products that mimic nature in one or more of three ways — form, how the form is created and how the form fits into its larger context.

The examples include a solar cell designed like a moth eye, which doesn’t reflect light, ensuring much greater efficiency in capturing the sun’s rays for solar power. Another organization has come the closest yet to creating artificial photosynthesis to harness solar energy.

Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Montana-based guild, has teamed up with environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken to create “an incredibly efficient, low-cost, locally producible solar cell,” to be officially announced this year.

Informed by green chemistry and biology, this new product could “completely transform the solar industry,” said Baumeister.

A project in Zimbabwe, designed by architect Mick Pierce in conjunction with the engineering firm Arup Associates, has created a building that has no air conditioning, which is noteworthy considering the African nation’s hot temperatures.

The structure has a passive cooling system based on the makeup of a termite mound, which maintains a consistent temperature regardless of the weather outside. Energy bills for the new site are 90 per cent cheaper than that of a building cooled by air conditioning.

The kelp has been the inspiration for the design of a fan by the firm Pacific Scientific, which can enhance energy efficiency from a minimum of five per cent and upwards to 75 per cent.

Considering research that has shown 40 per cent of all energy consumption worldwide comes from running pumps, fans and motors, the potential for this product to improve energy efficiency is significant, said Baumeister.

She also related examples of organizations designing non-intrusive power generating devices in the ocean that are based on how the kelp, tuna  and sea-fan move and attach themselves to the sea floor, as well as a wind turbine, structured like the tail of the humpback whale, that is very good at pulling energy out of extremely low-wind environments and thereby significantly expanding the scope of possibilities for wind power.

“It’s ultimately about learning to fit us in. And the time is now to learn to fit in,” says Baumeister, emphasizing the future does not need to look bleak, not for the next generation and not even for people today.

The starting point is to get outside, slow down and take a breath.

“Then you can listen. You can listen to that amazing wisdom and genius that’s out there. And then, and only then, can you begin to echo back what you’ve heard,” said Baumeister, who concluded her presentation with one question, which she said requires a response from everyone, whether or not they would be considered a designer by trade.

“What world will you design?”

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