Calling on Biologists to Share Nature’s Solutions

Calling on Biologists to Share Nature’s Solutions

From 'How To?' to 'Aha!' and other conversations about the birds and the bees

What do dolphins have to teach us about social structures? Or birds teach us about building condominiums and employee retention? What does a tuna fish have to do with the aerodynamics of a Boeing 747?

Each year principal of David Oakey Designs, David Oakey, works with freshmen biologists at the Georgia Institute of Technology to broaden their horizons, and offer a glimpse of the impact their research could have in the future.

  David Oakey

“I don’t care what your project is,” says David. “Get in front of biologists and say, Okay, this is an issue — how does nature do this?”

David is an advocate and passionate supporter of biomimicry, but when he was first challenged to adopt sustainable practices into his carpet tile designing practice, he had his doubts.

It was 1994 when founder and then president and chairman of Interface Inc., Ray Anderson began aggressively pushing for his company, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of modular carpet, to adopt sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices.

As Interface committed to becoming the first industrial manufacturing company to become sustainable, David Oakey Designs was on board for the ride, but as the team designing Interface products, David admits he “had no idea what sustainability meant.”

The first big push was to return to using all-natural ingredients, like wool and hemp, instead of synthetic fibers, to create the carpets. David started doing the math in his head and he couldn’t make it work.

The natural materials were more expensive and they didn’t perform like synthetics. And the logistics alone were mind-boggling. The amount of farmland required to generate the wool, hemp and cotton necessary to support the industry troubled him.

  Carpet inspired by nature.

“Then the light bulb went off. Okay, we have to take this material and change the whole system of how we use it — then it all just fell into place,” says David.

It was the beginning of his passion for biomimicry, and turning to nature for inspiration and direction to create sustainable systems and design principles.

He says people need to think about their own jobs, whether it’s marketing, design or manufacturing, and consider how they can be inspired by nature.

“Whether it’s small or a major leap, ask nature, 'Okay, what would nature do here?' ” recommends David.

David has a few strategies that help him draw inspiration from natural systems. One is building a list of two columns and comparing them. He’ll write how humans have worked on a project in one column and then how nature approaches that same idea, and compare them.

“Then just look at the two columns and you start to see the inspiration.”

Read more about the economic benefits realized by adopting biomimicry in his designs.

Read more on biomimicry as an economic game-changer.

Calls to Action

1. Biomimicry can show us how to build resilience and cultures of innovation throughout our various systems. What's such a notion spark for you? If you want to learn more, check out Biomimicry 3.8. You could also add a thought or question below, and we'll do our best to add clarity or other ideas that might be helpful.

2. But there’s biomimicry, and then there’s the idea of an economic and social transition. What’s it all about? What are other features, tools, fields of action? Axiom News is committed to further journalistic exploration of these and related questions. If you want to become of this somehow, send us a note and we can set up a chat to discuss co-creation possibilities.

3. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. We will be using these hashtags for the biomimicry news feature: #NewEconomy, #Biomimicry, #BlueEconomy, #Resilience, #Innovation, #Biophilic

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Ryan Rogers

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