Nature’s Wisdom: How Biomimicry Can Help Us Build a Sustainable Future
By Daniel Adaji
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our human-made systems and the urgent need to rethink our relationship with nature.
As we face the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, we can no longer afford to ignore the lessons that nature has to offer.
Biomimicry is an approach that focuses on finding sustainable, resilient, and adaptable solutions by emulating nature’s strategies and designs. We know there are 3.8 billion years of natural evolution. From this, we can discover how to deal with contemporary problems in a creative way.
Nigeria’s biodiversity is high and as such, the country could benefit from mimicking her natural ecosystem. Most of the solutions available to solving the environmental problems in the country as it is today would always result in yet another problem in environment.
For example, while attempting to cut down on the use of fossil fuel, the country is proposing the use of Condensed Natural Gas, CNG in vehicles.
While this is a very good innovation, in itself, it does not solve the problem because the burnt gas would also send carbon emissions to the environment thereby depleting the ozone layer.
Urban development had resulted in the purchase of heavy machineries deployed for use in both industrial and residential apartments.
For instance, the use of air conditioning systems, refrigerators etc produce Chloro Floro Carbon, CFC which causes depletion of the Ozone layer and by extension impact the earth’s biodiversity.
Experts and environmental advocates have advised that to have a more sustainable environment, there is need to be more innovative and intentional about the solutions we provide and biomimicry is one of the innovations we need to adopt for a sustainable future.
According to Dr. Adenike Akinsemolu, a Vanguard Fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK in a report on biodiversity and climate change presented to the BioverseNG workshop held in Nigeria, Biomimicry which is the imitation of natural biological designs helps to safe guard the environment from destruction.
“Biomimicry is not just about copying nature’s forms, but also understanding its functions and principles. It is about asking: how does nature solve problems? How does nature create value? How does nature optimize resources? How does nature foster cooperation and diversity?”
One of the areas where biomimicry can have a significant impact is the built environment.
Buildings and cities consume a large amount of energy and materials, and generate a lot of waste and pollution. Biomimicry can help us design buildings and cities that are more efficient, circular, and regenerative.
For example, architect Michael Pawlyn, the founder of Exploration Architecture, has been inspired by nature to create projects such as the Sahara Forest Project, which uses seawater and solar energy to produce food, water, and energy in desert regions; the Biomimetic Office Building, which mimics the structure and function of a giant cactus to reduce cooling demand and water consumption; and the Biomimetic Carbon Capture, which uses algae to capture carbon dioxide and produce biofuels.
Pawlyn believes that we can use biomimicry to create buildings and cities that not only have a neutral impact, but a positive one. He says: “We can get to a point where architecture is actually producing a positive impact.
Another example of biomimicry in the built environment is the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, which is modeled after the self-cooling mounds of termites.
The building uses passive ventilation and thermal mass to maintain a comfortable temperature without air conditioning, saving 90% of energy costs.
According to Pwalyn, Biomimicry can also help us create new materials that are more sustainable and biodegradable.
For instance, Blue Planet, a company that mimics the natural process of coral formation, produces a carbon-negative concrete that sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Another example is Ecovative, a company that grows biodegradable packaging and insulation materials from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms.
Biomimicry is not limited to the built environment, but can also be applied to other sectors such as energy, transportation, agriculture, health, and education.
Some of the examples of biomimicry in these sectors are:
Energy: The artificial leaf, which mimics the photosynthesis of plants to produce hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight; the whale power, which mimics the tubercles on the humpback whale’s flippers to increase the efficiency and performance of wind turbines.
Transportation: The Shinkansen bullet train, which mimics the beak of the kingfisher bird to reduce noise and air resistance; the boxfish car, which mimics the aerodynamic shape and bony structure of the boxfish to reduce drag and weight.
Agriculture: The biomimetic irrigation system, which mimics the fog-harvesting abilities of the Namib desert beetle to collect water from the air; the biomimetic pest control, which mimics the chemical signals of insects to attract or repel them.
Health: The gecko tape, which mimics the adhesive properties of the gecko’s feet to create a reusable and biocompatible tape; the sharklet, which mimics the micro-patterns of the shark’s skin to prevent bacterial growth on surfaces.
Education: The biomimicry curriculum, which integrates the principles and practices of biomimicry into various subjects and levels of education; the biomimicry challenge, which engages students and professionals in solving real-world problems using biomimicry.
Biomimicry is not only a way of designing and innovating, but also a way of thinking and living. It is a way of reconnecting with nature and appreciating its beauty and wisdom.
It is a way of fostering a culture of curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. It is a way of building a sustainable future for ourselves and the planet.
As biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus says: “Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature. In a society accustomed to dominating or ‘improving’ nature, this respectful imitation is a radically new approach, a revolution really. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, the Biomimicry Revolution introduces an era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her.”
Experts suggest that to have a healthy environment, we should be more innovative and specific with the solutions we offer. Among the innovations experts recommend include biomimicry.
Biomimicry entails emulating the approaches present in nature so as to address design related problems in human lives. However, it is not just an imitation of natural forms but their understanding and the basis of their functioning.
Biomimicry involves asking questions such as: How does nature solve problems? How does nature create value? How does nature optimize resources? What is it that allows for cooperation and diversity in nature?
Indeed, biomimicry can help in rebuilding the nature into a sustainable and regenerative built environment.
It is common knowledge that buildings, as well as entire cities consume a good amount of energy and produce a substantial share of waste and pollution.
Through studying nature’s strategies and solutions towards building and designing cities and buildings we could make them more efficient, circular and regenerative by biomimicry.