By Tamsin Woolley-Barker, Ph.D
This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of being a part of the 7th Annual Biomimicry Education Summit, and the first ever Biomimicry 3.8 Global Conference, hosted together by the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
The event was well-attended by over 350 dedicated, talented, and far-thinking teachers, designers, architects, biologists, industrialists, and policy-makers from across the globe. All were focused on one burning question. “How can humans create conditions conducive to life?” Not just sustainable economies, cities, and manufacturing, but a regenerative way of life that creates biodiversity instead of destroying it.
What’s the big idea?
Over the course of three intense and exciting days, three major themes emerged:
- How would nature design buildings and cities that fulfill the ecosystem services of the original habitats they replaced?
- How would nature design the materials we use to build them?
- How would nature redesign our whole economy to encourage such regeneration?
Daunting questions, to be sure, but the conference’s exceptional speakers rose to the occasion and then some.
Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry (the book that shaped and named the movement in 1997), and co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8, kicked off the conference by presenting the concept of “Generous Cities.” She described the complex living networks we find at every level of biology: between and among genes and cells, proteins and polymers, organisms and species. These systems have been shaped by natural selection over billions of years into the densely intertwined collaborative web of “mutualism” that we call Life.
Living networks emerge from the complex interactions of all the players, and yield optimal exchanges of energy and information. These ecosystems are much more than the sum of their parts. Benyus held up “the highly interconnected mushroom mycelia that courses throughout our soil” as an example. This dense living network shares nutrients, water, and even “alarm signals” triggered by insect predation, between and among the trees, shrubs, and fungus, nurturing a robust and richly productive ecosystem with abundance for all.
And really, isn’t that what we want to accomplish on a global scale, in our cities, economies, food production, and manufacturing?
Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker is an evolutionary biologist, writer, and Biomimicry 3.8-trained sustainability and biomimicry consultant. She blogs at BioInspired Ink and serves as Content Developer for the California Association of Museums’ Green Museums Initiative. She is working on a book about organizational transformation and resilience inspired by living systems.