How to Parlay a Passion for Biomimicry into a Real Job

The following article was originally published on the Net Impact Blog.

Q&A with 2012 Net Impact Conference speaker Asheen Phansey

Asheen Phansey fills us in on how his passion for sustainable design fuels his career path and his role at the upcoming 2012 Net Impact Conference.

Why would a former Eagle Scout with a passion for protecting fragile ecosystems go from running his own sustainability consultancy to working for a software company? For 2012 Net Impact Conference speaker Asheen Phansey, it came down to the possibility for impact.

“I realized that I could leverage the awesome SolidWorks community,” says Asheen, “to spread our sustainable design message far more widely than I could do alone – over 150,000 companies and 1.7 million students and professionals use our 3D design software to make products.” That’s a big impact.

So after building his own sustainability consultancy, Asheen accepted a role as Sustainability Product Manager at SolidWorks, a product design software company. He also serves as the North American Sustainability Leader for its parent company, Dassault Systemes. We recently caught up with Asheen via email to hear more about his work in sustainable design and biomimicry, and how his Net Impact experience has influenced it.

Net Impact: Tell us more about biomimicry, the topic of your upcoming session, Biomimicry: Designing Products and Enterprises Inspired by Nature?

Asheen Phansey: Biomimicry is the systematic application of nature’s basic principles to human design. It’s very powerful to use natural inspiration to design products, but it’s even more critical to design value ecosystems that leverage the rules of their natural counterparts, rather than creating more material consumption-centric linear value chains.

We have destroyed much of what nature maintained sustainably for 3.8 billion years in just the 250 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and we sorely need real business innovation to get back to existing sustainably.

NI: So tell us a bit more about your role at Dassault and some of the challenges you face in your day-to-day job.

AP: As Sustainable Project Manager, it’s truly exciting to know that by building tools for and teaching people about sustainable design, we have the potential to actually make a significant dent in the carbon footprint of the world.

I’m challenged every day with educating people about sustainable innovation; misconceptions abound. Ultimately, every company that adopts sustainability does so for a different set of reasons: quality, competitiveness, cost savings, staying ahead of regulatory pressures, customer insistence, brand image, talent acquisition and retention, core company philosophy. My task is to find that driver for each customer.

NI: Why should non-scientists care about sustainable design?

AP: Science and technology is not the limiting factor in creating a sustainable world, nor can we do so through technology alone, as many non-scientists believe. Sustainability isn’t itself a technology – it’s a mindset. Scientists have given us tools like Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and biomimicry, but it’s up to us to build the business infrastructure, political will, and cultural norms to create a restorative society – and it must happen in our lifetimes.

NI: You’ve been a Net Impact member for many years now, and served as the vice president of Net Impact Boston. What impact has your membership had on the work you do and how you do it?

AP: Quite simply, being a part of the Net Impact Boston leadership team was the single most important factor in launching my own sustainability career.

I relied on this network when I started my sustainable innovation consultancy (I can trace 100% of my consulting and speaking revenue from the first year directly to a Net Impact event); in securing my current sustainability position (my company approached me based on recommendations from friends I can trace back to Net Impact); and in getting the opportunity to teach as an Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Entrepreneurship at Babson College (the first MBA course I designed and taught started as a talk at the 2007 Net Impact Conference).

Being an active participant in Net Impact has given me a springboard to a career as a sustainability leader, led to speaking opportunities around the world, and introduced me to a wonderful group of lifelong friends. I’m enjoying giving back now as an adviser to the current leaders on the Net Impact Boston board.

Net Impact: What are you most excited to share with attendees at the 2012 Net Impact Conferece?

AP: The Net Impact Conference is a magical mix of experienced veterans and fresh new faces. There’s no other event where I can mingle with sustainability leaders from multinational corporations and the young people with the ideas that will change the world and our industry out from under us.

I’m excited to share a simple message: everyone can be a sustainability professional! Just by attending the conference and staying involved, you’re already well on the way. Be sure to find me at the conference and tell me about your own path to a sustainability career.


Hear more from Asheen and more thought-provoking speakers at the 2012 Net Impact Conference, the premier event for students and professionals using their careers for good, taking place in Baltimore, Maryland this October 25-27.  

Net Impact 2010 will be hosted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Stay tuned for coverage!

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