Our generation of Clevelanders is blessed with the legacy of foreclosures, brownfields, industrial abandonment, vacant land, shrinking population numbers, unemployment and economic instability. Although the present outlook of this reality is not good, it presents us with the opportunity for greatness.
Instead of tossing up our hands, many of us who have chosen to stay in Greater Cleveland are changing our perspective in order to change our reality. As Albert Einstein put it so beautifully, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So how can we think differently than we have in the past to surmount the challenges before us?
Many people are looking to the experts for help. These experts have 3.8 billion years of experience in research and development. Some of these experts include geckos, lotus leaves, termite mounds, old growth forests and glow worms. The natural world that surrounds us is the secret to survival—because what didn’t work, what wasn’t appropriate and what couldn’t last is now a fossil.
Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, wrote that, “Nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved the problems we are struggling to solve.” In her 1997 book, she established the thesis that human beings should emulate or take inspiration from nature’s designs and processes to solve human problems (e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf), a process she dubbed “biomimicry.”
It is true that humans have an incredible capacity to create great things both big and small, but what nature has over us is that (as Benyus put it), “In short, living things have done everything we want to do, without guzzling fossil fuel, polluting the planet or mortgaging their future. What better models could there be?”
If we would like to change the design of our future in order to better align our lifestyles with the health of our fellow humans and planet, perhaps we should ask the question, “What would nature do?”
BUILDING NORTHEAST OHIO’S BIOMIMICRY HUB
Janine Benyus came to Cleveland this June and spent the day with 47 local leaders from a diverse array of industries brainstorming how Northeast Ohio can develop the world’s first Biomimicry Network and launch a Biomimicry Center that could make this region a hub of biomimetic innovation.
The event, led by Entrepreneurs for Sustainability and the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, allowed participants the opportunity to imagine and propose possibilities for the Biomimicry Center. Some were excited about a physical center where people could go to learn from artifacts and exhibits, finding information, one another, and even consulting services. Others thought it might not be a single center, but various “nodes” of activity around Northeast Ohio that could collaborate and share information. Another plan was to develop a website where people could find information, digital artifacts, and a network.
Regardless of what form the Biomimicry Center may take, Benyus offered the resources of both the national Biomimicry Guild and Institute to support this project, which could be the first center for biomimicry outside of the Biomimicry Guild’s headquarters in Montana.
The Biomimicry Network that stemmed from this event includes thought leaders, product designers, scientists, architects, engineers, company owners, foundation trustees, non-profit directors and many others. By starting the flow of information and learning, the network hopes to pollinate this region and others with biomimetic thinking.
The overarching goal is to put Northeast Ohio on the map as a global hub for innovation and design. We have the organizations, universities and industries to support this project that locals believe will boost regional economic development. We can make our city the place to go to learn about and implement biomimicry.
How will we get there? By connecting with one another, learning from the information of others (including nature), and then just doing it.
For more information, visit the following websites: www.biomimicryguild.com, www.biomimicryinstitute.org, www.asknature.org, www.e4s.org/content/biomimicry_network.asp and www.e4s.org/content/biomimicry.asp.
*This article has been published in the Aug-Sept ’09 issue of EcoWatch Journal.
[Photo from www.inhabitat.com]