The Natural Next Step: Building Northeast Ohio’s Biomimicry Hub as a Step Towards Redesigning Region’s Future

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?

termite mound

The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, uses biomimetic design methods inspired by the self-cooling mounds of African termites to regulate temperature year-round with dramatically less energy consumption than conventional air-conditioning and heating.

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?”


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 recent examples of biomimetic innovation, visit Janine Benyus shares nature’s designs” on

For more information, visit the following websites:,,, and

*This article has been published in the Aug-Sept ’09 issue of EcoWatch Journal.

[Photo from]


5 thoughts on “The Natural Next Step: Building Northeast Ohio’s Biomimicry Hub as a Step Towards Redesigning Region’s Future

  1. Another biomimicry idea will soon bring clean green electricity. A company called solarbotanic is set to start producing Energy harvesting trees, these natural looking artificial trees convert light, heat, sound, rain and wind energy into electricity. This product will blend in with any environment without causing damage to ecosystems, it could well become the energy of the future.

  2. Redesigning Region’s Future, it would be great if some (municipality) locals could contact Solarbotanic, as they are currently investigating production and assemble sites for future production of artificial trees and shrubs, I think Cleveland would be quiet happy to have 5 to 10.000 new jobs in the region.

  3. Hi Hank,
    What a cool idea! I looked up Solarbotanic, and found this press release (, if others are out there reading this who are interested. I would like to know how new this technology is, who is using it, how efficient it is (does it work?), and how the public would respond to having artificial trees all over the place if we were to adopt this type of technology.

    This seems very futuristic and exciting. Thanks for reading and commenting, Hank!


  4. Hello Marianne, maybe write a blog about it on your page, perhaps some people wake-up and see his as an opportunity to get this exciting business/products to Cleveland?

  5. Hi Alex,
    Thanks for commenting! To be honest, I don’t feel like I know enough about Solarbotanic to write a blog post about it. I would be more than happy, however, to post a comment that you write about it.
    Like I said in my last comment, there are still a few things that I would like to know about Solarbotanic. I would like to know how new this technology is, who is using it, how efficient it is (does it work?), and how the public would respond to these artificial trees (let’s do some good old-fashioned stakeholder engagement!).

    Hope to hear from you again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s