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Author: Claire Janisch - Biomimicry South Africa

( Article Type: Explanation )

Definition: "Bios" means life, "Mimicry" means imitation.

Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and then emulating life’s genius to solve human problems and create more sustainable designs. Biomimicry is a branch of science, a problem-solving method, a sustainability ethos, a movement, a stance toward nature, and a new way of viewing and valuing biodiversity.

Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of life’s genius

Biomimicry implies conscious forethought, an active seeking of nature’s advice before something is designed. Biomimics ask the key question: What would nature do here?

‘Life’s genius,’ refers to the fact that these technologies are more than simply clever - they have the spark of true insight because they’ve evolved in response to Earth’s mandates. Life’s true genius is in how its technologies contribute to the continuation of not just one life but all life on earth.


‘Doing it nature’s way’ has the potential to change the way we grow food, make materials, harness energy, heal ourselves, store information, and conduct business. We would manufacture the way animals and plants do, using sun and simple compounds to produce totally biodegradable fibres, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals. Our farms, modelled on natural ecosystems, would be self-fertilizing and pest-resistant.

To find new medicines or crops, we would consult animals and insects that have used plants for millions of years to keep themselves healthy and nourished. We would run business within a closed-loop economy that takes its lessons from forests and coral reefs. Even computing would take its cue from nature, with software that “evolves” solutions, and hardware that uses the lock-and-key paradigm to compute by touch. “When we view nature as a source of ideas instead of goods, the rationale for protecting wild species and their habitats becomes self-evident. In the end, I think biomimicry’s greatest legacy will be more than a stronger fibre or a new medicine. It will be gratitude, and from this, an ardent desire to protect the genius that surrounds us. This shift from learning about nature to learning from nature requires a new method of inquiry, a new set of lenses, and above all, a new humility.” – Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Biomimicry introduces an era based not on what we can extract from organisms and their ecosystems, but on what we can learn from them. Instead of harvesting or domesticating, biomimics consult organisms; they are inspired by an idea, be it a physical blueprint, a process step in a chemical reaction, or an ecosystem principle such as nutrient cycling. Borrowing an idea is like copying a picture - the original image can remain to inspire others.

The Biomimicry Design Methodology: Because of its broad range, biomimicry contributes, both practically and philosophically, to many of the eco-design paradigms devised in the last 30 years, including the Natural Step, Natural Capitalism, Cradle to Cradle, Ecological Design, and Living Building Challenge. Biomimicry is what you do on Monday morning when you’ve committed to a sustainability framework or carbon footprint reduction, and now it’s time to actually reinvent what you make and how you make it. But products and processes are not the only human designs influenced by biomimicry. As more people see nature as a teacher rather than a warehouse, biomimicry is prompting policies that restrain our powers and allow us to say “thank you” by stewarding wild habitats. In this way, bio-inspired design is a sister meme to policy-making efforts like Biodiversity Protocols and the Precautionary Principle. The biomimicry approach seeks nature’s advice at all stages of design, from scoping, creation, to evaluation. Working with ‘biologists at the design table,’ innovators explore the true functions they want their design to accomplish, and then ask: what organisms or ecosystems depend for its survival on performing those functions? An ‘Amoeba through Zebra’ survey of the biological literature reveals dozens of inspiring models, their physical blueprints, chemical formulae, process descriptions, and community strategies. To infuse life’s systemic wisdom into the design of everything from carpets to cities, a list of Life’s Principles serves as an overarching scoping and evaluation tool – nature’s own eco-design checklist: Does the design use a simple set of common raw materials, procured locally, manufactured at ambient temperature and pressure, processed silently in water? At the end of their useful life, are these materials re-gathered and re-configured by other organisms, up-cycled again and again with the energy of the sun?

Biomimicry can be applied at the level of natural form, natural process and natural system.When we begin to apply biomimicry at all 3 levels, it is possible to achieve what well-adapted organisms have learned to do on Earth, which is to create conditions conducive to life. “Creating conditions conducive to life is not optional; it’s a rite of passage for any organism that manages to fit in here over the long haul. If we want to keep coming home to this place, we’ll need to learn from our predecessors how to filter air, clean water, build soil—how to keep the habitat lush and liveable. It’s what good neighbours do.” – Janine Benyus, Defining the Meme, 2009 (See biomimicry case studies at