Biomimicry : Waking Sleeping Beauty

Elena Azais
4 min readNov 9, 2020

Life’s been on Earth for 3.8 billion years and in that time life has learnt what works, what lasts and how to create a sustainable world. It’s time we learn from it.

Firstly, what is biomimicry?

Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature, a more expanded definition is also:

Biomimicry is the emulating of natural forms, processes and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs.

But what does this really mean? This means having a biologist and a designer working together on solving a problem asking themselves these 3 questions:

  1. How would nature (nature as model) do here?

2. What wouldn’t nature do here?

3. Why? Why not?

Instead of looking at other inventions by humans having another mentor, changing whom it is that we admire and emulate to : life’s genius.

Life’s true genius is in how its technologies contribute to the continuation of not just one life but all life on Earth. — Janine Benyus

Because these technologies have evolved in response to Earth’s directives and therefore they aren’t just clever, they give us true insight. In order to achieve this deeper understanding one must start to not only look at one specific part of a species but at it, in it’s in whole. Truly understanding the daily life of the species including all the things that make it a contributor to it’s habitat: it’s phycological, behavioural, and community strategies. This switch in our understanding of nature will, and already is, influencing design, architecture, agriculture, chemistry, energy generation, healthcare and business to make them more efficient.

But why are we only thinking about this now?

Bio-inspired designs can be found far back in time with Leonardo da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frei Otto and Buckminster Fuller. However these were only isolated instances. Janine Benyus describes this era as ‘Waking Sleeping Beauty’ referring to the fact that biomimicry isn’t new to us but that we are remembering it. I think that it’s shouldn’t go dormant again because of how much of a sophisticated system we have for the exchange of information, due to the sophisticated labs we have but most significantly because there have been several successful designs that make it more appealing, and this will only increase as more and more people are working on nature-inspired designs.

The three levels of biomimicry:

  1. The first one is the emulating of natural forms. Nothing in nature is just random, everything has one function, or multiple, and a reason behind it. This includes the shape of a box fish for example that is designed this way to decrease water resistance and that has been mimicked to produce a car model that not only weights 30% less but it’s also 20% more economical that a comparable standard-production model too.
  2. The next level is the emulating of natural processes- how things are made. How our skin self-assembles at body temperature without toxins by way of nature’s chemistry. Green chemistry attempts to mimic these benign recipes. Understanding how nature makes hard materials like mother of pearl that is 2x as tough high tech ceramics at low pressure and room temperatures. Composed of 95 per cent calcium carbonate that itself is fragile but it’s compolex structure makes cracks incredibly hard to propagate through.
  3. The third, the most fascinating one, is the mimicking of natural ecosystems. This means having an economy whose goal is to conserve rather than to destroy nature. This differentiates biomimicry with bio-utilization. Just as a leaf is part of a plant that is part of a forest that is part of a biome that is part of a sustaining biosphere; so should a box fish inspired car not be produced at mass level and distributed around the world through ships and planes otherwise it makes little difference. The whole product’s life must be sustainable, only then will we be create conditions conducive to life. This is why the third level ties all three together and it is considered the end goal for us to keep on coming back to our homes on planet Earth.

Biomimicry’s values

As we progress in the field of biomimicry we must always remember the key values at the heart of this practice: admiration of nature, respect for it and a deeply rooted feeling of humility. Biomimicry 3.8 has launched a program called Conservation that asks companies to donate money for the conservation of the species whose technologies have been studied to create a product or process. This is a brilliant example of these key values I mentioned.

If we were to use if to get help with problems but then just let in go extinct we would be right back to where we started: use nature to our advantage, simply as resource. This is why Biomimicry is closely connected with Conservation.

If we respect life’s genius then we must make sure that we are not changing the conditions these species live in and forever and cause for their extinction.

We are life’s genius

To wrap up I want to end with the notion that we are part of nature. Throughout the article it feels like we are replicating life’s genius and as if we aren’t part of it. We are. However we aren’t the only ones which is what we have been thinking for a long time and so what biomimicry encourages is the admiration of life’s genius that surrounds us, not just the human body.



Elena Azais

English Literature and Social Anthropology undergraduate student passionate about people!