A Look Back at 2021
by Beth Rattner | Originally published by the Biomimicry Institute
Of the many gardening and permaculture classes I took, a few phrases stick with me and one is particularly top of mind: some plants will “sleep, creep, then leap” in terms of growth. It looks like nothing is happening while roots and mycelium dance below the surface, then one spring there’s a bit more foliage, then a couple years later it’s got a huge presence. What we’re seeing is the early “creep” in our work, the manifestation of years of setting down roots: Ask Nature is being used by more students and educators; those students are growing up to become the university lab innovators that will one day join our Biomimicry Launchpad; and those students will shape the radically-new sustainability companies that get to be honored with the Ray of Hope Prize recognition. And some of their innovations — or they themselves — will help transform entire sectors of industry, like the work we are doing with fashion around Design for Decomposition.
If you can, watch the David Attenborough documentary, The Year Earth Changed. As Dr. Heidi Pearson says so well, “This pandemic can help us take a step back and assess the kind of relationship humans want to have with the natural world.” The sentiment is one we share and is at the heart of biomimicry. The role of biomimetic innovation isn’t just to help us create more elegant, efficient products and services, it is fundamentally about helping humans fit in with the other 8 million species on the planet and to stop being the big bullies on campus.
We are proud of the major accomplishments we’ve achieved over the past year. Here is a snapshot of what we’ve been up to — made possible by the generous support of our global community. To read the full impact in our 2021 Year in Review report, visit biomimicry.org/impact.
Inspiring with Nature’s Wisdom
Have you checked out the new AskNature.org yet? If not, you are in for a treat. In addition to its revamped look, the world’s largest open access living library of biological strategies includes even more detailed and engaging content, making it easier for anyone, anywhere to learn from and connect with nature.
Transforming Educational Experiences with Biomimicry
Youth Design Challenge
2021 was a record year for the Youth Design Challenge (YDC), our project-based biomimicry learning experience for middle and high school students, with the widest reach and highest participation across the globe featuring incredible submissions addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The Challenge provides educators of all types with a framework to introduce biomimicry as an interdisciplinary lens for exploration and problem solving — within and beyond the classroom. As the bridge from core concepts to advanced, project-focused learning, the YDC also sparks curiosity and ingenuity in students, turning learners into nature-inspired makers. By training students to address local challenges and introducing them to social and emotional learning, we are helping them pave a pathway toward sustainability-focused career endeavors.
In 2021, we collaborated with the Green Schools National Network to develop new nature-inspired design experiences for elementary school students. These K-5 lessons uniquely incorporate biomimicry core concepts connected to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), English Language Arts (ELA) standards, and Math standards, along with social and emotional learning core competencies.
Advancing Nature-Inspired Solutions
Ray of Hope Prize
This year’s Ray of Hope Prize cohort made it clear that we are achieving our goal of finding the most promising nature-inspired startups in the world. New program elements, expanded mentor network, and the introduction of life-friendly chemistry assessments aided in accelerating their growth prospects beyond what we’ve been able to do in year’s past. We look forward to seeing their solutions to pollution, climate change, toxic materials, and so many more critical issues continue to gain hold in the marketplace.
While the Biomimicry Launchpad has historically provided sustainable business skills and communications training to early-stage, nature-inspired entrepreneurs, we will be shifting the initiative to focus primarily on helping scientists and researchers. We’ve long known that too many solutions to humanity’s biggest challenges remain in the lab because scientists and researchers do not receive the necessary entrepreneurship and sustainable business training to do so. Now, we are ultra-focused on such efforts, and the potential it has for the scientific community and world at large.
Global Design Challenge
From 2018–2021, the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge provided an opportunity for university students and young professionals to gain hands-on experience with biomimicry — to do design, not just study it. While we made the difficult decision to close the Challenge, we and the participants have much to celebrate. Each of the top teams from 2021 has been invited to further their designs and entrepreneurship journey as part of our Biomimicry Launchpad.
New Initiative: Transforming Industry
Design for Decomposition
In 2019, Douwe Jan Joustra, Head of Circular Transformation for C&A Foundation (now Laudes Foundation) asked us a simple but not easy question, “If the fashion industry were to operate like a natural ecosystem, what would have to change?” Our answer culminated in the Nature of Fashion report, which essentially stated that brands were not yet designing for decomposition — a fundamental component to all biological systems. Moreover, the industry was failing to account for the physics law of entropy, which explains the far-flung impacts of dyes, coatings, microfibers (microplastics), and other manufacturing pollutants. In the report, we identified how both decomposition technologies and local, regenerative fiber creation already existed today, but the dots needed to be connected.
The Laudes Foundation is now providing catalytic funding for a two-year initiative that will demonstrate scalable new pathways for the ~92 million tonnes of fashion waste discarded annually.
We are incredibly thankful for the support of our generous donors, our Board of Directors, partners, advisors, and the biomimicry community around the world. As our founder Janine Benyus says, “Cooperation is the most natural thing in the world.” We could not do what we do without you, a group so committed to this mission.
P.S. If you would consider donating to the Biomimicry Institute today, you’ll be helping us kickstart our 2022 goals of creating and advancing more nature-inspired innovators than ever before.
Beth Rattner directs the Institute’s strategic vision, managing the organization’s program development, fundraising, and marketing efforts. She speaks publicly on how biomimetic design in products, cities, and agriculture can bring about a new level of resilience to our economy and ecosystem, which in turn spur new levels of social equity.