An Introduction to Life’s Principles

by Rebecca MacKinnon | Originally published by the Biomimicry Institute

Dear biomimics, enthusiasts, changemakers,

As you are reading this — maybe with a cup of coffee in hand, or with a breeze coming through the window — you are a part of an intricate and exquisite system of systems. Everything around you (and within you) is working, rather sneakily, to maintain the careful balance that keeps us all alive.

Biomimicry recognizes the wonder and wisdom within those silent symbioses and encourages us to take note. After years of study and appreciation, biomimics have started to see patterns and repetitions emerging across organisms and ecosystems; like a blueprint that can be applied to specific scales, systems and contexts. These patterns form strategies that have been tried and tested through 3.8 billion years of evolution. They now represent generic principles, borrowed from nature, that can be translated to human design.

They are Life’s Principles!

The Life’s Principles of biomimicry reveal the deep patterns in Nature that lead to successful and sustainable existence on this planet. They are a distillation of the consistently repeated principles within just about every organism and ecosystem on Earth. Life’s Principles reveal how Nature overcomes disturbance, adapts to change, and prolongs existence on an ever-changing landscape. A blueprint that now, more than ever, we need to put into practice.

There are six overarching Life’s Principles, each with a set of sub-principles. They are specific to and honor Earth’s operating conditions: recognizing the limits and boundaries, resources, cycles, and dynamics of this planet we call home.

As depicted in the circular diagram (created by Biomimicry 3.8), life creates conditions to life by evolving to survive; adapting to changing conditions; being locally attuned and responsive; using life-friendly chemistry; being resource efficient; and by integrating development with growth. These principles are exemplified everywhere in Nature! Right now, your body is locally attuned and responsive to the heat of your mug or cool breeze against your skin; the birds outside are using resources efficiently by building nests from the twigs and grasses they find strewn across the soil; the plants are capturing energy from the sun and using life-friendly chemistry to turn sunshine into sugar; seedlings are growing cell by cell, as they build themselves into trees and integrate development with their growth; perhaps the leaves are starting to turn, or the buds of spring are starting to form, as Nature adapts to the changing conditions of the seasons and evolves to survive. You see? Everywhere.

What Nature gets right (and we humans still need to work on) is the application of Life’s Principles as a whole.For example, industries recognize the benefits that come from utilizing available resources and using them efficiently, but are still stuck using harmful chemical processes and single-use products that fill up landfills and degrade natural ecosystems. Nature will instead use readily available materials and energy, to create something that can return back to the environment, to be used again and again without losing value. Sustainability-focused designers are beginning to utilize the sun, wind, and soil, but often still largely rely on single energy sources and monocultures to fuel our homes and bodies. Nature will instead incorporate diversity, redundancy, and decentralization to ensure it can integrate the unexpected and respond to change without becoming vulnerable.

Life’s Principles demystify Nature’s resilience and show us how we could learn to fit in on this planet. If applied to our designs, systems, and economic models, they could help us create a future that is resilient and regenerative. To have such a concise and applicable set of tools is a hugely valuable asset when it comes to practicing biomimicry! We have to thank the committed researchers, designers, and biomimics over at Biomimicry 3.8 for creating this fantastic tool! It’s taken years of consolidation, a few iterations, and a whole heap of biological literature to produce.

So now that you’ve finished your cup of tea, or that breeze has encouraged you to get outside, take a closer look at the things you see, and maybe you’ll start to recognize a blueprint. Either way, be sure to stay tuned for more articles from us. We’re elated to be able to pass on this wisdom and highlight the principles of life that can help us redesign our future.

If you’d like to learn more about Biomimicry’s Life’s Principles, we’d encourage you to take a look at Learn Biomimicry’s Life’s Principles course — created by BiomimicrySA in partnership with ReWild Africa and the Biomimicry Institute! The course is full of examples and applications that you can use to familiarize yourself with all six principles and their sub-principles.

Rebecca Barbara MacKinnon is a trained and practiced bio-inspiration specialist, with a Masters degree in Bio-inspired Innovation and a Biomimicry Practitioner Certification. She is not only inspired by nature’s brilliance but also passionate about protecting it. With experience in design thinking, human-nature interactions, biophilia and wellbeing, she works on co-creating effective and sustainable solutions to today’s pressing design challenges.

The Biomimicry Institute empowers people to create nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet. www.biomimicry.org