In the time since Janine Benyus’ book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature was published in 1997, biomimicry has emerged as a thriving discipline, inspiring thousands to build their careers and lives around nature-inspired design. In a new blog series called Meet a Biomimic, we aim to introduce the individuals that make up this movement. From thought leaders to those just learning how to ‘ask nature,’ this community is full of talented, passionate, and smart innovators who are making revolutionary change in all corners of the world. Find out what drives them and how they’re working to build a more regenerative future.
In the second edition of Meet a Biomimic, we introduce you to Alexandra Ramsden. Alexandra is the co-founder of Biomimicry Puget Sound, a Seattle-based biomimicry network that is currently working on projects in the built environment (check out a blog post that Alexandra co-wrote for AskingNature about this work). Read on to hear Alexandra’s advice about how to incorporate biomimicry into your work and learn how her ideal biomimetic superpower would not only be super cool, but would help solve urban density problems, too.
5 Questions with Alexandra Ramsden —
What is your current job and how do you incorporate biomimicry into your work or life?
I am a Principal and Director of Sustainability at Rushing in Seattle. In this role, I lead the sustainability consulting services for the company, providing consulting for sustainability strategy development, sustainability certification management and administration (LEED, Built Green, Living Building Challenge, and others), charrette facilitation, curriculum development, and cost-benefit analyses.
The concept of looking to nature for answers feels intuitive once it’s discovered so, when it makes sense, I weave this into project team brainstorming sessions on the design and construction of buildings. I find the success of this approach comes with using the right language to communicate the concept of biomimicry (i.e. not always using the word, “biomimicry”) and in meeting our clients and/or architects where they are. We seek to look for opportunities to align it with a common goal or purpose and look for project benefits of applying learnings from nature to the design.
It gives me goosebumps to see the dramatic shift this can bring to a discussion and the innovation that biomimicry unveils when striving towards more resilient, sustainable buildings!
How did you get to where you are today? What paths led you to biomimicry?
My path was quite circuitous and definitely not intentional but all serendipitously added up to the ideal background for what I’m doing today. I started out by studying physics in college, followed by design, and landed in a job designing retail stores. This is the line of work I continued with for 10 years, while constantly seeking opportunities to incorporate more sustainable practices into my designs.
Over seven years ago, I made the shift into sustainability consulting. Just before this formal change, I had the pleasure of seeing Franco Lodato’s presentation on his design of a greatly improved ice axe which mimicked the pivoting motion of a woodpecker. From that point on, I was hooked on the idea of looking to nature for answers. Following this introduction to biomimicry, I saw Janine Benyus speak a few times, read her book, took a biomimicry workshop/training session and founded our local network, Biomimicry Puget Sound.
Once I began to gain a better understanding of biomimicry, a few organizations invited me to speak on the topic. This is when I realized the great hunger for more biomimicry learning in our region which wasn’t being satisfied. This and my passion for biomimicry triggered me to find some great co-founders and start Biommicry Puget Sound. Now the network gives biomimicry enthusiasts a place to gather, share ideas, learn and work together to apply biomimicry to design.
What advice do you have for others who are looking to enter the field of biomimicry or hoping to incorporate it into their work?
As I began to describe above, I find the greatest success incorporating biomimicry into my work when I meet people where they are. Find a common thread in your passions and start there. Don’t try to push biomimicry on anyone. Simply find areas where a project or design could truly benefit by looking to nature for answers. Think about how a project could save money by doing this, or benefit human health, or increase marketing potential, or add to the overall value of the task or project at hand. This is where the learning and “aha” moments arise. Then once the success is witnessed, you’ve created at least one other biomimicry advocate in the world.
How are you making an impact?
Looking at how much impact one is making in the building and construction world is always a challenge as it never feels like enough. That said, the greatest reward I reap from the part I play in the industry is the shift in developers’ or architects’ mindsets after we’ve spent a few years working together. The recognition that I can sometimes provide enough new sustainability education and positive outcomes to impact the way they approach their next project is a large part of what brings me to work every day. A few of my clients have proceeded with more aggressive sustainability goals in their next endeavor because I taught them how beneficial and simple it can be. I’d like to think these small shifts are having a combined greater impact on our region’s approach to building and construction. Having worked on 200+ buildings in the last 7 years, here’s hoping.
If you could have any biomimetic super power, what would it be and why?
Well that’s easy. I’d have the ability to adhere to walls and ceilings like a gecko (Spiderman style). Think of the efficiency of space I would have in my house if I could use all six surfaces comfortably (though it may cause a problem when my furniture doesn’t stick to the walls in the same way). If we all had this super power, perhaps we could downsize our living spaces, solving part of the problem around urban density and minimizing the impact we have on the few remaining pristine, untouched landscapes of the world.