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Photo: everst, Shutterstock

Meet a Biomimic: Colleen Mahoney

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.

If you heard about the great BioBlitz of the Americas earlier this month, then you might be familiar with our next guest for the Meet a Biomimic series: Colleen Mahoney. Colleen is a principal architect, and as a parent and a recognized advocate for sustainable building practices, she has set a new standard for family-focused residential architecture with hundreds of projects to date. Beyond her work, Colleen spends her time fostering a community of nature lovers as the co-director (along with biomimicry specialist AJ Wacaser) of the Coastal Redwood Biomimicry Network. She continues to share her love and passion for the natural world by teaching kids and adults alike, encouraging them to contribute to the health and well-being of our planet. Read on to learn more about her path and what she aims to accomplish.

5 Questions with Colleen Mahoney, co-founder of the Coastal Redwood Biomimicry Network

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Tell us about how you first learned about biomimicry. What was your biomimicry “aha” moment?

I first learned about biomimicry through a document I received promoting the Bioneers annual conference in Marin County, CA. I read a short blurb about a Biomimicry Specialist (BSpec) training that was forthcoming — and I was intrigued about studies that would link biology and design. I studied marine biology prior to majoring in architecture in college, so I felt this really called out to me. How could I ignore the chance to study design and nature? I trusted my instincts and signed up to participate in the third cohort… little did I know what was ahead!

My first “aha” experiences occurred as I turned page after page, reading through Janine’s book, Biomimicry : Innovation Inspired by Nature. My curiosity was sparked. Then I had a continuous stream of epiphanies as I walked through the redwoods with Sherry and Erin during our first BSpec immersive. My biomimicry “aha” moments keep rolling in as I continue to learn from the biomimicry courses for the M.S. through ASU and (re)connect with nature. I find that doing a bioblitz is a great way to get exposed to nature and share as citizen scientists, so I often host walks with our Coastal Redwood Biomimicry Network (If you would like to learn how to bioblitz, check out our guide here).

What is your current job and how do you incorporate biomimicry into your work or life?

I have been the principal architect of an architectural practice for thirty years and I have worked on many projects incorporating sustainable design practices. We will look for opportunities to weave biomimicry into the work of the firm. Even as a professional, I have always continued to search for learning opportunities. Just last year I received an Executive Master’s in Sustainability Leadership from ASU as part of the Global Institute of Sustainability. From there, I continued my education with ASU’s new Biomimicry M.S. program. For now, I am happy being a student of biomimicry but I will be looking for more opportunities to utilize my biomimicry training this year.

How did you get to where you are today? What paths led you to biomimicry?

The path that led me to biomimicry was a result of my interest in the spiritual side of design and my belief that each building we create needs to belong to its site and to the people who will use it. I think Janine describes this best when she is talking about cities being generous. As a part of my engagement with the “green” building community, I attended courses and learning experiences with like-minded people and this, in turn, led me back to my roots and enthusiasm for biology.

How are you making an impact?

I will be a part of the biomimicry community that will lead the next revolution of change. I plan to continue to work with kids and teach them about environmental conservation and awareness. I look forward to building the Coastal Redwood Biomimicry Network and to organizing more events like our recent Bioblitz of the Americas. Recently, I have taken a role in leading the Kid’s Green Team at Jefferson Elementary in Berkeley — we just finished putting in a rainwater catchment system and an all-native pollination garden. This is an exciting hands-on learning activity for the kids and makes for a great legacy project. It has been an amazing and rewarding project, coordinating and working with all of the kids and parent volunteers. To those looking to enter the field of biomimicry, here’s my advice: take the leap! Go out there and take some of the classes offered through ASU or join a week-long immersive. Reach out to your regional networks and get involved. And above all, get outdoors!

What kind of people are you looking to collaborate with?

As far as collaboration in the future, I am looking to link up with nature lovers, naturalists, biologists, educators and designers to spread the biomimicry meme. I hope to surround myself with people with big dreams who are working to make them come to life. I still have a dream of making life-friendly toys for kids and leading the toy industry away from using materials that are toxic to our environment and future generations. I founded and direct A Kid by Nature for the sake of this dream, and I will continue to introduce collaborative and hands-on lessons for K-6 to build environmental awareness. The organization leads children outdoors, demonstrating the benefits of playing in nature while encouraging children to feel a strong commitment to caring for our earth. And most of all, A Kid By Nature supports having fun while we learn.

Lastly, a big shout out to all of those who participated in the All America’s Bioblitz from Guatemala to Argentina to Austin, Phoenix, and San Diego! Let’s all reconnect again!

Originally published at on January 29, 2016.

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

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