Principles of Biomimicry for Green Design

Jeremy Faludi’s article Biomimicry For Green Design (A How-To) on WorldChanging reviews principles designers can adopt from Nature to produce green products.

It’s easy to talk about how exciting biomimicry is, and how we’ll see more of it in the future, but it’s another thing to actually design and built things that are biomimetic. Most designers, engineers, architects, and other people who build things just don’t know that much about biology and the natural world; and even when they do, there’s often a gap of capability in available materials, manufacturing methods, and economic systems. Some of these obstacles are out of the designer’s hands, and you just have to move on to things that are more feasible. (But don’t forget your ideas; maybe ten years from now the technology will be there.) Even with existing technology, however, an enormous realm of possibilities is feasible, it just requires the right approach. Here is my attempt to describe the biomimetic approach, with a comprehensive list of principles. It combines lessons from Janine Benyus, Kevin Kelly, Steven Vogel, D’Arcy Thompson, Buckminster Fuller, Julian Vincent, and my own limited experience. I also mention at the end where biomimicry will not help you, a subject often glossed over, as well as further resources (books and schools).

General Principles

  • Waste = Food
  • Self-assemble, from the ground up
  • Evolve solutions, don’t plan them
  • Relentlessly adjust to the here & now
  • Cooperate AND compete, not just one or the other
  • Diversify to fill every niche
  • Gather energy & materials efficiently
  • Optimize the system rather than maximizing components
  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts–design for swarm
  • Use minimal energy & materials
  • “Don’t foul your nest”
  • Organize fractally
  • Chemical reactions should be in water at normal temperature & pressure
  • Vogel’s mechanical-engineering-specific principles (summarized):
    1. Nature’s factories produce things much larger, not smaller, than themselves.
      We use metals, nature never does
      Nature makes gradual transitions in structures (curves, density gradients, etc.) rather than sharp corners.
      We make things out of many components, each of which is homogeneous; nature makes things out of fewer components but they vary internally.
      We design for stiffness, nature designs for strength and toughness.
      Our mechanisms have rigid pieces moving on sliding contacts, nature bends/twists/stretches.
      Nature often uses diffusion, surface tension, and laminar flow; we often use gravity, thermal conductivity, and turbulence.
      Our engines are mostly rotary or expansive, nature’s are mostly sliding or contracting.
      Nature’s engines are isothermal.
      Nature mostly stores mechanical work as elastic energy, sometimes as gravitational potential energy.

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