This past weekend I [Brian Mathews] attended the excellent RMI 2009 Conference. RMI is the Rocky Mountain Institute, which is a non-profit think-tank formed in 1982 concerned with promoting an economically favorable path towards sustainable design and energy efficiency. As founder Amory Lovins puts it: "It is cheaper to save fuel than to buy fuel, and your investment returns are guaranteed."
Autodesk's CEO, Carl Bass, was on an all-star panel with Amory Lovins, and several other luminaries I'll blog about later.
One panelist was Janine Benyus, a founder of the Biomimicry Institute (third from the right in the picture). What is Biomimicry? it is the idea that many of the design challenges you face every day have already been solved by 3.8 Billion years of evolution. Janine's great idea is that while biologists have tons of information about organisms, that information was organized by organism rather than by function. She started the non-profit Ask Nature to organize the biology world's data in a form more useful to designers, engineers, and architects: by function for industry.
Need a non-toxic way to color the outside of your home? Need a way to deal with rainwater? How do I keep pipes from clogging? What's the most lightweight shape for a car that is still strong? All these questions can be answered by gaining inspiration from organisms who have field tested the approach for 3.8 billion years. So if you have a design challenge, why not Ask Nature? And if you find a solution, be sure to thank a Genius (a living organism who gave you the inspiration).
After the panel, I got to spend 90 minutes talking to Janine and hearing the most incredible examples of how various organisms have solved industrial problems. One client of theirs had industrial pipes that were eventually clogging due to scale that formed inside. She helped them learn how seashells form, and more importantly how organisms stop their shells from growing once the desired shape is realized. The chemistry in pipes is almost the same, and now there is a natural protein that keeps the pipes clear.
Every time I meet Janine I come away energized and inspired. Check out her TED videos too.