India enters summer and has been recording one of the highest temperatures in decades across cities. Whether ice-creams are part of the day or not, air conditioners have become indispensable. Sadly, air conditioners are one of the most unsustainable innovations of humankind for they emit ozone-depleting substances into the atmosphere. Though air conditioners may temporarily relieve us of the heat, in the long run we are warming the planet every time we switch it on.
We as a species, the homo sapiens, have over centuries learned the art of protecting ourselves at the cost of the environment which has inevitably led to climate change and us acquiring, in the words of Richard Dawkins, the ‘selfish gene’. This raises a curious question: how do other animals that have lived on this planet humans have exploited for years, counter the heat? How do termites fight the heat in the desert in their mounds and how do giraffes not sweat despite living in warm and arid regions of the globe? If we throw our minds into understanding how nature works, we will learn to protect ourselves and nature, without compromising one for another, paving the way for sustainable living.
Nature is a tool for human development and taking inspiration from nature enables the establishment of a balanced relationship. One such way to bring sustainable development is by adopting the science of biomimicry.
Biomimicry: Imitating nature
Mimicking ideas from our environment through engineering creates a medium to resolve human needs in a sustainable and nature-friendly manner. Such technology that comes into existence by learning and copying natural processes is called biomimicry. For example, the spider’s web-spinning method is nature’s way to deter collisions and the spider’s technique can be used by man to spin silk and other materials.
Architecture from the 6th and 7th centuries are probably some of the olden day examples wherein biomimicry was used. Much of the rock sculptures and wood carvings present today from centuries ago incorporate natural beauty into the structures. The interiors at the Gloucester Cathedral in the United Kingdom represent rib-like structures that were inspired by tree forms. Similarly, the columns of the Temple of Luxor in Egypt are inspired by the buds of a papyrus tree. The pillars of the rock-cut caves of Aurangabad, India take inspiration from lotus. However, much of the architecture took only inspiration from nature in terms of the design but did not consciously aim to incorporate the sustainable processes. Nevertheless, the fact that architectural designs had a component of natural beauty shows that the aspect of biomimicry has been existent for long enough.
One of the earliest human inventions through biomimicry was velcro, developed by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1941 which was inspired by burrs clinging to his trousers while going out on a walk in the woods. (Elakhya, n.d.) Biomimicry scientists with the present advancements in technology and engineering are constantly looking for materials and mechanics that nature has adopted in order to build products and machines for meeting human needs.
Some of the recent innovations using biomimicry include air-cleaning equipment inspired by marine creatures developed by Tunghai University in Taiwan; a coastal defense system based on tide pools and oyster beds by Israel’s Tel-Aviv University and a mosquito controlling device by Cornell University (Banchariya, 2020). India too has joined the race and the Indian Institute of Technologies offer courses to bring more specialized engineers into this science.
Nature teaches sustainability
Today, a large number of industries, companies, and organizations have taken interest in biomimicry to research natural processes not only for its designs, but also for innovating eco-friendly technology to do away with unsustainable practices and bring forth a paradigm shift to promote sustainable mechanics that provide solutions for better products, recycling, and economic systems (Bonime, 2020).
Some of the modern technologies like the Japanese Bullet train, on account of creating noise pollution, were redesigned by engineers by replacing the nose of the train to resemble the beak of a Kingfisher which helps the birds dive into water silently. Similarly, PowerCone Wind Turbines looked at maple tree seeds to design better airflow. Likewise, many technological advancements have taken place over the years consciously or unconsciously by looking at how natural ecosystems function. Instead of just using biomimicry to bring about innovations based on design and appearance, it can be used to specifically target sustainability and environmental protection that can help in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. With the field of biomimicry entering mainstream science, it has prospects to ensure conscious efforts are undertaken to bring man and nature closer and bring sufficient harmony between economic development and environmental conservation.
Biomimicry is not a product, but a process that seeks to emulate and imitate nature’s forms and ecosystem. Instead of air conditioners, if we can seek to develop a technology that uses the termite’s technique to keep ourselves cool during summers, nothing more would be sustainable than that.
Banchariya, S. (2020, August 18). Biomimicry can be the road to sustainable development. Times of India. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/biomimicry-can-be-the-road-to-sustainable-development/articleshow/77608721.cms
Bonime, W. (2020, July 12). Biomimicry: Using Nature’s Perfect Innovation Systems To Design The Future. Forbes. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/westernbonime/2020/07/12/biomimicry-using-natures-perfect–innovation-systems-to-design-the-future/?sh=1e193cb4174e
Carlson, R. (2016, May 4). From an “aha” moment to a thriving network: A look at Biomimicry India – Biomimicry Institute. The Biomimicry Institute. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://biomimicry.org/blog-biomimicry-india/
Elakhya, N. (n.d.). Biomimicry – Better Ideas Inspired By Nature – Lavasa. EcoIdeaz. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.ecoideaz.com/innovative-green-ideas/biomimicry-better-ideas-inspired-nature
Sharma, A. (n.d.). 15 Instances of Biomimicry In Ancient Architecture. RTF | Rethinking The Future. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/rtf-fresh-perspectives/a950-15-instances-of-biomimicry-in-ancient-architecture/
20 Incredible Ways Animals Keep Cool. (n.d.). The Air Conditioning Company. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.airconco.com/news/20-incredible-ways-animals-keep-cool/What is Biomimicry? (n.d.). Biomimicry 3.8. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://biomimicry.net/what-is-biomimicry/