Using Nature to Innovate

The Lempert Report
March 05, 2015

Want a Better Food System? Think Outside!

When it comes to our planet’s food system, problems exist everywhere from packaging, waste, irrigation to distribution, and scientists across the globe are looking to create solutions that help support a healthy planet. But how would nature design a better food system? That’s the question posed to competitors in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, a challenge focused on finding innovative nature-inspired design solutions to combat critical sustainability issues.

Megan Schuknecht - Director of Design Challenges, Biomimicry Institute The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is an annual competition that invites people around the world to address global sustainability issues using nature as a guide. The challenge is hosted by the Biomimicry Institute, in partnership with the Ray C. Anderson Corporation and it’s open to students and professionals around the world and the theme for this year’s challenge is food systems. 

Nature’s systems are a model of abundance and resistance, efficiency and we really believe that by looking to nature for solutions to food system problems, we can emulate some of those qualities of abundance, resilience, fertility and efficiency all while feeding the world. By modeling how nature feeds its communities we believe that we can grow more food, feed the world be more efficient in how we distribute, package and consume that food all while protecting the ecosystems at the heart of our system.

PHIL So what are some of the innovations that have some out of this Biomimicry Global Design Challenge so far?

Megan: One of my favorite winner was our grand prize winnres from 2012 for our water access and management competition. They were looking at the challenge of Buoyancy and how nature manages Buoyancy. They knew that cargo ships cause huge problems in our ecosystems. Not only do cargo ships use huge amounts of energy and dirty oil to transport their cargo but they also carry lots of ballast water full of invasive species to new ports around the world. Their design looks at using air for ballast rather than water. So not only did their solution look at energy but it would also eliminate this huge problem of invasive species being transported around the world in marine environments.

Megan: They were a team primarily of product designers, but what they recognized as their challenge was helping farmers in the outskirts of Cairo solve some of their solutions. One of their problems was getting irrigation water to their crops, and another problem was given current irrigation methods their was a pest problem, with pests in the soil getting into their crops. By looking to nature for solutions they came up with a canal inspired way of circulating water relying on existing canal systems. It was a very innovative solution that came out of looking to nature for solutions. 

Megan: A lot of competitions focus on either a design contest or their courting competitors who already have prototypes and simply helping get those prototypes to market. In our competition we’re supporting the entire process.  We’re trying to seed an artery of sustainable innovation to get more Biomimetic solutions to market and to show how viable Biomimetic concepts are. And that in the long run they can save us money and energy all while protecting the ecosystems at the root of our lives. We need new ways of thinking and new ways of approaching innovation and Biomimicry provides a new lens on just that. 


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VIDEO Links  Team Dédale - The Air Ballast Biomimetic Cargo Ship  Dromedarily Sustainable Circulation - project documentation Biomimicry Global Design Challenge - Food Systems