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Discover “Biomimicry” – the Art of Mimicking Nature’s Genius to Power Sustainable Creatives in ASEAN

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Ngoc Anh Hoang, Program Associate of the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation
|   November 3, 2021

In recognition of its economic and social significance as a driver of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations in 2019 declared 2021 the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. (Asian Development Bank)

The creative sector is getting increasing recognition as a catalyst for sustainable innovations across the globe. While striving for the so-called circular economy, Southeast Asian countries are also racing to become the region’s creative leader. Thailand aims to “bring out the creativity in ASEAN”. The Philippines has set its sights on becoming “the leading creative economy in Southeast Asia by 2030 in terms of size and value of our creative industries”. Simultaneously, Vietnam is gearing to catch up with the regional momentum. In addition, creativity is also identified as an important driver to assist ASEAN’s recovery in the post-pandemic Comprehensive Recovery Framework.

A creative economy, as the sum of all the parts of the creative industries, may play a key role in “promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity, and human development” (UNCTAD). The economic prospect of creative industries is based on quality human resources, adopting human experiences, intellect, and creativity as its main assets (The ASEAN Post), hence enabling creative actors in the economy to bolster environmental stewardship. Through creative and innovative design – an integral and core part of creative industries, we can materialise the much-needed circular transition.

Yet, in order to do so, we need to adopt a holistic view of the interconnectivity between design and systems thinking to support the development of environmentally-sane creatives that fundamentally contributes to a sustainable, systematic change. We need an effective ecological sustainable design approach without compromising the needs of society and future generations.

Biomimicry offers a solution to our issues of sustainability. In this article, the ICM Falk Foundation explores the concept of “biomimicry” and its implications to power circular, innovative creatives in ASEAN for a resilient future.

Enter “biomimicry” – the concept of translating nature’s strategies into design and innovation

Biomimicry is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes”. 

After billions of years of evolution, nature has determined what is efficient and enduring. The idea behind biomimicry is that nature has already solved the challenges that humans are facing today.

Biomimicry is about valuing nature for what we can learn, not what we can extract, harvest, or domesticate.” Biomimicry Institute

In essence, biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks to translate the resiliency of nature into the built environment by emulating nature’s time-tested structures and strategies. Some of the early examples of biomimicry in human history include the Chinese’s efforts to invent artificial silk 3000 BCE and the study of birds to enable human flight.

Ecological systems exist and function at multiple levels. Hence, the application of biomimicry is often categorized into three different levels: the organism level, the behavior level and the ecosystem level. Within each of these levels, a further five dimensions of emulations exist: Form, Material, Construction, Process, and Function.

By applying biomimicry thinking, we view nature as a source of advice, rather than materials. A circular economy is, therefore, also viewed as biomimicry thinking at an ecosystem level as it aims to emulate the cycles found in living systems to enable no-waste systems in the economy. The model looks into the resilience of the natural world to not only find a way to invent better materials or products, but also to better navigate how to live and thrive under the impact of negative externalities. This will, in turn, improve the capacity of regeneration in the natural environment and adaptation against climate change while contributing to the resilient, sustainable, and adaptable built environment.

Enabling the power of holistic biomimicry thinking for sustainable creatives

Over 70% of a product’s life-cycle costs and environmental footprint is determined during its design phase.” (Radjou V. & Prabhu J.)

So, how do we design to truly achieve sustainability? Looking at how nature has been solving the same challenges in a more elegant, cost-effective way for our planet, biomimicry can be inherently employed as an innovation tool for sustainability. As creative practitioners seek to learn from the natural world, the right question should be: “what would nature do in this situation?”. 

Designers, and creative practitioners in general, can play a central, concrete role in the sustainability revolution if they onboard a holistic biomimicry mindset into their approach. In line with the so-called circular design principles, the biomimicry approach powers systems thinking in creative practices. For instance, it might require a product designer to work in close collaboration with a biologist, a manufacturer and all possibly relevant stakeholders to incorporate transdisciplinary perspectives to fully understand the ecological context of each creative. Just like in nature, “it is full of relationships, partnerships and communities that only thrive when they work together”, as Seth Galewyrick has noted.

In practice, life’s principles are biomimicry’s design lens. The Biomimicry Institue has compiled a framework consisting of 6 design lessons (see the diagram above) from nature to model innovative strategies and measure designs against sustainable benchmarks. Specifically, biomimicry innovations should:

    • • Adapt to changing conditions
    • • Be locally attuned and responsive
    • • Use life-friendly chemistry
    • • Be resource-efficient
    • • Integrate development with growth
    • • Evolve to survive

On the other hand, the practice of design in biomimicry should never be a linear process. Instead, it requires the application of continuous feedback loops to constantly improve and adapt to concurrent situations, as illustrated in the Biomimicry Design Spiral below:

Biomimicry Design Spiral, a succinct description of the essential elements of a design process that uses nature as a guide for creating solutions – Biomimicry Toolbox

Examples of biomimicry-informed designs in creative industries

In furniture

Compostable 3D-Printed Table Lamp Made From Orange Peels. Learn more: Krill Design

In fashion

Zuppar – A high potential Fiber from Pineapple Leaves.

In architecture

Buildings That Breathe. Learn more: Doris Sung’s Living Architecture

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By including biomimicry as a best practice for earth stewardship and circular innovations, creative industries might also play a leading role in the path towards sustainability of the region.

In the case of ASEAN, the potentials of biomimicry as a basis for design and a source of innovation have yet been well studied and explored. As the region is preparing itself for a circular transition, the ICM Falk Foundation calls on relevant stakeholders to co-invest in further unleashing the collective creativity in the realm of biomimicry.

In our effort to connect sustainability knowledge to practice, the ICM Falk Foundation has been collaborating with various stakeholders in the ASEAN region to generate on-the-ground knowledge about the regional state of circularity, while deploying programs to facilitate knowledge and experience transfer. The panel discussion “Creativity without Compromise” is one of our recent initiatives to tackle the knowledge-implementation gap in sustainability practice in Vietnam to support the creative industries. To learn more about the event, please visit: https://lnkd.in/e8SKzHMT

“Go take your lessons in nature, that’s where our future is.” Leonardo da Vinci


About the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation

The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation is a private, 501c3 family foundation that seeks to support innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership that drives positive, equitable, and sustained impact for the world’s communities and ecosystems. Building on the global commitment to the Circular Economy, the Foundation is now actively focused on innovative solutions that contribute to the reduction of waste production and pollution within Asia.

Source of the cover photo: Financial Times