The truth is, much of the world’s social and environmental problems can be solved by literally redesigning our world. As a marketing and creative agency in Durango, Colorado, with global impact, Live Creative Studio works with both entrepreneurs and established companies to innovate through purpose-driven branding and marketing. Some call it eco-marketing or sustainable marketing, while others call it marketing for conscious, green, or B Corporations. We call it purpose-driven marketing. We design for impact. We design to change the world no matter how you define your company.
To explore this idea of re-designing our world, I teamed up with an optimistic friend, writer/editor, Elizabeth Arlen. We will write a blog a month to bring to light all that is possible through inspiring design and new paradigms of thinking. This first blog focuses on the “earth shot” that is deeply needed in order to transform the way we make everyday things and why that even matters. We look to a new concept and tool called Biomimicry developed by scientist and scholar, Janine Benyus. She points out that Nature’s genius design principles have sustained life for nearly 4 million years, and maybe we should stop disassociating and become teachable to natural ways to drive our world’s product innovations and our new economy.
Capitalism is not the great evil; the toxic ingredients we use to make our products and short term greed need a serious reality check, now that we have the knowledge and technology to redesign them. There are no coincidences: just as we need it, we have opened up a vast new frontier. The truth is we haven’t veered off the path of progress, as so many lament; the path of progress has led us right here. Life is messy. Our learning curves are not quick and they include accidents and ugliness. So it has always been. We didn’t invent penicillin, child labor laws, seatbelts and CPR just in case a tragedy should ever happen. The tragedies happened first. We are right where we are supposed to be. The Penicillin of today is a new business and economic paradigm built on sustainable product design that upholds the natural laws of what is conducive to life.
A brief historical context: How did we get here?
The truth is, we are optimists, We the People, are. Yes, there is an American stamp on this phrase but, truthfully, all over the globe, for thousands of years, groups of any amount above an one, have been referring to themselves with equal self-possession and toward a higher purpose (there may have been a plan to go bowling but the research on that is thin).
With optimism and practical shoes, Colonists, set sail across the Atlantic in the 1700s to, oh, you know, create a new Country. It was not their second one. This was their singular shot, fueled by desperation and an optimistic faith in their cause: to create conditions conducive to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. In India, in 1932, Gandi’s 7-day fast was as loud as any revolution; surrounded by fear and hate, his faith and optimism in the best of humanity, committed him to the same cause: to create conditions conducive to life, and at the risk of his own (hence, his optimism). The Dali Lama, of a Chinese oppressed Tibet, stands for a cause when he travels the globe as someone who is real and light and wrote the book, “We are Responsible for our own happiness.” We are. We must be our own heroes. We must gather our optimism to meet the needs of life.
In the West, we create movies that echo the inspiration of, “We will overcome,” and “I have a dream. Classics hang on or are redone, like, ‘Annie,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Rocky’ and Zeffereli’s tweaking of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’–the blueprint for every love song and story ever told– because we really do believe them: The sun will come up tomorrow; there is no place like home; the best of our humanity will empower us to rise up in triumph (yes, Romeo and Juliet, are actually too dead for that; but for 47 hours those two kids shared a divine and optimistic love that raised them above all else, and when Prince Eschalus declared “All are pun-ish-shed!”, the Montagues and Capulets fell to their knees to process their first phase of grief and flawed humanity). The unbound optimism of love was the victor.
Today’s Marvel heroes and Tom Cruise’s still very fast Ethan Hunt, believe there’s no place like home and run down Dubai buildings or take to the skies with hammer, iron, sticky string, breastplates, and good looks, in order to save it: earth. And, people, do we identify with the screaming civilians scampering in fear into an upended Starbuck’s and H& M? Anyone? Of course we don’t. Sure, a lot of us think we want someone else to swoop in and save us; but the truth is, in our hearts, we identify with the optimism and bravery of our heroes—we have it inside us to be one, on the saving side.
What? Yes, when Robert Downey Jr., looked at us and announced, “I am Iron Man,” we thought, ‘He’s dreamy” (well, to some, it’s in the report); what we actually thought is, ‘I am Iron-man,’ ‘I believe, too.’ Yes, when our heroes’ eyes deepen and shimmer into their souls, we, the audience, feel the tug on the hope and heart of our own humanity, and want to jump up and ‘Just do it.”
Outside of the theater, today is fast and distracting. It’s hard to find a culture around the globe that isn’t completely online and virtually doing everything. We have our smartest phones and our noses in them, while we don our serious suits or Lulu lemon leggings; with our free hand holding a blue print or protein bar or another little hand; we fight the good fight, doing our best to be the best with an ambition to be successful in our belonging. But belong to what? Ourselves, with nature as the backdrop? Stand on your heads if you have to, because our perspective is more than off. It is not real: We belong to nature and need it, just like the rest of earth’s creatures, with our own Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family Genus, Species.
Nature is not a place that exists only when we are on vacation. We all feel the pull it has on us, don’t we? How we gaze at sunsets and sunrises and the stars and love the feel of the beach under our feet, the crunch of leaves, the smell of the rain; we ride our stationary bikes looking at a virtual trail on our monitor; we even go to bed listening to the electronic sound of the wind, the wolves or the Whales (and not just to hear Robert Redford). We are part of nature. It is within us and our home.
But what of the optimists in these climate changing times?
Optimists, step forward. Optimists are our valuable dreamers equipped with hope and knowledge; they are the people who are quiet and not apocalyptic about our future because they are too busy working in it. Inspired by their optimistic vision, they have seen that Nature’s diversity is the new paradigm in which to work and create. There is no place like home.
Our heroic optimists are in action and we can choose their side over the stagnation of a small vision of division among and between the races, classes, genders, parties, etc. ‘Just Do it.’ It’s Nike’s brilliance to tap into our inner heroism; to know we can’t think ourselves into right action or talk ourselves into right thinking: Action is where we must live. Action is life.
Janine Benyus, with her calm humility and deep wisdom, is one such optimist: “Life creates conditions that are conducive to life.” This simple and profound sentence summarizes her perfect understanding of the success of Nature. Benyus is an example of our natural wiring; whether it is from hope or optimism or something primal, we, just like the rest of earth’s inhabitants, want to create conditions conducive to life. She is not panicking; she is open and smiling and in action, spreading the word everywhere, including on Youtube and the ‘Today’ show. She knows something—even the excited “Today’ reporter could feel it tromping breathless and bubbly behind her in the woods.
What Benyus knows is the test of time of nature’s design, which she calls Biomimicry. Biomimicry “is an innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”
All or not punished, after all! We know a way out of this mess. We have not veered from the path of progress, remember? “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Remember? Now, is the time to regroup, and reconsider what we strive for. We need to reframe the design of all things to ensure the existence of our resources and all of our children’s sunsets, and their children’s. The sun will, indeed, come up tomorrow.
Does someone have a blow horn? Everyone should know that Biomimicry is a game-changing tool.
We need to communicate loudly or through millions of “beats” around the world that the sky is not falling. We have solutions; the absolute possibility of a livable future. This is where true grit turns to face the challenge; this is the time when great leaders inspire and say with faith and hope, “I have a dream!” “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Those optimistic leaders and the quieter one like Janine Benyus, believe in us.
Do we believe in ourselves? You mean right now? Not so much. We are certainly moved by media to constantly point to what is not working, instead of inspiring what is possible. We traumatize ourselves with HBO specials showing brilliant scenes of oceans and sunsets that suddenly assault us with bulldozers raping the Rain Forest or Polar bears floating on a foot-long slab of ice. We do not bring forth our power by pointing to the mistakes or evil among Us. We ‘just do’ absolutely nothing with guilt or blame or hate to distract and paralyze us.
We consumers are weighted down with this rumor that the answer to our problems is recycling. It helps, but the consumer cannot bear the brunt of solving our environmental problems; nor is it a real solution. No wonder we feel powerless and overwhelmed. No wonder we suffer in an unnecessary atmosphere of doom and gloom which so many of us feel today.
Raise your chins, and get radical with the optimism within you. Negativity and gloom are so last year. Believe, because nature is our solution. Nature doesn’t have a waste problem. It knows what it’s doing. We, our young little species, do. But we are teachable. So what can we learn from nature?
What does Biomimicry have to do with re-designing our world?
Designers, this is our cue. We need to begin at the beginning, with people who design products, not just use them. How we make every day things, as well as luxury things, is a radical act. The very product ingredients, the chemistry, and their end of life, are all critical design stages from which nature can inspire us and bring about new ways of manufacturing that are conducive to life.
“Form follows function” is emblazoned in the hearts and minds of all young design students, as well as, seasoned practitioners. If we follow this wisdom, then understanding the “function” of an object is a critical first step. What purpose does the object have? Is the object/product conducive to life?
Biomimicry can help us answer these questions. It is not only a new model for design and innovation, it’s a a path to re-designing our world as we know it. Biomimicry (learn this term!) challenges designers to be at the forefront of creating things that we use and dispose of every day, as if our nature mattered—and it does. Designers love constraints because that is where the magic and creativity live. Nature is our constraint. All of life, including humans, needs sun light (energy), oxygen, water and a nice temperature to exist and thrive.
Humans are born with the competence of pudding compared to the natural genius around us. In 3.8 billion years, life on earth has learned what works, what lasts, what evolves. And, how even death becomes the ingredients for new life.
Biomimicry invites us to consider natures “operating instructions” to create things we need to “function”. In this vision, the form, which follows the function, will be in concert with life.
Yeah, yeah, this all sounds so warm and fuzzy and far away from business.
Is Biomimicry practical? How might it shape the new, clean economy?
Well, talk to the hedgehog. Few of earth’s creatures can travel with the whimsy of a hedgehog. Do they free fall from trees on purpose? You bet—because it’s quicker than climbing down. When they fall from a tree do they make a sound? We have no idea (that’s in another study), but scientists around the water cooler mentioned a giggle.
And why not? They have quills to buffer the fall and allow them to tumble and spring up good as new. Researchers and scientists are taking a closer look in the hope of saving our athletes in the NFL and Tour de France and Durango High School (home to our teenage daughters and sons— Go Demons!) from sometimes fatal concussions or eventual brain damage. Our helmets today are hard and unforgiving, and often hurt athletes as much as the actual fall.
Innovator, Hedgemen, has researched the hedgehogs quill technology and buffering system, resulting in a new line of helmets inspired by the hedgehog. Keep it in mind when you shop for helmets in the near future. Buildings too are following the lead of the hedgehog, pushing innovations in architectural design that radically reduce energy consumption.
Now take a look at the Shinkansen Bullet train. The bullet, as people like to call it, travels 200 miles per hour. It’s very James Bond and if 007 were on such a train he would be able to have shaken martini in style without any disturbing background noise or motion. Even in a cartoon, the word inside the bubble would be ‘Whoosh.’
In reality, the sound this train produced was more like a thunder clap that burst all bubbles and rattled teeth within a mile radius.
Fortunately, Eji Nakatsu, the Shinkasen’s 500’s Chief Engineer, happened to be an avid bird watcher and had the instinct to look around nature (i.e. Biomimicry) and find a model of something that could move smoothly and quietly between two mediums.
He knew the answer could not be human-made–we had taken our technology as far as it or we could go. He discovered the answer in the Kingfisher, a bird who dives from the air into bodies of water without much splash.
Modeling the train front after the bird’s beak resulted in a quieter train with the added bonus of efficiently producing 15 percent less energy.
Speaking of less energy, have you ever noticed how most large animals conserve their energy and only use it when they really need it? There is something to be learned from that observation too.
The truth is, ‘There’s no place like home,” and Biomimicry sees the genius answers are right here (and we don’t have to be good looking to see them).
Next up: the peacock. We call it the “Peacock Principle”. Peacocks are a brilliant symphony of blue and gold in all their shades and variations. It’s a flamboyance of color matched only—albeit, not as nuanced—by Elton John. Actually, the Peacock is brown. I know. This fact is world-rocking, in and of itself—especially to the Peacock. We are wedded to the Peacock and its beauty, and use chemicals and pigments to recreate its likeness in our fabrics and jewelry and jewelry boxes. The brown Peacock would burn and die if its colors were invented by toxins, so instead of imitating the look, we are learning to emulate the process.
It’s a more curious and patient vision we are acquiring for the living world we belong to. What we see now is that the beautiful colors of a Peacock are created with structural color and transparent layers. When light reflects to us through these layers it creates the color blue, or green or gold to our eyes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
So, what if we could make our fabrics with the same principles of color that a Peacock has innovated? What if we didn’t have to use toxic dyes to make gorgeous color for our jewelry? Biomimicry takes us to the edge and we simply must jump in and innovate following natures amazing design principles.
The E-reader display screen uses the Peacock Principle. Developed by Qualcom, the screen needs no back lighting, because it uses layers and the ambient light to create the different color to your eye; in so doing, this folding in of nature and technology, is a far less aggressive approach and uses a much lower energy.
See more examples of Biomimicry at work by following our Face Book page.
What does biomimicry have to do with branding?
While Biomimicry places nature at the heart of design, branding creates the meaning behind the design and why it matters. The best brands today inspire us to become something; to be part of something; to reach for possibility. We find our sense of belonging; our tribe; when we don a Nike t-shirt and “Just do it,” or open up our Apple lap-top with the inspiration to defy the rules and create the world we want; to clean house, knowing “Seven Generations” will benefit from our non-toxic sprays.
We are optimists, remember? Life is always in search of life. No matter how big our egos grow, the planet will evolve either with us or without us. Biomimicry is a platform for creating products and brands with nature as the Designer. We create and exchange goods, and we belong again to the nature of things. We act as if nature matters—and in the end it does, for life’s sake. It’s a new business and economic paradigm calling. It’s our path to a livable world. It’s time to pivot.
By Claire Attkisson (she’s the sustainability/marketing geek) and Elizabeth Arlen (she’s the writer/editor and the funny one.)
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