Evolution has designed plants and animals to live within the constraints of their environments rather than to fight them as we often do. As resources on our planet become increasingly scarce, scientists are turning back to nature for inspiration.
For instance, the designers of Zimbabwe’s Eastgate Centre turned to the nests of the Macrotermes michaelseni (termite) for inspiration. These nests utilize complex ventilation systems and perfectly chosen building materials so that they can remain within one degree of 31 °C no matter how greatly the outside temperature varies. Once constructed on this model, the Eastgate Centre became one of the world’s first buildings to self-regulate temperature without the help of air conditioning.
In this TED talk, architect Michael Pawlyn discusses not just what we can learn from individual creatures but also how we can model entire production systems after those of the natural world. By producing our goods in closed loop models in which every material is reused so that it might even produce the initial product again, our production can be more like a real ecosystem. One example is the “Cardboard to Caviar Project”, in which cardboard is gathered from local restaurants, broken down by worm collecting systems and fed to sturgeons, which produce caviar that is then sold back to restaurants.
But how does this apply to you? Try gathering a group of likeminded folks and challenging yourselves to develop more closed loop projects. Even something as simple as composting can fit the bill. Or, take a walk in the woods and open your eyes to what’s out there. You might just solve an engineering problem you didn’t know you had!