This couple from Bengaluru inspires students and businesses to look to nature for innovation

On May 21, 1997, a book titled Biomimicry: an innovation inspired by nature by Janine Benyus first hit the shelves across the world. The book detailed an emerging trend that was as simple as it was radical – imitating nature to innovate solutions for humans.

Several examples of such innovations already existed: wind turbines inspired by whale fins, solar panels inspired by butterfly wings, and the Japanese Shinkansen inspired by the elongated beak of the kingfisher. However, while these examples existed, large-scale adoption of biomimicry is still not widespread.

Simply put, biomimicry is defined as an “empathetic and interconnected understanding of how life works and, ultimately, where we belong.”

Scientists have found that mimicking the way a butterfly’s wings absorb sunlight can

improve the efficiency of thin-film solar cells. Image: Unsplash

It was a whole new idea that would disrupt the unsustainable patterns of production and consumption that had become the norm after the industrial revolution. Even better, this new way of thinking was not just inspired by nature, but in tune with nature.

Bengaluru-based architect couple Seema Anand and Prashant Dhawan, co-founders and directors of Biomimicry India, an organization that aims to promote how design can be realigned to be in tune with nature, bring the concept of biomimicry in India and takes this idea to schools, universities, businesses and ordinary people across India.

“Although I started out as an architect, I always had a problem with the industrial way of working. I was doing very mundane work to keep my stomach full, and I would occasionally do these wildly different assignments like documenting a monastery in Ladakh or tribes in Odisha. These quirky things brought me closer to a way of life that didn’t necessarily follow the rules of industrial civilization,” says Prashant.

Seema and Prashant, trained at the Biomimicry Institute in the United States, are now part of a global network championing the benefits of biomimicry and sustainability. Since 2014, the couple have worked with schools, colleges and businesses and run online workshops that introduce the concepts of biomimicry and why it’s the way forward to a better future.

Since then, Biomimicry India has conducted over 190 workshops/conferences on biomimicry, across all disciplines and age groups, and reached over 25,000 people. Biomimicry has been successfully taught in engineering schools, trade schools, design schools, K-12 education, and corporations. These include Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), National Institute of Design (NID), National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Indian School of Business (ISB), etc.

“We have also worked with ISRO, ITC, CII-YI, Rolls Royce, Mahindra & Mahindra, Axis Bank, SPA Delhi and CEPT Universityin addition to organizing classes and open workshops with participants from various age groups and disciplines,” says Seema.

However, it wasn’t always easy to navigate for the duo, who at first gave talks to largely empty halls, even when the talks were free. The first biomimicry innovation lab that Seema set up was not in India, but in China.

Prashant believes that while people believe in the fundamental benefits of biomimicry, there is a level of skepticism that has hampered further investment from education and industry. He attributes this to the current structure of academia, which is siloed, and says that biomimicry is holistic and multidisciplinary.

“In the 21st century, the ecosystem, the nature of communication and learning has evolved, and in response to this, Biomimicry India has charted its own course in offering and making biomimicry learning accessible to as many people as possible. of people possible by offering and developing the discipline not only as a course/workshop in colleges and schools, but also through the media/media of public events and popular culture.This is the great differentiation of our business,” says Prashant.

“Today we live in a system where we constantly feel incomplete. So, we think, get a Harvard degree that will complete you. is bullshit. As long as we look at industrial benchmarks, we are always incomplete. And the interesting thing that we find is that our education had become our prison.”

Is it viable?

So, when asked if biomimicry is viable in today’s world, Prashant says, “There is growing awareness and demand for environmentally sustainable products, processes and policies. Governments also encourage this. Industry and business need to understand and address new innovation challenges, not only for their present sustenance, but also to be ready for the future.

Calling current systems unsustainable, he says the way we think today will not be enough to develop the kind of environmentally sustainable innovations that industry and business need to be ready for the future. “The biomimicry approach has helped industries and companies create innovations that are not only sustainable but also cost-effective, while mitigating risks and reducing costs.”

Seema adds that biomimicry is probably the only program based on observation and learning from natural phenomena and models – and therefore enables learning in an integrated way and not in a reductionist format within the “silos” of subjects/subjects).

One of the challenges they face is that even though people are talking about sustainability, it’s still only lip service. “Actually, I think it’s a fashion accessory, which people wear to parties or fashionable conferences. But that’s just fashion. So you’ll hear everyone talking about the environment, but just look at how they run their industry. But that’s just a design flaw. We have all created a system where we reward, fire or hire people based on their economic performance. So no matter what they do, ultimately they try to fit into everything in our economic system,” Prashant says.

The couple says it also comes down to how we treat each other. “If you really think deeply, look at how we teach our children. You say, ‘How can I shape it so that I can integrate it into the economy so that it can integrate and feed the economy. So the economy is our servant, and our servant has become our master,” he adds.

But Prashant and Seema remain hopeful. “It’s sad that people are so myopic and unwilling to visualize an alternative. We need to understand the realities of our current system. But, we also know that we are just one knock away from the right door. You can’t quit just because you’ve knocked on 100,000 doors,” says Seema.

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