Holistic Biomimicry: A Biological Inspired Approach to Environmental Benign Engineering

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Earth’s richness of life, of which humanity is a part, is increasingly under threat from its activities. As part of the response, the environmentally conscious attempt to engineer products, processes and systems that interact harmoniously with the living world. Current environmental design guidance draws upon a wealth of experiences with the products of engineering that damaged humanity’s environment. Efforts to create such guidelines inductively attempt to tease right action from examination of past mistakes. However, the environmentally conscious engineering design community overlooked a fundamentally different approach to the creation of such guidance. A complex, multi-scale, inherently sustainable system worth benchmarking rests at humankind’s doorstep.

Life, the collection of processes that tamed and maintained themselves on planet Earth’s once hostile surface long ago confronted and solved the fundamental problems facing all organisms. Given life’s long history of persistence, it is logical to turn to the living world for guidance. Unfortunately, scientists and engineers currently view biomimicry, emulation of and inspiration by life, only as an approach to achieving greater biological insights or a source of technical innovation. This work advances an alternative to this reductive view of biomimicry; it proposes to develop a holistic approach, an approach that uses biomimicry as a guide to environmentally benign engineering. As a motivating question, it asks:

How can biomimicry guide environmentally conscious engineering?

The proposed work will advance an answer to this overarching question in the form of an environmentally benign engineering design method – holistic biomimicry. Environmental assessment will first determine reductive biomimicry’s environmentally conscious character. Drawing upon various biological and ecological source materials, the work will construct a framework for holistic biomimicry. Subsequently, the framework will be applied in a number of design scenarios, and the results will be assessed along environmental dimensions. This work will contribute (1) a set of biologically inspired sustainability principles for engineering, (2) a translation of these principles into measures applicable to design, (3) examples demonstrating a new form of biomimicry and (4) a deductive, novel foundation for environmentally conscious engineering.