terra, not terror

sharing ideas about a simpler way to live

Biomimicry gets big attention April 10, 2008

Filed under: bioneers, education, energy, social consciousness — terra @ 7:00 am

I first learned about Biomimicry through Bioneers. It’s a concept you can’t help getting excited about. Essentially, biomimicry means looking at how nature designs something, and using those designs to improve efficiency, etc. Nature doesn’t have recalls. Everything in nature has a purpose, and was designed to be the best at whatever it does.

Recently, companies have taken an interest in biomimicry as they seek to design sustainable products and improve production. Nature has already designed things that fly quickly through the air, or filter water, or stick together like glue. When we don’t look to nature for inspiration, we are reinventing the wheel, which isn’t productive or profitable. So, many companies are consulting Janine Benyus for advice on where in nature to look, and how to create more sustainable products. Janine Benyus of Bioneers has written 6 books, including Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Check out the Biomimicry Institute.

Her clients include “General Electric (GE), Hewlett-Packard, and NASA. … In 2005, Ford’s Volvo Div. developed an anti-collision system based on the way locusts swarm without crashing into one another.” Companies are able to contact the Biomimicry Guild, and talk to a team of scientists to discover “what would nature do.” They are not only making their products more sustainable, but their businesses as well, going from producing toxins to becoming a waste-free business. They’re saving money and the environment at the same time.

Update: Biomimicry in National Geographic. Don’t miss the photo gallery!


Bioneers: Van Jones January 8, 2008

Filed under: bioneers, environment, social consciousness — terra @ 7:00 am

Speaker Van Jones was by far the inspiration of the convention. Sorry I haven’t summarized his speech for you. I hope these ideas inspire you. Look up Van Jones on Blackle to find video of some of his thoughts and speeches.

Van Jones co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which is committed to lowering the over-arrest of young minorities with programs like “Books not Bars” and “Green for All.” Jones has discovered that…

if the U.S. accelerated the transition to a cleaner economy, millions of jobs in green construction and alternative energy could be created.

Jones issues a moral challenge to the green movement. As we move from the margin to the center, who will we bring with us? He wants the “green tide” to lift all boats. There are plenty of jobs available in the renewable energy industry, and those jobs can’t be outsourced. We need people to create and install solar panels, build solar-thermal plants, create community gardens. The possibilities are endless.

“When we bring together the best of the business community and the best of the tech community and the best of the racial-justice community, we’ll get the coalition we always wanted.” Even better, he adds, “we’ll get the country we always wanted.” -Time

The Fourth Quadrant

Jones has created a green matrix, which suggests that there are 4 ways to discuss energy and economy. The gray conversation is all about the problems. Rich people care about polar bears, rain forests, etc. Poor people couldn’t care less if you came to talk to them about the sad shape the planet is in when their kid has asthma and they need to put food on the table. The green conversation is about solutions – renewable energy, jobs. His example of the quadrant is below. The green solution for the rich is solar panels, Prius’, etc. The green solution for the poor is community gardens, the People’s Grocery, and green jobs.


Who is right? Everyone, says Jones. We all have concerns and solutions, but the challenge is to include everyone in our green solution. Places like the People’s Grocery in Oakland deliver the benefits of a green economy to everyone. People have good, healthy food, jobs, and the environment benefits as well. Green jobs will stimulate the economy, elevate the poor, and help the planet.

Sustainable South Bronx / Green Jobs

Green collar jobs have been created in the South Bronx, for example, to teach a young person to install solar panels, or weatherize a building, etc. We can’t outsource those jobs. If we can get young people into the green economy, they can be managers in a few years. They can invest in their community. They can teach others. They can create positive change for the future.

“In a green economy, you don’t count what you spend – you count what you save.” – Van Jones’ Congressional testimony. We have the opportunity to save young lives, the soul of the US.

My favorite statement by Van Jones about polar bears: “We don’t have the right to push them to extinction.”


Community Gardens October 30, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, garden, local, organic, social consciousness — terra @ 7:00 am

IMG_7013Friday, after the conference, I drove around West Cleveland a little, before enjoying a wonderful tour of Great Lakes Brewing Company. I stumbled upon this amazing community garden in the middle of a neighborhood. I decided to go inside and ask the people about their garden.

This garden has been in here since the 1940’s, when mayors granted a piece of land to be used as a community garden. They were called Mayor’s Gardens. This one changed it’s name to the Kentucky Garden, because the school across the street is the Kentucky Elementary School.

People can “rent” a plot of land for $5 a year. The city provides the annuals. After you’ve owned your plot for a year, you can plant perennials. Most people plant vegetables. There are no pesticides, so the garden is essentially organic. Compost is created on-site for people to use as mulch. Even chickens live here!

IMG_7018In the front are 7 boxes, raised off the ground for elderly people from a nearby nursing home to use. They go there every day, and they always have vegetables or flowers. The people I was talking to said that one guy comes and waters a box, and then another person comes and waters the same box. They have good intentions! It’s nice that their gardens are raised so that they can enjoy the garden without having to get down on the ground.

There are several community gardens in Cleveland, but they don’t get enough publicity, so they’re not used. This one was in a lower-income area of town, but I doubt if it’s used by those people to grow fresh vegetables for their family. I hope that as people notice the ill-effects of fast food and carbs, they will start to use their local community garden. It was such a refreshing oasis in the city, and stumbling upon it was one highlight of the Bioneers Conference weekend for me, even though it wasn’t on the agenda.

Update: The Kentucky Garden has a webpage!


Wind Turbine at the Great Lakes Science Center October 29, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, environment, wind — terra @ 7:00 am

IMG_6990On Friday afternoon, at the Bioneers Conference, we visited the wind turbine at the Great Lakes Science Center. They also have solar panels and a green roof for their parking garage!

The wind turbine will generate power at 8 mph, and reach its peak power output at 31 mph, at which time it will provide 225 kwh of power. This isn’t a lot, because the turbine isn’t in the optimal position.
To generate the most power, it would need to be in the lake! But then, people wouldn’t see it, and it wouldn’t serve the dual purpose it serves now – generating power and educating people about renewable energy.

One concern with wind turbines is the effect on birds. The GLSC has been conducting a study, and haven’t found a large number of birds killed by the turbine. Many more are killed by flying into the windows of city buildings (thousands every year).

Cleveland Public Art partnered with the GLSC to make the turbine and surrounding area a piece of art for the city of Cleveland. They decided to clear the lawn surrounding the turbine. The goal of the GLSC was to have the turbine be accessible to the public, so Cleveland Public Art created a unique sidewalk, made by tracing the shadow of the turbine during the summer equinox. It’s a very graceful piece that connects the GLSC to the turbine, and further highlights the beauty of renewable energy.


I might like Wal-Mart… in about 5 years October 25, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, energy — terra @ 7:00 am

David Cooperrider mentioned Wal-Mart in his opening address of the Bioneers Conference on Friday.

Wal-Mart’s CEO, Lee Scott, has come up with 3 goals, which will be implemented with the investment of $500 million a year:

  • reduce greenhouse gases from stores and distribution centers by 20 percent over the next seven years
  • increase the fuel efficiency of the truck fleet by 25 percent over the next three years and double the figure within a decade
  • design a new store that was at least 25 percent more energy-efficient within four years.

That’s a pretty good start! “[Scott] said improving fuel mileage in the trucking fleet by one mile per gallon would save more than $52 million per year.”

Appreciative Inquiry

Wal-Mart created these goals after talks with employees, suppliers, customers, and critics.

As part of their Appreciative Inquiry process, it was also discovered that 64% of magazines printed don’t get sold. Everyone knows this but they don’t change anything. 64% means 2.6 billion million magazines shredded every year. There was a summit, and magazine publishers agreed to reduce the waste by 50% in one year. This action will save 443,000 trees, and 4.6 million gallons of diesel fuel. – according to Cooperrider

Wal-Mart has broadened the initiative to 255 items in the toy department. Reducing packaging will save 3,425 tons of corrugated materials, and 1,358 barrels of oil annually.

Goals reached, new goals needed

Wal-Mart has already reached their goal of selling 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs, as part of their “Change a Light, Change the World” program. The use of those CFLs will have the effect of taking 700,000 cars off the road.

I hope Wal-Mart uses their savings to pay their workers fair wages, and provide health insurance to all of their employees (fewer than 1/2 have company health insurance, compared to Costco’s 80%). Many of Wal-Mart’s products come from China, so it would be nice to see them exert some influence on China to use water and energy more efficiently than they currently do, and to treat their employees better. It’s nice for Wal-Mart to “green” their stores, but they also need to “green” what’s in them. They do have plans to have independent monitoring of overseas production, so they seem to be on the right path to environmental responsibility. We’ll see in about 5 years. Next step… worker rights.


Biomimicry October 24, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, energy — terra @ 7:00 am

The first speaker from California was Jay Harman, a noted biomimic. He noted that it’s “more profitable to copy nature than to destroy it.” From nature’s point of view, there is no energy shortage, so we should copy nature’s design for energy and conservation.

spiralSpirals are a common phenomenon in nature. They signify divinity, creativity, and genius. Consider DNA, the most complex structure, is a spiral. Nature’s most desirable path of energy is a spiral (think hurricanes, tornadoes, galaxies, whirlpools, etc). There are no straight lines in nature either … consider the human digestive system, about 30 feet in length, not a single straight line, and arguably one of the most efficient systems out there.

During the industrial revolution, if you wanted to go faster, you didn’t redesign the shape, you just shoveled in more coal. Now, we’re seeing the side effects of that line of thinking.

Jay Harman is the founder of PAX Scientific, an innovative company, which gets its designs from nature. They have created an A/C fan blade that is 40 times more efficient than conventional blades. Their water purifier is small and simple, and can be used in city systems, lakes, polluted water, and to prevent mosquito breeding grounds. Because bacteria forms in stagnant water, their purification technology spins in the water to create a whirlpool – a spiral – to circulate the water and keep it from standing still. City water systems could use this simple tool, and forget the chemicals and energy wasted to treat water… use nature’s design instead.

That wasn’t the end of his presentation, but his ideas are truly inspiring, and if we consider new ways to look at energy use and product design, we can solve many of our energy problems, and save a lot of money.

Aside: Check out New Urban Green Living for a great summary of the conference.


Blogger Panel at Bioneers October 22, 2007

Filed under: bioneers — terra @ 8:42 pm

The following blogs were represented at the Bioneers conference:


Bioneers: Keynote speaker October 22, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, education, local, social consciousness — terra @ 12:00 pm

The Keynote speaker for the Cleveland Bioneers Conference was David Cooperrider. He focuses on helping businesses be “a force for sustainability and social entrepreneurship.” He is the director of the University Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB) at Case Western Reserve University.

Appreciative Inquiry

David Cooperrider was a co-creator of the term Appreciative Inquiry, which challenges businesses to consider the triple bottom line of economic, environmental, and community sustainability. The triple bottom line helps corporations reduce their negative impact on the planet, and encourages them to consider a multi-stakeholder initiative whereby many stakeholders are invited to discussions about the corporations actions. The ideas is that there are no limits to cooperation.

At the Summit on Innovation in pursuit of the Millennium Goals, Kofi Annan acknowledged the anger towards big business, and he suggested that we choose to unite the market with ideas, needs, and economic viability. We can heal poverty through innovation and cooperation.

Did you know that just 4% of the earth’s desert can power all of humanity with solar power? We can not only eradicate poverty by providing energy to those who need it, but we can do it with clean renewable energy. Nanosolar, based in California, has created solar power that is cost-efficient and can be mass produced on a global scale. That’s an American company with the potential to provide clean energy and help alleviate poverty (the rising oil costs this winter will certainly not help the cause of poverty).

The World Inquiry

There has recently been a positive psychology movement, which encourages us to consider positive emotions like hope, joy, compassion, and harness those human strengths and put them to good use.

Mindset change needed

No problem is solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
-Albert Einstein

The sustainable value must be considered. Companies need to move from the obligation to the innovation mindset, not only for the planet’s survival, but for theirs as well. Consider GM and Toyota. Their obligation is to provide automobiles. However, Toyota moved past that to incorporate some element of environmental responsibility, while GM created bigger and less efficient cars. Which car company is in trouble? GM recently lost their place as the world’s biggest car company. Their obligation vs. innovation mindset certainly played a role. (I know, Toyota is being irresponsible with the mileage requirement legislation. Let’s hope they remember their place.) Sustainability is truly about economic as well as environment and community. No one wants American companies to fail. We want innovation and social responsibility.

This isn’t about philanthropy. It’s what employees, customers, and investors want. We don’t want people to suffer. Consider “Who Cares Wins,” a report on the sustainable value for society. Check out the report to learn what the top business leaders are thinking, that business schools aren’t keeping up with. Call this “enlightened self interest,” not charity.

Back to Appreciative Inquiry

We must move beyond the self to multiple levels. An elevation of strengths. Consider external stakeholders – customers, suppliers, NGOs, neighbors, communities, young people – in business priorities. Six to 8 is the “most effective group,” right? Consider a conversation with 300 stakeholders, designing new products and services. They’re the ones who know about the business, who get their hands dirty every day. Cooperrider called it “living systems” thinking. You have a large group seeing the whole picture, the best of humanity comes out. A greater configuration of the whole can only lead to better ideas. Wal-Mart has initiated Appreciative Inquiry, and come up with 3 goals (more on that later!). If Wal-Mart can do it, can’t anyone?


Bioneers Beamed from California October 22, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, education, energy, social consciousness — terra @ 9:00 am

The California session of Friday’s Bioneers conference began with a chant by 13 indigenous grandmothers from around the world. There were an estimated 13,000 attendees from California and throughout the country. Some observations and ideas from the opening speakers:

The earth is becoming what the human race makes of it.

Human-induced environmental disasters are visible from space.

Darwin said it’s not the strongest species that survives, but those most ready to change. (Are you ready to change?)

We must imagine how to live here in a way that lasts. We need resilience, and we must admit that we are not in control of everything.


Diversity is our best hope. Nature thrives on diversity, and so should humanity. A damaged system can recover if it is diverse. The odds are improved and society is enriched. Community and social capital involves empowering local communities to solve their own problems. This is called the new localism… communities must be decentralized to solve problems. We can see that happening with the Mayors Climate Protection Act… the Federal government is not taking responsibility, so local governments are stepping into the role (that’s what is meant by decentralized).

Real wages are at a 59 year low, while corporate profits are at an all-time high. Social justice is central to the mission… call it green collar justice. We must heal the deep wounds of racism and end class war. Everyone needs to be a leader, and diversity is the key to our survival.


Organisms have done everything we want to do – grow hair, travel, find energy and water – and they’ve done it without using fossil fuels. Nature will not run out of energy, but if we continue on the fossil fuel path, we will, and it will be too late.

We need a new set of eyes. Nature is no longer a usable resource, but a teacher of generosity and design. Biomimicry involves looking at nature’s designs and making our own designs more efficient.


Bioneers week: Intro October 22, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, education, environment, government, local, social consciousness — terra @ 7:00 am

The Bioneers conference this weekend was truly inspiring. I learned enough to share some revolutionary ideas with you for a long time. Throughout the week, and maybe longer, I’ll summarize the things I’ve learned and what we can do. I didn’t get any “rain barrel” type suggestions for things I can do at home. Bioneers is about restoring the earth, communities, and individuals, using a different mindset through which to consider things.

Nancy King Smith, the chairperson of the Cleveland Bioneers, began the conference. She reminded us that Bioneers are about solutions, and the change from fear to hope. There were 4,000 attendees in California, and 18 beaming sites. In Cleveland, we had visitors from Canada and the Bahamas, and throughout Ohio.

Cleveland Mayor Jackson was the first to speak, and he pointed out that there is no separation between humans and the environment. As Mayor, he tries to make decisions with that notion in mind. Mayor Jackson supports sustainability, and he has signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to advance the goals of the Kyoto treaty.

Andrew Watterson is the Sustainability Program Manager for Cleveland, and he spoke second. He pointed out the goal of Cleveland is to have lower utility costs to help the city’s residents. As Sustainability Program Manager, he is focused on green affordable housing, consistent with the triple bottom line: economic, environmental, and community sustainability. He spoke about the City Fresh program, which allows urban youth to take part in community gardens, where they can grow their own vegetables and sell them at markets. (more on community gardens later!) He mentioned the importance to lead by example, and it seems that Cleveland’s leadership is taking steps in the right direction when it comes to the triple bottom line. Cleveland’s operational efficiency task force is focused on improving service and efficiency. Since automating recycling, Cleveland’s recycling program has increased from 6.9% participation in 2005 to 9.6% in 2007. That small increase has saved 22,000 tons of waste that was destined for a landfill.

Bioneers is beyond sustainability, and seeks to restore the planet.

Media Update: The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a nice article about the conference.


Bioneers This Weekend October 18, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, conserve, education, environment, local, social consciousness — terra @ 7:34 am

If you live in NE Ohio, I hope you will consider attending at least one day of the Bioneers Conference in Cleveland. It’s Friday through Sunday, at Cleveland State University. The costs are very reasonable, and the content promises to be exciting and educational.

Here are some other Bioneers sites, and what others have said about Bioneers:

Great Lakes Bioneers
The Northern Rockies Bioneers Conference is focusing on local food this year.
Marc from Green City Blue Lake summarizes the Cleveland schedule.
Robert F Kennedy Jr will be appearing at the MA Bioneers Conference for a Thursday night preview.
The New York Times discusses last year’s Bioneers Conference.

Here are all of the Beaming Bioneers Conferences, in case you don’t live in NE Ohio. See if there’s a conference near you.


Nature’s Design: Aerodynamics October 10, 2007

Filed under: bioneers, education, environment — terra @ 7:31 am

One element of Bioneers that I really appreciate is how they encourage us to ask questions. Instead of asking, “how can we make airplanes aerodynamic,” Bioneers would encourage us to ask “how does nature design aerodynamics.” It’s easier to look at something that has been done effectively for millions of years, than for us to try to create something new. There are no design recalls in nature. Sure, there are evolving improvements, but nature has a pretty good system worked out. Here’s a fun example:

whaleHumpback whales have bumps on their bodies and fins, which makes them more aerodynamic. Researchers have replicated this design to try to improve the aerodynamics and efficiency of airplanes. Wind tunnels tests have revealed that the bumpy flippers are more aerodynamic than anything the aeronautics industry has created. “Bump-ridged flippers do not stall as quickly and produce more lift and less drag than comparably sized sleek flippers.”

The sleek flipper performance was similar to a typical airplane wing. But the tubercle flipper exhibited nearly 8 percent better lift properties, and withstood stall at a 40 percent steeper wind angle. The team was particularly surprised to discover that the flipper with tubercles produced as much as 32 percent lower drag than the sleek flipper.

Airplanes with similar bumps would have greater maneuverability, smoother lift, and would be more efficient overall. This design could also be applied to helicopters, small airplanes, and ship rudders.

“The idea they improved flipper aerodynamics was so counter to our current doctrine of fluid dynamics, no one had ever analyzed them,” researcher Frank Fish said.

Scientists who study nature’s designs have access to information that has been time-tested and proven effective. I look forward to more inspiring ideas at the Bioneers conference next weekend (10/19 – 10/21).