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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Climate Action Through Biomimicry:
Innovation for the SDGs

The tagline for this year’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, “Design° for People + Planet,” asks participants to look at what degree of change they will make for a particular SDG, using nature as their mentor.

If you haven’t heard about the innovative approach biomimicry takes, you’re not alone — but you are in the right place. Biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in biology. Using nature as a model, mentor and measurement tool for sustainability, we can create similar solutions to solve human design challenges. And what better way to align with the international effort of climate action than focusing the 2020 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge on the United NationsSustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Our Global Design Challenge invites students and professionals worldwide to create viable solutions inspired by nature. Its mission is to mobilize thousands to help create peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The tagline for the Challenge, “Design° for People + Planet,” asks participants to look at what degree of change they will make for a particular SDG, using nature as their mentor. The degrees symbol in the tagline also refers to the impact of global temperature rise as seen in the climate crisis — and the need for action now.

But, why focus the 2020 Challenge on the SDGs?

The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals created to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, peace and justice. Together, they represent a shared vision that people around the world are using to work toward solutions. The SDGs provide a window of opportunity for creating approaches to climate action, and what we’ve found through biomimicry is that everything is interconnected. Our ecosystems are affected by all of their inhabitants and the services they provide. The SDGs represent the complexity of climate change and the interconnectedness of environmental, economic and social inclusivity to support all parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality and accessibility for all humans.

Each goal can be viewed as a lens through which to further investigate climate action. Take for example Goal 14: Life Below Water, which calls for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. According to the UN, “Oceans absorb about 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.” A loss of our ocean ecosystems would exacerbate the effects of climate change in unprecedented and catastrophic ways. One way biomimicry has inspired restoration of this ecosystem happened during last year’s Challenge, where a team conceptualized the Floating Coconet, which aims to capture plastic pollution in rivers before it has the chance to enter the oceans. By mimicking the way organisms such as manta rays and basking sharks filter food from water, the Floating Coconet is able to collect and direct free-flowing plastics, small and large in size, to help combat the growing plastic pollution problem in oceans.

Over billions of years, living organisms have learned to adapt, survive and thrive on Earth. We need to do the same. The impacts of our rapidly changing climate are becoming more evident every day. Inventors worldwide are using nature-inspired design to create solutions to hunger, clean water, renewable energy, resilient infrastructure, deforestation, biodiversity loss and threats to marine life.

Applying nature’s design blueprints to these challenges can help achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as agreed upon by leaders worldwide.

Through Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, we encourage participants to create clean, renewable sources of energy for all humans, including the 13 percent of the global population that currently lacks access to modern electricity. The UN states that energy is the main contributor to climate change, accounting for roughly 60 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year, team members from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo created the concept of the Carbon Lung, which would be placed on wind turbines to create a closed system for carbon capture and utilization. Humpback whale tubercles, human lung alveoli and the carbon fixing enzymes in cyanobacteria inspired this team’s final design — pulling atmospheric air through a funnel, concentrating air into interconnected chambers. As the chambers are filled with air, CO2 diffuses through a semipermeable membrane, allowing it into the outer shell of the chamber — which contains a carbon-fixing solution that captures and converts CO2 into bicarbonate. The byproduct of this chemical process yields bicarbonate that can later be processed into fertilizer. If 50 of these modules were placed on all 56,800 wind turbines in the US, 3.8 million tons of CO2 could be captured each year.

The encouraging alignment between the SDGs and the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is that all innovation points to climate action — from Goal 13, specifically calling out Climate Action; to all the goals interconnected within the climate crisis, such as Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing, Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, and Goal 4: Quality Education. Each SDG in some shape or form can be attributed to furthering regenerative ecosystems for all species.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes that effective responses to climate change requires a global effort, which the SDGs aim to address. Undertaking the climate crisis is crucial to the livelihood of all species on Earth. The SDGs provide a framework to promote climate action by addressing the most pressing environmental and societal issues of our lifetime. We encourage teams from all corners of the globe to participate in the 2020 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, and help bring the world closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Registration officially opens today. We need all hands on deck to achieve a balanced, connected and resilient future for all. What degree of change will you make with nature as your mentor?