Conference Agenda

Overview and details of the sessions of this conference. Please select a date or location to show only sessions at that day or location. Please select a single session for detailed view (with abstracts and downloads if available).

Session Overview
Open-2: New Inspirations: Biomimicry; Sustainability Education
Wednesday, 26/Jun/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Thomas Seager
Location: Ross Island/Morrison

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4:00pm - 4:20pm

Integrating LCA & Biomimicry – Paper Case Study

Rebe Feraldi

TranSustainable Enterprises, LLC, United States of America

Eco-design tools such as life cycle assessment (LCA) use a systematic approach for quantifying the environmental performance of industrial products and services. The LCA methodology has great potential for holistically identifying areas of a supply chain with relatively poor environmental performance, a.k.a. “hotspots.” However, LCA is poor at inspiring “productively disruptive innovations” (Feraldi 2018). In contrast, nature-inspired design strategies such as Biomimicry are based on learning from deep principles found in nature and “regard nature as the paradigm of sustainability” (de Pauw 2010). These tools offer a radically different approach for developing designs in balance with the natural environment. Biomimicry is often referred to as the “conscious emulation of life’s genius” in order to solve human design and engineering challenges (Benyus 1994). The emulation aspect of the tenets of Biomimicry emphasizes integrating biological knowledge at the form, process, and system levels into design and engineering by identifying biological strategies and mechanisms that have evolved to survive the test of time. This type of approach is inspiring a paradigm shift of sorts in terms of addressing human design challenges but lacks the quantitative rigor of tools such as LCA. This work describes the implementation of a sustainability approach that is an amalgam between LCA and Biomimicry. The quantitative value of LCA helps to make substantive assessments and measurements of hotspots in a product supply chain. With this information, the Biomimicry approach can be applied to open the design space at these hotspots and reconnect our vision of our built environment and its place within the rest of the biosphere. Printing and writing paper product life cycles are highlighted as an example to demonstrate the utility of using this integrated approach. The combined value of these sustainability tools has the potential to revolutionize how industry, analysts, and policymakers address our relationship with the built and natural environment. It is the author’s hope that this integrated approach can help humans raise the “sustainability” bar to not only endeavour to sustain human life but to create systems that, in the words of Biomimicry specialists, “create conditions conducive to [all] life” (Benyus 1997).


Benyus J (1997). Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, BIOMIMICRY © 1997 by Janine M. Benyus, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York, 1997.

de Pauw I, Kandachar P, Karana E, Peck D, Wever R (2010). Nature inspired design: Strategies towards sustainability, Article in Conference Proceedings for the Knowledge Collaboration & Learning for Sustainable Innovation: 14th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production (ERSCP) Conference and the 6th Environmental Management for Sustainable Universities (EMSU) Conference, © 2010 De Pauw I, Kandachar P, Karana E, Peck D, Wever R. Accessed on September 30, 2018 at:

Feraldi R (2018). The Zoom Out, Environmental Leverage, Assess & Re-Invent (ZELAR) Approach: Plastic Box Case Study, Article on Sustainability Approach Amalgams for Biomimicry Masters Course on Communicating Biomimicry, January 2018.

4:20pm - 4:40pm

Biologically-Inspired Optimization of a Water Distribution Network

Stephen Malone1, Zackery B Morris1, Bert Bras1, Marc Weissburg2

1School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, United States of America; 2School of Biological Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, United States of America

Mathematical modeling and optimization are established techniques that have proven effective as quantitative benchmarking tools at design conception that aid an engineer’s ability to achieve desired results. However, when designing systems where sustainability is the desired outcome, engineers rely on qualitative targets of performance that are subjective in nature as comprehensive quantitative metrics presently are lacking. In the absence of such measures, engineers have limited capacity at the design phase to predict, monitor and evaluate the performance of engineered systems with respect to sustainability. However, emerging studies suggest that biology may provide a useful template in the establishment of quantitative sustainability benchmarks. For example, biologists have applied principles of information theory to develop quantitative metrics that derive from the exchange of resources found in ecological communities, describing indicators such as community health and maturity. Industrial ecologists have extended this type of network analysis by using ecological metrics to achieve a different perspective that can relate the configuration of already constructed engineered systems to material and energy cycling. The components of these engineered systems represent a network of consumers and producers (i.e. species), and the efficacy of the structural organization and flow of materials are determined by employing the ecological metrics and comparing the results to those found in natural communities.

This study extends the work of biologists and industrial ecologists by incorporating ecological metrics at conception in the design of engineered systems with a case study. This case study involves two optimization models of a water distribution network, both with the overall goal of cost minimization. The first model uses a traditional cost-based approach in its optimization by summing the flow rates of water with infrastructure, pumping, and treatments costs. The second model uses these same initial calculations of cost while also adding a penalty parameter that is based on a cycling-based ecological metric (Finn Cycling Index). Finn Cycling Index quantifies the proportion of cycled material through flow in an ecological community, prompting its use as an indicator of community health and maturity among scientists. The penalty parameter is then bounded by the range of values for the Finn Cycling Index found in mature ecological communities. Mature communities are those that have evolved for millennia into sustainable and robust networks of species that balance resource efficiency and redundancy. Contrasting the results in a traditional cost-based optimization model to the results of the same model with a metric-driven penalty, one may ascertain the influence of the ecological metrics on the optimization results. The results from this study demonstrate the optimization model with the metric-driven penalty produces greater amounts of cycling within the network at a similar level of cost with the traditional cost-based model. This validates the use of ecological metrics as a quantitative benchmark in sustainable engineering design that also has complementary outcomes with traditional cost-based optimization models. This bio-inspired optimization approach demonstrates the potential of using the properties of natural systems to guide efficient and robust engineering design at conception, a tool presently lacking in the sustainable design of engineered systems.

4:40pm - 5:00pm

The Origins, Evolution, and Current Crises in Industrial Ecology

Thomas Seager

Arizona State University, United States of America

As a new science, industrial ecology was founded on a biomimicry hypothesis -- to wit, that the holistic environmental impact of technological systems could be reduced if they were organized to be more like ecological systems to be increasingly interconnected (e.g., reuse of waste materials) and driven by abundant renewable energy. Two decades analytic tool development, including environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) and materials flow analysis (MFA) have codified just one aspect of the natural analog that has come to dominate the current paradigm of industrial ecology. Nonetheless, evidence that this paradigm is inadequate to the challenges of the post-industrial economy is no increasing. As the economy in developed countries evolves to incorporate the rapid growth of digital technologies, a resilience perspective on the natural analog has emerged as critically important. This presentation will identify the origins of the eco-efficiency perspective that currently dominates the natural analog, describe the existential dangers of this approach, and outline a complementary perspective on biomimicry that emphasizes adaptive capacity.

5:00pm - 5:20pm

Sustainability Education and Entrepreneurship (SEE): A new-knowledge process in the face of complexity and accelerating change for children in grades preK-6

Don Sweet1, Thomas P Seager2, Janet A McDonald3

1Sustainable Intelligence LLC, United States of America; 2Arizona State University; 3Rochester Roots, Inc.

The increasingly complex and rapidly evolving interdependencies of sociological, ecological and technological systems that characterize post-industrial societies pose tremendous challenges to current educational institutions. While the current educational paradigm emphasizes the efficient transfer of knowledge from experts to pupils, the wicked problems of the current age require constant transformation of knowledge – including knowledge co-creation, innovation, and embodiment in action. Each of these knowledge processes are characteristic of entrepreneurship, but rarely incorporated into elementary school education. Nevertheless, nurturing children’s innate capacities for knowledge transformation may prepare them for the life-long learning and adaptations necessary to build sustainable organizations and social institutions that contribute to human well-being in the face of accelerating change. Critical to this new educational paradigm, but largely absent from urban student populations, is an awareness of complex, living systems. Whereas prior generations may have engaged directly with such systems in agricultural settings, the experience of today's young children living in urban settings is largely sociological and technological, rather than ecological.

This paper describes a garden-based curriculum and Sustainability Education and Entrepreneurship (SEE) program, developed by a not-for-profit and for profit, Rochester Roots and Sustainable Intelligence, delivered at public Montessori and traditional elementary schools in Rochester and Greece, NY. Children receive instruction in systems modeling for exploring the interconnectivity of sociological, ecological, and technological systems dimensions of sustainability, participate in twenty-six interrelated Sustainability Laboratories, design products and manufacture prototypes, enlist the support of university faculty, students, businesspersons and subject matter experts, and participate in a culminating symposium. The school garden serves as both a metaphor for knowledge transformation in sustainability and provides raw materials for many of the product and business concepts developed. Now in its ninth year, over 850 students in two schools participate in different aspects of the program.

The next phase of SEE is to support children going out into community as ChangeMakers that share knowledge-transformation processes and entrepreneurship that adds value to life by improving well-becoming pathways and trajectories. This is a transition that their experiences have prepared them for, including; 1) the mindset of being young citizens influencing SEE learning community critical thinking and collaborative decision-making and 2) the leadership and interactional expertise developed through marshaling feedback from peers and adult mentors for their businesses. As citizens, they become catalysts that build community SEE cognitive and cognition infrastructure, which we call Cognitive Resilient Infrastructure, with the capacities to inform three community knowledge-transformation processes for a sustainability milieu: knowledge-creation, adaptive-innovation and resiliency-building.

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