Millions of Elders: Biomimicry and How Nature Would Do It


"I create conditions conducive to life, we create conditions conducive to life, you can create conditions conducive to life. When we do that, we’ve figured out the magic key."

Biomimicry is decoding astonishing treasures from nature's recipe book that we can mimic for our technological and industrial practices. It’s also changing how we think: a crash course in environmental education from nature’s viewpoint. Biomimicry Guild co-founder Dr. Dayna Baumeister chronicles the latest biomimicry inventions and educational breakthroughs by asking, “How would nature do it?” The U.S. Government’s first certified biomimicry professional, Marie Zanowick, shows how biomimicry is influencing federal policy and actions.


Bioneers Series XII - Program 05-12


Millions of Elders: Biomimicry and How Nature Would Do It



00:00               Opening underwriting narration (00:26)


The following program is made possible in part by Organic Valley Family of Farms. Organic and family-owned since 1988. Learn more at


By Park Foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.


And by support from listeners like you, helping air Bioneers radio programs world-wide free of charge.




00:26               Welcome (00:03)


Welcome to the Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature,


00:28               Baumiester Teaser (00:16)


I create conditions conducive to life, we create conditions conducive to life, you can create conditions conducive to life. When we do that, we’ve figured out the magic key.


00:44               Macy (00:09)


It’s all alive, it’s all connected, it’s all intelligent, it’s all relatives.


00:53               Bioneers Teaser (00:29)


We stand at the threshold of a historic opportunity in the human experiment: to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.


It's a revolution from the heart of nature - and the human heart.


In this series - The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature - we celebrate social and scientific innovators with breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet - creating a future environment of hope.


01:21               Theme music fade out (00:07)



01:29               Narration 1 (1:48)


For 3.8 billion years Earth has been creating conditions conducive to life. During that time life has created yet more life in cycles of continuous creation. Imagine for a moment the planet’s entire history represented on a one-year calendar. In February, the first bacteria emerge from the primordial soup as our most ancient ancestors. In March, photosynthesis begins to oxygenate the planet. For the whole summer, one-celled organisms rule. In September, sex bursts on the scene and the diversity of life explodes. By mid-December, fungi, plants, and insects join the party, along with amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. Flowers arrive just in time for winter solstice. Dinosaurs go extinct on Christmas day.


Just twelve and a half hours ago on New Year’s Eve, our predecessors, the hominids, first strode on two legs. And us, the Homo Sapiens, has inhabited Earth for all of twenty four minutes. How we will live in the next minute is going to determine our fate on Earth as a species. Will be sturdy survivors, or a failed and remarkably brief evolutionary experiment?


Join us for Millions of Elders: Biomimicry and How Nature Would Do It, with Biomimicry Guild co-founder, Dr. Dayna Baumeister and Marie Zanowick, the U.S. government’s first certified biomimicry professional. My name is Neil Harvey. I’ll be your host. Welcome to the Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature.


03:16               Music fade (00:11)


03:28               Baumeister 1 (00:32)


Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of nature’s genius. So what we mean by that is -- by “conscious” -- is that we actively seek answers to our problems from nature. And emulation doesn’t mean that we just copy it, but that we look for the deep design principles that are shown throughout nature and we emulate those. And genius is the recognition that nature, after 3.8 billion years of research and development has found ways to do things that are sustainable.


04:01               Narration 2 (00:31)


As a species, humanity has made one really big systems error. We seem to think that we are apart from nature rather than a part of it. We’ve been living outside the law, natural law, and the law is hot on our tail. Life has underlying principles that create conditions conducive to life. For instance, life recycles all materials; life fosters co-operative relationships, and is self-organizing. That's old hat to our biological elders.


04:33               Baumeister 2 (00:35)


The elders are the other life forms that we share this planet with. And there are millions of them. What a great ratio in our favor, right? Millions of elders to guide the way for us. There are estimates anywhere from 8 million to 30 million. Some people are even guessing 100 million elders. And these are the ones that are still around. Many, many, many have gone extinct. This is the one percent that’s still left on the planet, the ones that know how to live here well.


05:09               Narration 3 (00:32)


Dana Baumeister inhabits the leading edge of the biomimicry design revolution. Together with Janine Benyus in 1998 she co-founded the Biomimicry Guild and the Biomimicry Institute, and in 2011, Biomimicry 3.8. Since then Baumeister has served as a business catalyst, educator, researcher and design consultant, putting this innovative design science into practical practice by asking nature.


0:5:38     Baumeister 3  (01:29)


And these elders, such as the humpback whales, have guided some of us. They have given clues to things like how to build better wind turbines. The tubercles on the front of the humpback whale provide an efficiency to wind turbines allowing wind to be effective and efficient in areas where it otherwise wouldn’t be. Or spiders and their magic secret of why birds never crash into their webs. Right? They actually contain ultra-violet reflective fibers and birds see ultra-violet light so birds see their webs. So this company in Germany has imbedded ultra-violet fiber reflectors, or reflective fibers, in their glass to prevent bird collisions. (Applause)


Or learning how coral, and many, many of the critters of the sea, they bio-mineralize, they sequester carbon dioxide, and they put it into building blocks, they fix it into building blocks and right here, just 50 miles south, Calera has perfected that process to make cement – so cement that actually sequesters carbon dioxide instead of producing carbon dioxide in its production. (Applause)


07:07               Narration 4 (00:37)


Biomimicry is unearthing astonishing treasures from nature’s recipe book that we can mimic for our technology and industrial practices. But it isn’t just about make better stuff. It’s about how we think. It is a crash course in environmental education taught by nature and we are going to be graded by what we do with the knowledge. Biomimicry is now starting to find a place in model education programs from kindergarten to college and beyond. Dayna Baumeister and Biomimicry 3.8 designed the world’s first biomimicry professional certification professional program.


07:44               Baumeister 4  (00:27)


We have an eight-month professional program and a two-year master’s level professional program. And it sort of forms the backbone upon which all of our lessons grow, but it covers everything from sort of the raw content, the DNA of things like our life’s principles, how to integrate biology into methodologies of design. And then also tips on how to communicate, how to facilitate, how to help others learn and how to re-connect with the natural world.


08:12               Narration 5 (00:13)


From e-learning courses, to hands-on fieldwork, the core question of this integrated education is “how would nature do it?” For starters, try interdependence and getting outdoors.


08:26               Baumeister 5 (01:35)


Biomimicry, one of the most beautiful things about it, is it must be by default, interdisciplinary. And that means who’s coming to the table and practicing and learning about Biomimicry needs to represent a lot of different fields. Whether is business, engineering, and design, and obviously biology needs to be at the table, not to mention communicators, and artists, and graphic folks and the whole kit and caboodle. That’s not the way education is taught today, right?


So for many reasons biomimicry, from an interdisciplinary point of view, opens up a dialogue that would not exist otherwise and so a key to sustainability is having people actually talk to each other once again. The other thing that biomimicry does for education is that we as a species have evolved over 200 thousand years and our brains are programmed to learn, and they are programmed to learn through observation and play and experience. And biomimicry is all about deep observation of the natural world. Our brain is programmed to observe the natural world. It is not programmed to observe tall buildings and concrete and white noise in the background. And that’s challenging, yeah, that’s really challenging from an education perspective. And so the practice of learning biomimicry taps into our inner roots of what it means to be a species and I think it makes us better learners as a result.


So when you couple that sort of love and play, a context, a reason to learn about the natural world, a reason to interact with people with different disciplines and backgrounds, it just re-defines the way education and learning functions as a whole.


10:02               Narration 6 (00:09)


Dayna Baumeister says that life has already solved almost all the challenges that humanity faces today, many times over, and in amazing ways.





10:11               Baumeister 6 (00:56)


One of the things we do is that we go all around the house, or in a built environment and you find household objects: scissors, and oranges, and a cup, and a table, a table cloth and you lay out a whole bunch of things like bones and feathers and you ask the question, who’s solving the challenge in the same way that our human objects intend to?


So you might have a nut cracker and you have a claw of a crab, well the orange would be natural object category, and you might have a glass of water and you’re saying, “well, they’re both holding liquids.” And for people to make that connection, that life is solving the exact same things we’re solving for. You may have a beautiful shirt, and you may have a beautiful feather, and you realize they’re both building fibers, they’re both creating color, they’re both protecting from the elements. And for anyone to make that connection, that our challenges are not ours alone, is one of the first steps to beginning to look and ask those questions.


11:08               Narration 7 (00:06)


Perhaps more profoundly, getting the right answer starts with asking the right questions.


11:15               Baumeister 7 (1:09)


So often we focus on what it is that we want to have at the end of the day, the noun we are looking for, rather than what it is we want to do. And so what we came to realize early on – I am trained as a biologist – is that in order to have that conversation with the natural world, to recognize that we have something in common, is we need to ask what do you want to do? What is the organism trying to do? What is the ecosystem trying to do? What are we trying to do? And it gets us out of this framework and paradigm we are stuck in that says, well if we are really trying to manage excess water, which is what storm water management is all about, maybe sewer drains are not the answer, or streets designed with certain curvatures or slopes are not the answer.


So how would nature manage excess water? And you begin to look and you see how a forest has a distributed sponge-like system. And then you start re-thinking how streets are made. But if you have this pre-conceived notion that ‘I need a water filter,’ then you will only get a water filter. If you ask, ‘how can I clean water?’ you may look at a whole array of possibilities.


12:25               Narration 8 (00:38)


The first bio-mimicry certification program in 2008 had 16 students from five countries encompassing biologist, designers, environmentalists, engineers, and business people. Students wrestled with brain-teasing mysteries such as: Does nature govern? Does nature have fun? And what happens when nature makes a mistake? When we return, the first certified biomimicry professional in the U.S. federal government shares some surprising insights. This is Millions of Elders: Biomimicry and How Nature Would Do It. I’m Neil Harvey, you’re listening to the Bioneers, Revolution from the heart of nature.  


13:03               MID BREAK (00:41)


13:44               Underwriter #1 mention #1 (00:18)


Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature is made possible in part by John Masters Organics. Feel good about looking good. Learn more at Free distribution of this program is made possible in part by support from listeners like you.


14:09               Narration 9   (01:42)


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Students for the first training program for biomimicry professionals were encouraged to come with inquiring minds. In lively discussions they discovered that nature is self-governing and self-regulating. And they learned something really, really important: organisms generally try something different under only two conditions – either they are facing a life-threatening situation and making a last-ditch effort to survive, or they have enough resources that they can afford to make a mistake because it is fairly safe to try something new.


But many times, making a mistake can kill you. For millennia, as the new kids on the biological block on a fertile and abundant planet, human beings have generally enjoyed plentiful resources. So for better or worse we have been able to get away with some really big mistakes, until now. Several prior civilizations already ‘bought the farm’ as a result of exceeding nature’s limits. But never before has that occurred on a global scale, we simply can’t afford any more big mistakes. We need to change our way of living. That’s where biomimicry professionals come in.


The first certified biomimicry professional in the U.S. federal government has a history of thinking outside the box. Marie Zanowick was a self-programmed environmentalist who at the age of 26, decided to work inside the system. Today, she is an environmental engineer helping federal land agencies in the western states find innovative ways to reduce pollution and move towards sustainability. She’s now worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years.



15:51               Zanowick Cut 1 (01:14)


I’m a civil engineer, so I look at functions. That’s pretty much, you know, what do you want your design to do is a really important question to ask in biomimicry. And usually as designers or as engineers we say, what do you want? Oh, you want air conditioning? Ok we got these ten units, you want the most energy efficient one, we’ll plug it in. Instead of saying, what do you want your design to do? You want your design to make you feel cool. And how does nature do that? How does nature remove moisture from the atmosphere? Or cool air? Is different than saying, let’s install and air conditioning unit.


And so what I do in my work when people have me working on projects with them I say, well what do you want your design to do? So instead of going into a facility and designing a recycling program, what do you want your design to do? You want your design to eliminate waste. Well how can we do that? How does nature do that here in this ecosystem? And nature doesn’t just recycle. Nature pre-cycles, or even refuses to use some materials because they can’t be recycled into the system.


17:06               Narration 10  (00:27)


For Marie Zanowick, asking nature transforms the design process, and people’s thinking to get at deeper choices. She uses biomimicry and life’s principles as tools to help create a process that begins with the end in mind and ends with solutions that improve the entire system. One of those principles is that life optimizes the whole system rather and maximizing one part of it the way people do now.


17:34               Zanowick 2 (01:29)


We had a biomimicry workshop at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. And it’s the home of the largest sand dunes in North America and it’s right in Colorado. And they said we have a big problem with our plastic water bottles because we have 300,000 visitors a year and they drink a lot of beverages and we don’t have any plastic recycling nearby. And they also said, just collecting the plastic bottles and actually shipping them to China is not the best we can do, what else is possible?


So we looked at how does nature provide portable hydration, because that was the function that we wanted to achieve. And we looked at how organisms do it in the San Luis Valley, in the home of the great sand dunes. And we looked at that and we found ways, for example – once you look at that it seems so obvious – there are no organisms on the great sand dunes that walk up to the top on the hottest part of the day, which is when the majority of humans do it. And so something as simple as the park service re-formatting the things they did – they provided movies and their ranger talks and indoor activities under shade structures during that hot part of the day – and sent that message to their visitors, that organisms don’t go up onto the dunes in the hottest part of the day and we shouldn’t either.



19:04               Narration 11  (00:28)


Marie Zanowick calls these approaches, ‘nature-based strategies’. These strategies that work with nature also create more eco-literate park visitors and they are starting to find wide acceptance among federal land managers. Zanowick went on to create a major biomimicry initiative at Yellowstone National Park using nature’s operating instructions. Her vision is to change how the federal government thinks.


19:32               Zanowick 3 (01:20)


We’re starting to look at, well, how does nature produce, distribute and store energy in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and can we mimic that? Because the federal government touches so many people’s lives – 350 million people visit the national parks every year. If they could get that story – and it doesn’t even have to be the story of biomimicry, it’s just like, this is how nature does it here, and that’s why we do it too. It would become the accepted way of looking at a problem.


And that would be my vision, is that biomimicry becomes the accepted way of addressing a problem in the federal government and it would have enormous ramifications across society. We would start writing regulations that incorporate life’s principles, we would start making strategic decisions about where we place things and how we place them in the environment based on how nature does it, and I think we could also regain a lot of pride in our country because we would be a government that looks to nature as a companion and as a partner in how we deal with all the things we do as people.


20:52               Narration 12  (00:32)


The EPA can enforce only laws passed by congress. The Clean Air Act, for example, treats air separately from the water or the land. But when scientists, biologists, and business people start applying life’s principles to an air quality problem, they find nature doesn’t just do one thing. Nature does everything all at once as one system. And that realization presents people an ‘aha!’ moment; it’s a remembering of the way we as human beings used to visualize and interact with the natural world.


21:26               Zanowick 4 (00:52)


For me personally, that’s what woke me up to the possibilities of biomimicry and why I wanted to pursue a degree and why I wanted to bring it to the federal government is because when people get it, they’re just so excited about the possibilities. And especially the young people who are looking for that and they see other sustainability efforts fail for this reason or that reason, whereas biomimicry provides something that we can all see and feel and feel in our hearts that it’s the right thing to do.


So that’s what gives me hope for the future and I think it’s hopefully we are moving from the industrial age into the biological age and it’s going be about nature, it has to be.


22:19               Narration 13  (00:09)


Marie Zanowick, the first certified biomimicry expert in the U.S. federal government. Again, Dayna Baumeister.


22:29               Baumeister 8  (01:51)


Asking questions like, how do we communicate? How do we foster learning? How do we build resilient communities? All of those questions you can ask. How does nature communicate? How does nature have positive interactions and support mutualisms? How does nature have governance? What is leadership in nature? Those are all very, very valid questions that are also revolutionary because they completely re-define the way we currently think we must do things. (Elephant trumpets)


From the elephant we learn that evolving and adapting over time to survive – the elephant lives on the planet because it had a lucky mutation of a gene that gave it wrinkled skin; it allowed it to go so big and dissipate the heat when the glaciers retreated eleven thousand years ago. Evolving to survive and learning to fit in. But all of these species, including the ants, which teach us that building webs, self-organizing, fostering cooperative relationships are the way of living on the planet. Now these are just the mentors, these are just the representatives that have showed up in our operating manual that showed up on behalf of the other 30 million of species. But what they all have in common: they all can put their name before that word ‘create’. ‘I create conditions conducive to life. We create conditions conducive to life. You can create conditions conducive to life.’ When we do that we have figured out the magic key, we’ve solved what we need to solve for.


24:20               Narration 14  (00:27)


Or not – those who actions don’t benefit the whole, just won’t be around for the long haul. As the Biomimics Dana Baumeister and Marie Zannowick point out, we are so not alone in our quest to live in ways that last. The genius of nature invites us to honor the web of life, each other, and future generations.


24:48               Baumeister 9 (01:19)


Life is so incredibly resilient, and never, ever, ever forget that we are life, too. We are not alone, we aren’t alone. But we have a job to do, and it’s a three-part job. We need to reawaken curiosity, and we need to back into that childlike mind and reconnect with that self and that sense of wonder that says, ‘I actually don’t have all the answers.’ And then we need to embrace the wisdom that we discover. And then, I actually think this is a really, really important piece of it. We need to reconnect with our own humanity, we need to bring back the wayward ones and show them how incredibly beautiful our plant is, and can be again. Thank you. (Applause)


26:07               Music Outro   (00:07)


26:14               Narration 15  (00:05)


Millions of Elders: Biomimicry and How Nature Would Do It.


26:19               Music Outro   (00:06)


26:26      Bioneers BXII - Program Close/Credits (1:37)     


You can listen to a variety of Bioneers radio shows and view conference videos online— at — where you can also learn about attending the national Bioneers conference or a local Bioneers conference near you.


The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature is a production of Collective Heritage Institute.
Executive Producer: Kenny Ausubel
Written by Catherine Stifter and Kenny Ausubel
Senior Producer: Neil Harvey
Managing Producer: Stephanie Welch
Production Management: Aaron Leventman and Nicole Spangenburg
Station Relations by Creative PR
Distribution is by WFMT Radio Network
Original Recordings provided by Focus Audio Visual
Interview recording engineer:  Jeff Wessman.
Our theme music is taken from the album "Journey Between" by Baka Beyond and used by permission of Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label.

Additional music was made available by Sounds True at –

For more music information, please visit
The opinions expressed in The Bioneers Revolution from the Heart of Nature radio series are those of the presenters and are not necessarily those of Collective Heritage Institute, the underwriters, or this radio station.
My name is Neil Harvey. Thank you for listening. I invite you to join the Bioneers in inspiring a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
This is program number 05-12.


28:05               Closing underwriting narration (00:24)


This series is made possible by Organic Valley Family of Farms. Organic and family-owned since 1988. Learn more at


And by Park Foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.


For more information, visit — or call 1-877-BIONEER.


28:30   END

Millions of Elders: Biomimicry and How Nature Would Do It | DR. DAYNA BAUMEISTER

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Millions of Elders: Biomimicry and How Nature Would Do It


Posted by Bioneers on Mar 25 2013 in category 2012 Bioneers Radio Series

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