Symbiocene with border header image

Practical Utopias: An Exploration of the Possible

“There isn’t ‘the future’ that we’re doomed to enact.
There are all kinds of possible futures.
And which one we’re going to get
is going to depend on
what we do now.”

– Margaret Atwood

If we want to make change or create something new so we can bring about a better future for all, we have to be able to imagine what’s possible. Not sci-fi epics or fantasies, but real, better living plans that could actually work.

NatuR&D’s Anne-Marie Daniel was on the team who created the Practical Utopia called Symbiocene, one of the outputs in the published anthology. It’s a collection of narratives developed by the subgroups and a series of illustrations to tell the story of this possible future.

As you read this story, we invite you to immerse yourself in possibility…

Symbiocene Practical Utopias poster

That’s just what a diverse, global community of trailblazers and difference-makers collectively did in Practical Utopias: An Exploration of the Possible, a collaborative virtual learning experience led by world renowned author, teacher, and environmental activist Margaret Atwood and powered by Disco, the all-in-one platform that brings together community and learning.

With the guidance of Margaret and an all-star lineup of special guests, 200 Fellows from all walks of life ranging in age from 18 to 75+ and representing over 40 countries across 6 continents came together to boldly grapple with some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity today – the climate crisis and social inequalities being foremost.

Over the course of eight weeks from September to November 2022, Fellows collaborated as a member of one of eight teams and engaged in a highly ambitious collaborative world-building process guided by a facilitator and supported by an illustrator to help visualize their imagined worlds. Their challenge was to co-design a possible future that embraced the following constraints:

• 10 years from our present day
• Specific to a chosen geography
• Sustainable (i.e. carbon negative or neutral)
• Scaleable
• Attractive enough so that people will want to embrace it
• No magic wands: Must leverage solutions that already exist today in some form or have existed in the past

Within their teams, Fellows worked together in smaller subgroups to explore the following topics:


• Shelter
• Water
• Food
• Clothing
• Electricity
• Transportation
• Waste
• Death & Human Remains


• Education
• Health
• Gender Equality
• Arts & Culture
• Governance
• Communication
• Wealth & Financial Systems
• Faith & Spirituality

You can learn more about Practical Utopias
and explore the digital anthologies of the other teams of Fellows at

Assortment of Salish Sea Soap Pebbles

How is the circular economy inspired by Nature?

The idea for Salish Sea Soap Pebbles was born on a beach in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island, when Soap for Hope Canada and NatuR&D connected at a Power to Give Social Impact Academy.

Nature doesn’t let anything go to waste. As the world turns, Nature’s cycles breakdown, restore and refresh the water and soil of the planet.

Salish soap pebbles

Salish Sea Soap Pebbles turn organic factory soap offcuts into a useful and beautiful product that keeps valuable feedstock in circulation, the way nature transforms waste into resources.

The soap pebbles are made with activated charcoal, a variety of skin conditioning clays and organic soap. Some of the soap is even made of captured carbon dioxide, which further benefits our environment by removing and repurposing this compound into a usable product.

Nature transforms materials in place through local partnerships.

A small group of artisans have hand crafted over 9000 Salish Sea Soap Pebbles to date, which are then sold by local distribution partners to the public. Deep Cove Store, Ecotopia, Zero Waste, The Pier Hotel, as well as distributor Market 1750 in Shawnigan Lake have generously donated retail space at no cost to support this initiative. This means that the Soap Pebbles are able to use 100% of profits to support local community projects.

Nature transforms materials into nutrients where they are needed.

soap pebbles in a shell

In 2021–our first year of profits went to the Tsawout (pronounced say-out) Bighouse. With this seed money, we joined their team to help with an event held on Truth and Reconciliation Day and graciously hosted by Pauquachin First Nation, raising a total of $80,000. Almost a year to date, they are having their Grand Opening. 2022 proceeds are earmarked to support low-income seniors. Profits from Salish Sea Soap Pebbles support the communities where they are created.

So when you lather up with Salish Sea Soap Pebbles…know that you are supporting a Nature-inspired biomimic way of living that naturally supports a regenerative no-waste life cycle. Truly designed for the circular economy that will shape your triple bottom linepeople, planet and prosperity.

NatuR&D exists to track towards a world where designers, architects, engineers, artists and creatives see Nature as their ally and inspiration for solving today’s most depressing challenges. From packaging to climate change, Nature is the go-to guru. If your team is looking for its next edge in innovation, NatuR&D is here to support you with biomimicry thinking R&D. 

What problem do you want to solve?

Blue Morpho butterfly with wings spread

What is Nature Inspired Design?

Nature has solved every problem there is in some way.

In its essence, Nature inspired design is about applying what we’ve learned about Nature to the things we design. By observing Nature, we can learn a lot about how to build better products for transportation, energy production, architecture, agriculture, and more. After all, our planet is filled with life that has billions of years of design experience.

In Nature-Inspired design, everybody owns a piece of the puzzle.

Humans are certainly not the only species capable of innovative design. And design thinking isn’t reserved for just designers. The field of Nature inspired design is interdisciplinary, and relies on researchers, scientists and designers with a range of specialties. Together, they’re able to reverse-engineer Nature to solve human problems in the real world via design.


Biomimicry is learning about design from Nature and creating products, services and systems that have a net benefit to Nature. To understand Nature inspired design is to understand biomimicry. In fact, the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Biomimicry (or biomimetics) is what guides Nature inspired design, representing the bridge between biology and design principles. Biomimicry offers an understanding of how life functions and thrives on Earth. From there, we can decide where we fit in as people. Nature has a strategy for just about every problem, and it’s evident when you take a look at the diverse plants and animals we have on this Earth. There’s a lot to learn…

How Do I Start?

There are 2 ways to engage in Biomimicry Design Thinking. Challenge to Biology is when you have a problem and you look for a solution in Nature’s models. Interface flooring consistently takes this approach in redesigning everything from their tiles to their factory asking How would Nature solve the problem?

harmonizing old and new

Biology to Design is when you find something really brilliant in Nature, and you want to apply it to human built designs. An example of this is the many products that have been inspired by the scales on butterfly wings that create colour without pigment. The new Lexus Coupe uses this technology for a paint that is gentler on the planet.

structural colour - blue butterfly and blue car

To learn more, be sure to check out this free resource on Biomimicry Thinking.

According to the Biomimicry Institute, there are three essential elements of biomimicry:

  • Emulate: Doing research and learning from Nature to create better and more sustainable design for society.
  • Ethos: The philosophy of understanding how life works, and designing things that support life.
  • (Re)Connect: The idea that we humans are part of Nature, and that by using biomimicry to influence design, we are re-connecting with our natural world.

The Design Process

Nature inspired design and biomimicry is much more than just using ideas from Nature to build more sustainable products. It redefines our entire thinking and researching process. Below is the 5-step design thinking process used by the Hasso Plattner Institute for Design at Stanford University.

  1. It all starts with step 1 – empathize. Here we stop to empathize with all life forms, and include them as stakeholders in our process. All stakeholders must be considered. How will they be affected?
  2. The second step is to define the question we’re curious about. What are we researching? What would we like to know? When looking at a Nature inspired design problem, we’ll probably ask something like “How does Nature solve ___”?
  3. Next, we ideate. This is where we gather research and ideas from Nature itself. As we think about and design strategies, Nature should be the prime inspiration.
  4. Step 4 is for prototyping – where we bring Nature inspired ideas to life for the first time.
  5. The fifth and final step is where testing happens. Not only are testing to see if the Nature inspired design is effective and better than what was available before, it’s also the time to test for sustainability. Is it conducive to life? Does it follow Nature’s patterns?

As in any design process, expect many rounds of testing. In that case, return to step 3 – the ideation phase, and start again by re-visiting the design strategies.

Using Nature Inspired Design to Solve Problems

dirt and growing plants up close

In just about any industry, we can use Nature inspired design to solve problems and design better products. But it’s not just about creating better products. The ethos of Nature inspired design is geared toward sustainability – making products conducive to life and longevity.

Here are some of the industries and areas that have benefited from Nature inspired design:

  • Farming

The Biomimicry Institute’s Food Systems Design Challenge produced some interesting ideas – some of which have already seen commercial success. Felipe Hernandez Villa-Roel was a finalist for his product called Hexagro. It started with an idea to help people living in small urban spaces to grow pesticide-free food at home – as efficiently as possible. This idea is inspired by the beehive. It can drastically reduce CO2 emissions and cut water consumption by 90% (compared with traditional farming).

  • Water Systems

In 2005, the University of California at Davis was experiencing algae bloom in their open-air reservoir, due to the changing temperature of the water leaving the ground then settling above. Instead of relying on chemicals or retrofitting, Jay Harman was contracted to look into the issue. Inspired by the patterns and proportions of the Calla Lily, Jay’s solution was able to homogenize the entire one million gallon reservoir so algae could no longer grow – all without using any fossil fuels.

  • Architecture

The BIQ Building (AKA the Algae House) in Hamburg, Germany is helping set the bar for sustainable architecture. The panels of the building are not only required for the building’s structure, but they’re used as biofuel. Filled with algae, these panels absorb natural light, warms the water inside the building, and cuts utility expenses.

  • Transportation

The original Japanese Shinkansen Bullet train is perhaps one of the more well-known examples of Nature inspired design. The early trains could travel in excess of 180 mph, but they made loud booming sounds that caused structural damage. Inspiration for design improvements came from the kingfisher, a bird that hunts by diving into the water to grab little fish all while causing very minimal splash. As a result of the Nature inspired design upgrade, they were able to eliminate the booming sound, while the trains could travel faster with less electricity use.

  • Sanitation

In countries where access to water is limited, dry toilets are a solution worth exploring. There are several issues with dry sanitation, but Nature can help. In a paper published in 2015 by researchers at Oxford University and the Technical University of Denmark, they found various sources of inspiration from Nature that could be applied to dry sanitation to help with the issues of smell, cleaning and flies. There are bird nestlings that wrap their feces in a biodegradable membrane – this helps solve the smell issue. The animal eyeball cleaning principle addresses the cleaning problem. Finally, the pitcher plant offers a solution to the fly issue.

The list goes on…

NatuR&D exists to track towards a world where designers, architects, engineers, artists and creatives see Nature as their ally and inspiration for solving today’s most depressing challenges. From packaging to climate change, Nature is the go-to guru. If your team is looking for it’s next edge in innovation, NatuR&D is here to support you with biomimicry thinking R&D.  What problem do you want to solve?

up close orange flowers and butterfly

What is a Biomimicry Degree & Where Can You Get One?

What is Biomimicry?

Biomimicry is a type of biological science that studies the functional aspects of our natural world, and applies them to the challenges we face as humans. Plants and animals have evolved over millions of years to develop various defenses and advantages – and there’s a lot we can learn from them. With nature as our inspiration, we’ve been able to make big advances in engineering, product design, regional planning, and more – all thanks to the study of biomimicry.

Here are some examples of biomimicry from our everyday life.

tree with big roots

Technological advancement and technological thinking has taken us a long way, especially in the past 100 years. But so has Mother Nature – and she’s had a lot more time. The natural world around us has developed reliable mechanisms and solutions over millions of years, through evolution. By studying these natural processes, we can uncover new solutions that have passed the test of time.

Want to learn more about biomimicry, but don’t have the time for a formal education? We offer bite-sized presentations, webinars, and workshops for individuals and teams.

Getting a Biomimicry Degree

A biomimicry degree explores the many connections between our natural world and what we plan, design, and build as humans. By studying biomimicry, you’ll investigate and seek to understand how nature and it’s many plants and animals work, how they evolved, and what we can borrow and apply to contemporary challenges. This means studying organisms as small as bacteria, and entire ecologies filled with numerous plants and animals.

studying with notes and drink

Your previous work and educational experience could be rooted in anything from biology to engineering to business to design. The emerging study of biomimicry will build on your relevant experience. Depending on the program you choose, you could be taking part in projects, doing research, covering heavy amounts of theory, or writing a thesis. Most likely it will be a combination of some or all.

After completing a degree in biomimicry, you’ll work to solve the challenges of today, including how businesses are run, how our cities are planned and built, how our kids are educated, how our healthcare system operates, and more. Upon graduating with a degree in biomimicry, your skills and knowledge will be widely sought after from the private sector, government, and non-profit world.

Where to Study Biomimicry

Typically taught at the Masters degree level, biomimicry as a field of study is interdisciplinary. While the course curriculum of a biomimicry degree will vary from program to program, there seems to be a common base. Along with learning how the natural world evolves, you’ll study areas of biology, earth science, chemistry, sustainability, design thinking, and more.

Here are some of the schools today that are offering biomimicry degrees:

Offered as an online program, a Master of Science in Biomimicry from ASU will “explore the connection between biological principles and design”. Graduate students will learn from the successes of evolution, and apply what they learn to our contemporary challenges.

Some of the core courses offered as part of this program include: ‘Life’s Principles’, ‘Biomimicry Thinking’, and ‘Biology Taught Functionally’.

This undergraduate program offered by the University of Akron (in Ohio) is open to students of all majors, and trains them to “seek inspiration from living systems to solve technical challenges”.

Some of the courses in this program include ‘Technology-Based Startups’, ‘Biomimicry Design Challenge’, ‘Physics of Living Systems’, and more.

This two-year program at Utrecht University in the Netherlands combines research, innovation and design. Their major research project focuses on one theme of your choice, among these options: Fungal Biology, Ecology, Molecular Plant Physiology, or Plant Eco Physiology. Internships, lab work, data analysis, and scientific reading and writing are also a part of the program.

While there aren’t many programs out there that offer degrees strictly related to biomimicry, or that include ‘biomimicry’ in their program names, there are still plenty of options. Many schools offer very closely related programs at every level for environmental science, natural resources, sustainability, and more.

The field of biomimicry has not been around long, and the growth has been slow and steady, but there’s no doubt that its applications for environmental sciences, engineering, and design are looking promising.

We hope this article has helped you in your journey of learning more about biomimicry and your educational options.

To learn more about our biomimicry presentations, webinars, and workshops offered to individuals and teams, connect with us today.

RUSH initiative graphic

Resilient Urban Systems & Habitat (RUSH) Initiative

So…Lytton burned. June’s heat wave was a reminder: You humans are indeed vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.1

70% of sudden deaths recorded in BC during the heat wave were due to extreme temperatures. More than 1 billion seashore animals were cooked to death.2 Shellfish populations were devastated.

That’s not good: these water-filtering creatures clean and maintain the water quality in the ocean every day, free of charge. We humans don’t know how to provide this service, nor could we afford to provide it on the scale at which it naturally occurs.

How are we protecting our fellow creatures and ourselves in the face of climate change? Is there a way to amp up our ability to handle heavy weather? Are there things we can do to help regulate our climate right here? What can we do to cool the city off during the summer?

The Power Of Maps

The Resilient Urban Systems & Habitat (RUSH) initiative is here to help us figure it out. RUSH is a collaboration of smart people working across different sectors who are finding ways to protect our region better, so it can withstand climate change. Because ready or not, it’s here.

Hosted by the Map Shop at the University of Victoria (UVic), RUSH is compiling and delivering data on community and ecosystem health to the local ArcGIS mapping system (Capital Regional District).

Teams engaged in community-based participatory research at UVic are starting with tree cover and pavement data. Where do we need more shading? Where should we convert parking lots to patios and parks?

Teams involved in community mapping are researching ways to connect rain and pollinator gardens across the region. These teams specialize in learning from communities and creating tools that help to find the opportunities and spot the gaps.

With the help of the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, gardeners will be able to plot their pollinator gardens on the ArcGIS Map. This will show us where bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators, who are key to growing delicious food across the region, need more habitat to work their magic. The Network helps the public map all kinds of things like Little Free Libraries, sidewalk art and seed banks.

Maps and data are not the whole picture though… Just because we see something, doesn’t mean we understand it. Maps can create divisions and cause us to miss important relationships, features, and dynamics. Learning about this area from Indigenous people is essential in building understanding for what is here, what was here and what is needed to restore the health of the land and its creatures. Indigenous knowing plus years of monitoring and research by local restoration groups will bring deeper meaning to the visuals that the maps offer.

The Power Of Partnerships

At the rate we’re going, we’re on track to becoming a concrete jungle. And many areas across the region suffered because of that during the heat wave.

Our Indigenous communities have been clear in pointing out that the way we’ve developed our neighbourhoods does not improve our relationship with the wider ecosystem. Settlement across the region marginalizes the First Nations and their way of life. Our built environment makes some cultural harvesting and other practices impossible. This needs to change. By restoring and connecting natural areas, we can all take steps to living in a better relationship with the land and Indigenous communities. Partners across sectors are coming together to find a shared language and vision that has urban design supporting Nature in her work of creating the conditions conducive to a good life for all.

Some of our RUSH partners include:

The Capital Regional District–Community Health Network, the University of Victoria, Island Health, Christine Lintott Architects, the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, Peninsula Streams Society, Seachange Marine Conservation Society and NatuR&D. Together, we have identified the need for a map that helps us see the opportunities and the gaps. Our goal is to figure out what we need to know in order to make communities healthy and resilient to climate change across the region and see the difference we are making with dashboards that will tell us how to be more protected and connected.

Join Us

Starting in 2022, we are inviting everyone who is interested to join us for a mix of field trips, events and online sessions.

Connect to stay in the loop for updates and registration information in 2022.


See also…

Acker, Maleea. “What’s the RUSH? Anne-Marie Daniel’s Resilient Urban Systems and Habitat Initiative.Focus on Victoria, 10 December 2021.

little green gecko with red marks

Free Biomimicry Resources for K-12 Schools, Institutions & Informal Educators

It’s crucially important that we allow school-age children to learn and sample what biomimicry is and how it can change our lives for the better. Below are several very high-quality resources that can help educators communicate these sometimes complicated scientific concepts to younger people.

  • Sharing Biomimicry with Young People is a free downloadable publication, providing an introduction to biomimicry with teaching strategies for K-12 educators and others who work with youth.
  • The Institute’s K-5 Biomimicry Curriculum will enter the second round of field tests this fall, integrating feedback generated by the first round of educators who used the K-5 lessons in their classrooms last spring. These lessons generate purposeful outdoor experiences that provide young students with a new lens of looking at the natural world.
  • Grade 6-12 educators seeking to introduce biomimicry can start with the “Bite-sized Biomimicry” curriculum (scroll down). The ten-lesson unit prepares both teachers and students with key concepts in biomimicry, a foundation for submission to the Youth Design Challenge. If you are interested in teaching biomimicry in your middle school or high school classroom, this is a perfect starting place.
  • Launching in January 2022, a new module in the Climate Science Lab at Golden Gate will feature biomimicry as a practice for students to become change-makers in their local communities. California educators introducing climate change in their classrooms might consider a middle school residential camp stay at NatureBridge at Golden Gate in San Francisco.
  • In partnership with the Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University and the Phoenix Zoo, the Institute has created downloadable science kits for middle schoolers. BioConnect Kits feature a mini-challenge based on learnings from desert organisms. Each week-long unit walks 6th-8th grade students through the biomimicry design process with lesson plans, inquiry cards, 3D model files, videos and more. The kits are aligned to Arizona state standards and NGSS. Access BioConnect Kits here.

The Biomimicry Institute is actively identifying opportunities to bring their youth-focused teaching tools to under-served schools and historically marginalized communities. Rosanna Ayers, Director of Youth Education, is excited about expanding biomimicry education through this diversity of perspectives, which she sees as essential to preparing the up-and-coming decision-makers of our future.

butterfly resting on branch

The 2021 Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge Winners & Designs

The Youth Design Challenge is a program developed by the Biomimicry Institute that provides a remarkable opportunity for coaches and students from middle school to high school to share their creative ideas with respect to biomimicry and innovation in nature. This year’s event is complete and there were some truly amazing submissions from schools around the world. It’s inspiring to see a raft of young aspiring designers and ‘scientists’ using nature’s beautiful design to develop real-world solutions to serious issues.

Jump right to this year’s winners:

For a complete breakdown of this ground-breaking event, see the 2021 YDC Handbook right here: Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge (PDF)

Innovative Inspiration From Nature

From mangrove forests to antelope horns to mud wasps and butterflies, students from 53 schools all submitted design entries into this year’s challenge. Even during COVID lockdowns and stay at home orders, these incredible students and coaches created a real challenge for the judging committee to select the winners for the 5 separate awards available.

  • Naturalist Award: For comprehensive research into biological models, thorough explanations of their natural history and strategies, and selection of appropriate organism models to inform the design.
  • Changemaker Award: For an innovative design proposal that could potentially move forward in future research and development and/or would have a significant impact if implemented.
  • Design Cycle Award: For perseverance in the iterative design cycle including exploration of multiple design ideas, using creative techniques to test potential solutions, and/or getting feedback from diverse experts and interested community members to inform design revisions.
  • Problem Definition Award: For systems thinking, thoroughness, and creativity in researching, identifying, and defining a problem to solve.
  • Storyteller Award: For an engaging presentation of the required application materials that creatively and accurately captures the team’s innovation process and learning journey.

To learn about registering for 2022 and reading all about the winners and their designs, roll over to the official website right here:


Sustainable Packaging as the New Norm

Why aren’t there more sustainable packaging solutions on the market today? What are the inherent blocks to innovation? What does a zero-waste world mean to you?

In Episode 101 of Waste360’s Nothing Wasted! Podcast, Liz Bothwell interviews Reyna Bryan, president of RCD Packaging Innovation. Reyna is on a mission to transform supply chains and make sustainable packaging the norm. A 10-year veteran of sustainable packaging innovation, she believes we have the capability to produce goods and services without being destructive to our natural systems by designing packaging with the “end of its useful life” in mind.

RCD’s collaborative Redefining Flexible Films Workshop in 2020 was supported and attended by many brands like Mars, Whole Foods and PepsiCo, in both the consumer-packaged goods and waste management industries. The design-thinking style innovation workshop drew experts from across the flexible film packaging supply chain. The ten-month process resulted in a white paper outlining the barriers and opportunities in addressing the current problems with the petroleum-based flexible film as well as establishing a foundation of knowledge based on the diverse perspectives and expertise of the group.

NatuR&D was there and led an incubation project called Flexture. The project is looking for strategies in Nature’s packaging that manage moisture vapour so that the performance of compostable flexible film can be improved.

Nature has many strategies we can apply to flexible film. RCD and NatuR&D are collaborating this year to offer Biomimicry Webinars series to inspire packaging innovation. Each webinar explores a theme relevant to current packaging challenges. Workshops are designed for interdisciplinary collaboration and are tailored to the consumer-packaged goods industry.

Photo source: Ocean plastics on the beach at Caño Island Biological Reserve, Costa Rica ©Seth Galewyrick

VOC Transformation Elements

Nature’s Design For Atmospheric Restoration

Formaldehyde (HCHO) is a common Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) generated from human activity and industry. Ubiquitous in the indoor and outdoor environments of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area, VOCs react with nitrogen oxides (NOx) creating frequent ozone (O3) events that are hazardous to human and ecosystem health.

How can Nature re-create a healthy atmosphere?

Research supports the correlation between native plant-microbiome relationships and microbiome health, so NatuR&D designs a living machine to restore the ecosystem by boosting the soils in Mexico City’s metro area to process VOCs and NOx.

Presented at the March 2021 SPIE Conference on Smart Structures + Nondestructive Evaluation
Claudia Rivera Cárdenas, Anne-Marie Daniel, “How does Nature regulate atmospheric composition?: Formaldehyde removal from air,” Proc. SPIE 11586, Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication XI, 1158609 (22 March 2021);

Paper (PDF)
Video (Spanish)
Video (English)
Slides (PDF)

tomato sprouts

How Nature Finds Balance – How I Wonder What You Are

Writer, Biomimicry professional and entrepreneur Anjan Prakash shares a video post – 29 Individuals – on building your practice through meditations on how Nature finds balance.

On the 29th of Jan, nine varieties put out their tiny heads out of the soil, each in varying lengths, widths, shapes, and some in different shades of green. Some such a tiny head, I almost missed it in my first inspection.  On the 30th, five more said hello to us. 31st Jan, another six more, 1st Feb, six, and now you know how this goes. One of them (chives) is enjoying the company of the soil so much, that no amount of anything has yet made her want to break out of her seed, and pop out of the soil. I am told that she needs patience.

Watch the entire, amazing video right here.

29 Individuals from howiwonderwhatyouare on Vimeo.