What Banking, Biomimicry and Mold Spores Have in Common

April 16, 2015
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Atlantic Wharf lobby

At the Atlantic Wharf building in Boston, a column with branches like a tree stretches to a glass ceiling, allowing the space to be bathed in natural light, as a water streams down multiple strings (left).

I never thought I’d see a banker and a biomimicry expert in the same conference session, but that’s exactly what happened at the Babson Energy & Environment Conference last week.

Though perhaps we should expect it. The economy-ecology relationship has been detailed here, especially in how energy efficiency improves economic productivity, by saving resources that can be put to use elsewhere. A business that operates efficiently is a better business, after all. And more efficiency leads to more innovation, which leads to a larger economy. This is called energy productivity.

There is also a strong health and wellness component in what the Babson conference titled “The Nature of Business.”

Banker Vince Siciliano, president and CEO of the New Resource Bank, describes an Economy of Being Well and Doing Good. “A lot of people in business say they want to do good … and also do well. Then they say I want to do good … and it would be nice if I do well. But really, we all want to do well.”

“I want be well and do good,” he adds

Siciliano wipes away the notion that one can’t both do well and do good. He outlines an economy of being well that maximizes well-being for the planet and its people, values stewardship and relationships, and practices more “mindful” business. In contrast, an Economy of Doing Well, or what we’re used to, is self-serving, rooted in the approval of others, ultra-competitive and unsustainable with the challenges facing us today, from the economic to the environmental.

Think of it as moving from ego to eco. Siciliano favors values-based banking. “I have to look at our interest rates [now], but I also have to look long-term,” he says.

 

Prisma atriumBusiness of Nature

Biomimicry expert and biophilic architect Chris Garvin of Terrapin Bright Green followed by discussing how using forms and designs found in nature can de-stress and relax people, as well as provide efficient systems for buildings.

Popular examples of biomimicry include Velcro modeled from hooked structures like burrs, airplane wings modeled after birds and bats, tire treads from the toe pads of tree frogs, and energy-efficient Interferometric modulator digital displays (IMOD) modeled after the reflective properties of butterfly wings. Biophilia refers to the human desire for a connection with the natural world, a hypothesis popularized by Edward O. Wilson.

For humidification control, Garvin cited the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, that mimics a termite mound to flue air for night cooling, and in other instances a fungus that can be introduced to air conditioning systems to control humidity.

In a white paper, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, Terrapin also cites Herbert Dreiseitl’s design for the Prisma multi-use building in Nuremberg, Germany (shown) with multi-story sculptural water walls that serve as both a thermal control device and exposed rainwater conduit. In another example, Calat Alhambra in Granada, Spain, features “extensive use of water fountains [that] creates a microclimate – the space both sounds and feels cooler – while stone floors and handrails with water channels cool the feet and hands through conductance.”

Blue Planet makes a concrete product from the additives of carbon dioxide waste stream and is based on how coral reefs form from calcium carbonate.

Garvin says an algorithm of how locusts fly is being used to design car systems so cars won’t hit one another.

And when the banker and biophilia experts were asked about web-based bitcoin financing, Garvin said bitcoin mimics how mold spores find the most efficient routes to food sources. Bitcoin may not have been designed to be like mold spores—write your own punch line here—but it’s hard to argue with mold’s success. A lot of businesses would want to emulate that.

 

Sculptured House
The Sculptured House near Denver was built to mimic natural, pleasing shapes.

When Nature Makes Sense

Biomimicry and biophilia may still feel like a bunch of hippie-dippie concepts to many, but modeling efficiency and wellness systems from the success stories in nature makes a lot of sense. The natural world has been doing these things a lot longer than we have been manufacturing goods and designing buildings, after all.

You shouldn’t have to be a nature lover to appreciate that, or to learn and profit from it. A lot of natural designs, such as bringing in more natural light and using automated dimmers to adjust the artificial light accordingly make a ton of sense and can save money and resources. And almost everyone likes to be around natural elements like water.

It’s rather surprising that it has taken us so long to start embracing more designs inspired by nature. Especially if they help us to be more energy efficient. Perhaps man’s long quest to utilize nature as a resource is changing from one of conquest to cooperation and cohabitation. Could we even be co-dependent with nature? (I know that we need it …)

And what about banking in this new world of thinking? “I think we’ll see a surprise in the coming years in the banking industry,” Siciliano says.

 

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Goodbye Energy Efficiency, Hello Energy Productivity

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Making the Emotional Connection for Sustainability, Efficiency

The Middle Way of Energy Efficiency

 

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