Advances in materials and medicine based on research into natural processes.
Biomimicry: Learning from Nature - Part 1
This two-part series is based on the acclaimed book, 'Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature', by Janine Benyus.
Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems.
The first program takes us to The Land Institute in Kansas, which has been instrumental in helping us to appreciate life's genius as expressed in the native perennial plants of the prairie. In an attempt to mimic their success, scientists at The Land Institute are attempting to perennialize wheat, rye, sorghum, sunflowers and other crops.
At Arizona State University, Devens Gust, and Ana and Thomas Moore are learning how to mimic the engine of all life on earth, photosynthesis; while James Guillet at the University of Toronto has created an enzyme that uses the sun's rays to detoxify PCBs. CEO Ray Anderson is using nature as a model for the operations of his entire company, Interface, the largest manufacturer of commercial floor coverings in the world.
Anderson was inspired by Paul Hawken's book 'The Ecology of Commerce'. Authors Hawken and Benyus show us that biomimicry allows us to reconnect with nature, and to find our place on our home planet.
The other title in the series is:
Biomimicry - Part Two - Advances in materials and medicine based on research into natural processes.
'BIOMIMICRY is a profound way for a viewer to invest 90 minutes. They convincingly show the importance (and also the challenge) of changing our world view to be one that focuses on a dialogue with, and adopting the ways of, nature rather than one of domination and control.'
Professor Robert M. Goodman, PhD, Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
'Introduces a concept worthy of wide exploration in a world dazzled by the industrial artifacts around us...Over the millions of years, nature's life forms through natural selection have had to live with the constraints of the entropy law on a solar budget.'
Wes Jackson, The Land Institute
'Viewers of BIOMIMICRY: LEARNING FROM NATURE will be captivated by an insider's view of exciting current research, dazzled by the infinite possibilities open for exploration, and inspired by the implications that biomimicry has for a healthier world.'
Alexis Karolides, AIA, Principal, Rocky Mountain Institute
Benyus, Janine M. (screenwriter)
Benyus, Janine M. (interviewee)
Lang, Paul (film director)
Lang, Paul (film producer)
Lang, Paul (screenwriter)
Springbett, David (film producer)
Suzuki, David T. (presenter)
Original music, Andy McNeill, Anne Bourne; photography, Derek Kennedy; edited by Alan Gibb, Paul Lang.
Distributor subjectsBiodiversity; Biology; Business Practices; Chemistry; Design; Ecology; Economics; Environmental Ethics; Global Issues; Life Science; Pollution; Recycling; Science, Technology, Society
NATURE OF THINGS: BIOMIMICRY: LEARNING FROM NATURE - PART 1
GUEST=DAVID C. ANDERSON, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Interface Inc.
INTRO=DAVID C. ANDERSON: As life evolved, each species through its metabolic process, aided by sedimentation and sequestration, cleaned up this toxic place that Earth was in the beginning. And out of that process emerged an Earth sweet enough that even we could evolve into it and survive. It was a process that took 3.85 billion years. And in just a heartbeat, the flip of an eye, we've reversed that process. The industrial age has turned the Earth's crust upside down and brought that stuff, in whose presence we could never have evolved, right back into our very living room. That's madness.
GUESTS=JANINE BENYUS, Author and Specialist in the Field of Biomimicry; WES JACKSON, President, The Land Institute; LAURA JACKSON, Biologist, University of Northern Iowa; JERRY GLOVER, Agroecologist, The Land Institute; STAN COX, Senior Research Scientist, The Land Institute; DEVENS GUST, Organic Chemist, Arizona State University; ANA MOORE, Synthetic-Organic Chemist, Arizona State University; JAMES E. GUILLET, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto; GEOFFREY W. COATES, Organic Chemist, Cornell University; RAY C. ANDERSON, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Interface Inc.; DAVID OAKEY, President, David Oakey Designs; JIM HARTZFELD, Vice-President of Sustainable Strategy, Interface Inc.; PAUL HAWKEN, Author, The Ecology of Commerce: Natural Capitalism
TEXT=DAVID SUZUKI: We're the only species that digs up the Earth's crust and then turns it into toxic waste. How are other organisms meeting their needs? Have we ever thought of asking them for advice? Janine Benyus has written a book about people who are doing just that.
JANINE BENYUS: It's called biomimicry, and it's the process of learning from and then emulating life's genius. It's based not on what we can extract from the natural world but on what we can learn from it. Life's been on Earth for 3.8 billion years, and in that time life has learned what works and what fits here. Mimicking their designs and strategies, their recipes, could change the way we grow food, power ourselves, conduct business, even the way we make our materials.
SUZUKI: OK, materials. If we're not going to raid the Earth's crust, what will we use?
BENYUS: Well, life might use something that grows and then decomposes, something we could farm instead of mine. But then farming would have to change from the factory that it is today to something more like a natural system.
WES JACKSON: I love my place more than I love all the Rocky Mountains, you know, more than I love the whole world. It has to do with the intimacy, the connection. And if you have that connection, and stay put long enough and get to know a place long enough, then it's the place where you are and that you're taking care of. And ultimately the care of our Earth is our oldest job. When we Europeans came, we came as a poor people to a seemingly empty land that was rich. We saw it as an inexhaustible reservoir. There was talk about the endless forests and the endless prairies. Our ancestors looked at the prairie as something to plough under. They thought that they were meeting some kind of a larger purpose, so it was a matter of development. We essentially believed that we could do better than nature. And we didn't see that here were systems that had evolved in place over the millennia, a system that featured material recycling and ran on contemporary sunlight. We didn't see this place for what it was so much as for what it could become.
SUZUKI: We saw the land and its creatures as resources to exploit as quickly as possible. We ploughed the prairie to plant row crops. In the process, we turned a rich natural system into one that bleeds soil, poisons water and harms communities, an industrial waste zone.
LAURA JACKSON: Let's take north central Iowa, an area that extends up into Minnesota and Canada, this area that the glaciers last visited about 12,000 years ago. That landscape is about as heavily farmed as you can possibly imagine. This area is really a sacrifice zone. There's nothing left. Iowa now has one-tenth of one percent of its prairies intact. This is state that was once 85 percent prairie.
SUZUKI: We plant monocultures, fields of one crop like wheat or corn. They rely heavily on oil-based inputs, from equipment fuel to natural gas fertilizers to petroleum-based pesticides. And although we're using more pesticides than ever, we're losing the battle with pests and poisoning ourselves in the process. Consider the fact that popular pesticides like atrizine are now common in wells on family farms.
W. JACKSON: If we step outside the system that's feeding us and look at what's doing it, we see that it cannot go on, that it's dependent upon... on extractive forces, and that we'd better think about how to... how to be husbanding that soil. Soil is the key, you know. Soil is... is really the mother of... of all land life.
SUZUKI: There are 5000 species of micro-organisms in a single teaspoon of soil, tunneling, eating, excreting, sweetening the soil, crumb by crumb.
W. JACKSON: There's an incredible ignorance about soil. You know, it's... it's actually alive. Well, the industrial mind just looks at it as something that you put your inputs into and as a way to hold the plant, and then we'll harvest it.
SUZUKI: Our grain crops are annuals, which means we lay bare the soil each spring for planting. After harvest the soil is exposed once again to water and wind erosion. In a hundred years of growing annual crops we've lost a third of our topsoil and a staggering one-half of our soil fertility. Every year tonnes of topsoil that took thousands of years to form are simply washed or blown away.
BENYUS: What I appreciate is that the folks at the Land Institute didn't stop with just identifying the problem, the problems of agriculture. They took the next step to come up with a compelling alternative. They said to themselves, 'What will work here?' And then they took that biomimetic step and said, 'What is already working here? What would nature be doing here if we didn't have our wheat fields here in western Kansas?' And the answer was the tall grass prairie. And they began to perfect the art of conversation, the art of inquiry, to a whole natural system.
JERRY GLOVER: So coming into what we call a conversation with the prairie's very important in gaining enough understanding of these systems that we can bring our agricultural systems closer to these systems. And by conversation I mean, number one, being out here and seeing what's going on over a long period of time, seeing from one year to the next the changes in the prairie. It's not a static system; it's very dynamic from one part of the season to the next, and from... definitely over a period of years. The... some of the constants, however, being diversity, the perennial root systems, and the high productivity.
SUZUKI: Anchoring the high productivity of the prairie is a dense, year-round root system. By comparison, our annual plants have small, seasonal roots incapable of absorbing nutrients throughout the year.
GLOVER: OK, here is a soybean plant that I just dug up. It's a little bit deceptive this... this prairie section because the roots can go down several metres, whereas here it won't be until later, till near maturity, that this root system is of any significant size. We can picture any rain falling on this prairie system being taken up somewhere along the way by this dense network of roots, whereas for this soybean plant it's very likely to miss most of the water, miss most of the nutrients. That's why we have to put so many nutrients and so much energy into producing these plants. Similarly with corn, similarly with wheat. So very inefficient systems; this prairie system very conservative, and self-sustaining.
BENYUS: When you look at perennial roots it seems like such an obvious way to grow crops. The plant's in the ground all year long, the roots hold the soil, they're ready to go in the spring, and they catch lots of water and nutrients. So why aren't our crops perennial? It turns out that conventional wisdom got in the way. Conventional wisdom holds that a plant has only so much energy to go around. If it puts it into growing roots it won't have many seeds. So this trade-off theory caused people to believe we couldn't breed perennialism, or big roots, and still have lots of seeds. So we stayed with annuals.
SUZUKI: But then Laura Jackson noticed a plant called eastern gamma grass that was flying in the face of that theory. It was during a visit to a research plot in Oklahoma where scientists were growing perennial gamma grass for forage production.
L. JACKSON: They had normal plants with the normal amount of seeds and pollen, and then they had these high-yielding, high seed production plants right next to them in the same fields. And we walked out in those fields and I asked the plant breeder, 'Are they different?' And he said no. I said, 'Do they... do they end up dying quicker? Do they... are they shorter-lived?' He said no. 'Do they get more diseases? Are they more susceptible to water stress? You know, what's wrong with them?' He said, 'Nothing. They're fine.' In fact he said... this is Oklahoma and Chet deWalt(?)... he said, 'Laura, sex don't cost; it pays!' (Laughs)... So I thought well, this... this is somebody with an open mind who had not read the trade-off literature and didn't have a preconceived notion about what things could and couldn't do. He just saw the grass and he worked with it.
SUZUKI: Over the next several years Laura studied the plant to see if increasing its seed yield would mean a decrease in the number or size of perennial roots. She wanted to prove or disprove the famous trade-off rule.
L. JACKSON: What we found is we could get seed increase with no trade-off. So that grass seed stuff that waves in the wind, it's green, it's got leaves, it's a benefit to the plant. It is a net carbon exporter. It is taking energy from the sun, fixing it into sugars, it's producing seeds, and it's also moving some of those sugars to the rest of the plant when it's under stress.
SUZUKI: Land Institute scientists are replacing conventional wisdom with gratitude for the place-based wisdom of the prairie.
GLOVER: My affection for the prairie comes from actually being out here on it. Having grown up on a farm and seeing all the nutrients that you have to supply to an agricultural field to get the crop production that you need, and then coming here on the prairie, seeing that that productivity is self-maintained...
SUZUKI: But what fuels this productivity? For seven consecutive summers they clipped and catalogued all the plants in nearby prairies. To their surprise, the dizzying variety of species fell into just four functional groups.
GLOVER: Well, this little prairie bouquet nicely illustrates what we're talking about when we talk about four functional groups. Over here we have a warm-season grass, eastern gamma grass. Here we have a sunflower family member in bloom. Here is out cat's claw sensitive briar, the legume. And here we have June grass, a cool-season grass.
BENYUS: There are hundreds of species in this prairie. And within that diversity you find only those four types. That's a deep pattern. And what Wes Jackson said was, 'I'm not sure why that works. But I'm... I'm going to go with that.'
W. JACKSON: Whether we're talking about the Canadian provinces or the short-grass prairie in the Great Plains or all the way into Ohio, it has those four functional groups: warm-season grasses, cool-season grasses, legumes, members of the sunflower family. Our idea is to try to mimic that structure in order to be granted the functions. Well, we're working to perennialize wheat, rye and sorghum and sunflowers and, if we had more people, why, corn and the major crops, and put them in mixtures that would mimic the vegetative structure of this prairie.
SUZUKI: By breeding annual plants with their perennial relatives, Land Institute scientists want to reintroduce perennialism back into the major crops. Their 20-year goal is to create not one variety but a whole perennial germ plasm that will allow farmers to adapt these varieties to their local conditions.
STAN COX: One of the lines that Wes has used for many years is that we're working on the problem of agriculture, as opposed to problems in agriculture. And that's the thing that keeps us going.
W. JACKSON: We will need more eyes per acre in the kind of agriculture that would be a derivative of looking at the prairie. But it would be a mind more like that of a 19th-century British naturalist than the modern-day dirt farmer. It would be what Wendell Barry(?) has called a conversation with nature. If you can have an affection for nature... that is, not a kind of cheap nostalgia... an affection, that then informs the possibility of a conversation.
BENYUS: Wes Jackson believes that the best way to mimic a prairie is to develop an affection for it, and out of this will come an understanding of how we might grow not only our crops but the raw material for a new generation of products that will not build up in a landfill but will instead break down to help gardens grow.
SUZUKI: Every day the sun pours energy onto the Earth, and that's all the energy life needs to exist. It's captured by plants through the process of photosynthesis. That's amazing.
BENYUS: It is. Photosynthesis supplies all of our energy needs too. Even fossil fuels are ancient sunlight, stored 65 million years ago. The problem with ancient photosynthesis is that when we burn those old bodies we release way too much carbon dioxide for the biosphere to handle. If we could do what a plant does, which is lasso solar energy with small, ubiquitous solar harvesters, we could begin to embed them in the skin of our buildings or lay them on our highway or use them to do solar chemistry to make our materials. But first we'd have to understand, how does nature pack such a powerful idea into such a small package. And only then, with the plants' help, could we try to mimic that.
SUZUKI: When they met 20 years ago, Devens Gust and Ana and Tom Moore were each studying the molecules that transfer the sun's energy to the photosynthetic reaction centre. Exactly how leaves collected sunlight was still a mystery.
DEVENS GUST: The three of us were all starting out. We used to eat lunch together quite a bit, and we decided over lunch one day maybe instead of studying these very complicated natural systems, maybe we'd try to instead make some simpler ones synthetically and try to abstract from those natural systems the basic principles, and see if we could reproduce them in an artificial system. And that really got us started in this business. We took as a model not the photosynthesis in green plants, which everybody's familiar with, but rather that in bacteria. Now, the photosynthesis that happens in bacteria is somewhat simpler. It's still closely related to what happens in plants, and easier, we thought, to try to take as a model.
BENYUS: Opposites attract. Positive and negative charges are drawn together. It takes energy to pull them apart across a membrane. And in a bacteria or a leaf, that's how the sun's energy is stored. The bacteria uses that energy to make fuel, a chemical compound called ATP. Now, their challenge was to keep those charges separated for as long as the bacteria could. And at this point, several teams of scientists around the world were trying.
GUST: Photosynthesis was able to... to make these charge separator states live a long time, and live long enough to harvest the energy stored in them. And yet these artificial systems didn't do that. None of them were able to do that. We were thinking about this problem, and we decided to try to increase the lifetime of this charge separation using a trick that we thought was used by photosynthesis.
SUZUKI: They thought that in photosynthesis the charge separation was prolonged because the electron didn't cross the membrane all at once but had to hop along a series of molecules. Based on that guess they decided to add a third hop, another molecule, to their reaction centre. So in the summer of '82, like previous summers, they all packed up their families... and molecules in progress... to continue their work in France.
ANA MOORE: It was an enormously complicated operation because to go from the Museum of Natural History to home I needed to take of the order of five subways with the children to pick them up from the school and so on. I carried physically the molecule in flasks in my purse. (Laughs)... As you can see, those molecules are pretty stable. And arrive home after the five subways, and then we keep them in the freezer. Tom took the molecule and he called me. I say is not any doubt, it really does function.
GUST: I can remember very well seeing the trace on the oscilloscope that showed the long lifetime for that charge separated state, and that was a very exciting thing for all of us because we knew we'd really done something novel and different at that point.
SUZUKI: Next the team dreamed of storing the energy they had trapped in a useful form. What cells use is a molecule called ATP. When cells need energy to move, multiply or metabolize, they tap into ATP molecules by the billions.
BENYUS: So now they had a three-part molecule with a long charge separation. They wanted to do what the bacteria does, which is use that stored energy to make ATP. Within the bacteria the reaction centre is embedded in a membrane, sort of a skin. So they made an artificial membrane, like a soap bubble, embedded the power pack in that, and when hit by light the charges separate and the stored energy is used to turn ADP into ATP, which is the fuel of life.
GUST: We found that when we shine light on that system it did the whole thing. It went all the way from light absorption to making ATP. That was again a very exciting thing because that was, in a sense, the culmination of this program which had been going on for over 20 years of trying to mimic what goes on in those bacterial reaction centres.
SUZUKI: Mimicking photosynthesis points to a day when we may use sunlight instead of fossil fuels to make pharmaceuticals and to do our chemistry. To do chemistry in water and without waste, nature uses enzymes. Enzymes have shaped pockets that grab certain molecules and bring them together to react. Biomimics are awed by how well this works, and have looked for ways to mimic it. James Guillet has created an artificial enzyme, a photozyme, that mimics the light-gathering antennae in leaves. It shuttles the sun's energy to a central location where it can make and break chemical bonds.
JAMES E. GUILLET: What we have been doing to study this is to try to build our own antennas to do chemistry. And we have used them to make imitation enzymes, not to do what nature does but to do other reactions that we want to do with light. The key to biological chemistry is the extreme specificity that you can build into enzymes. Water forms the enzyme into the specific structure which will attract only one material into the centre of it and react with it. It won't... because of the fact that these structures are very selective, you can now do very selective chemistry. And it's so selective that you can get a hundred percent yields. For example, there has been some concern about things called PCBs which are chlorinated hydrocarbons and which have toxic effects. We can make a photozyme that dissolves in water, and these PCBs would much rather be in the centre of our photozyme than out in the water, so they come in. In the presence of light you can dechlorinate the molecule and detoxify it. It goes in as a polymer, as a solid, and dissolves in the water, and then when the sun comes up it starts to decompose the stuff. Then in a week or so all the toxic material is... has been detoxified. We're at the very beginning of probably the most exciting age of chemistry, I think, ever.
BENYUS: It's exciting to think how far we've come in mimicking photosynthesis, until you realize that the blue-green algae invented this process over three billion years ago. So if we continue our conversation with the Earth's chlorophylled and single-celled, they must just teach us a better way to make materials using not fossil fuels from ancient sunlight but the current sunlight that streams so generously to Earth.
SUZUKI: Janine, biomimicry is about asking, 'What would nature do here?' So I've got two problems. We've got too many plastics piling up in our landfills, and we have too much carbon dioxide. So what would nature do about that?
BENYUS: You know, David, we're the only species that would look at a free, abundant resource and say, 'Carbon dioxide... bad.' Other organisms would say, 'It's free, it's local, it's abundant; carbon dioxide... good. Let's find a way to use it,' which is what plants do. They use it to make sugars. But there's too much of it now for them to handle. What if we were to become more plant-like and use that excess CO2 to make biodegradable plastics?
SUZUKI: Plants use carbon dioxide, their main source of carbon, to produce 100 billion tonnes of cellulose every year. What do they know that we don't?
GEOFFREY W. COATES: You might expect that, if it's the sole source of carbon for nature, the chemist must also use it. The amazing thing is that very few chemists use CO2 in any reaction, especially in catalytic reaction. The problem is, is CO2 is very unreactive. And what makes it a challenge to... to use this as a chemical feed stock is that chemists like to use molecules that have a lot of energy, that... for example, they combust easily. So the... the real quest here is to find ways to make CO2 more reactive and actually incorporate that into a chemical reaction.
SUZUKI: What Geoff Coates needs to find is a catalyst that makes carbon dioxide more reactive. This challenge happens to be one of the holy grails of chemistry. Most recently the company pulled the plug on its efforts after spending ten years and $10 million.
COATES: Finding a new catalyst is, in some cases, a little bit like playing the lottery. If you say you're going to play the lottery and win, most people think you're crazy. Discovering catalysts... obviously we have a little bit better odds of discovering a catalyst than winning the lottery, but in many cases you'll... you'll make... make something that you think should be a catalyst and it does absolutely nothing.
SUZUKI: The third player in the reaction is a molecule called an epoxide that's very eager to react with carbon dioxide.
COATES: We're taking another molecule, a very reactive molecule known as an epoxide, that's really the... the energetic driving force for the reaction. And by taking a very reactive molecule and a very unreactive molecule, carbon dioxide, you put the two together to overall have enough energy to push the reaction forward. We developed catalysts that take these two molecules, put them together, kind of like beads on a string in this alternated fashion. What... what makes our chemistry special is the rate at which the catalyst does this. A typical polymer chain might have a thousand units in it, and the old catalyst would put these units together at a rate of about one per hour. What our catalyst is very special at doing is putting these together extremely rapidly. Some of our turn-over frequencies are between one and two thousand per hour. And so instead of going from days or weeks we can actually have reactions that take place in a matter of minutes or hours.
SUZUKI: To make his plastic totally green, Coates has now found a renewable epoxide. Instead of using petroleum, he's using a substance from the peel of an orange.
COATES: The really attractive features is you can actually biodegrade these. You can... you can dig a hole in the Earth, you can bury them. Bacteria will degrade these all the way back into carbon dioxide and so to really complete the life cycle. Even better would be to revert it back to the... to the small molecule that you could repolymerize for the simple fact that you're using much less energy to make a plastic than if you take it all the way back to carbon dioxide and then have to regenerate it from the start.
SUZUKI: We've seen how nature's ideas can help us turn a pollutant into a biodegradable plastic. But our problems go deeper than one product. They have to do with our whole system, our whole way of making and delivering things. Is there anything in nature that business should emulate?
BENYUS: Some people think we already are emulating a natural system, a weed field. Type 1 systems are those that move into an open field, use up all the resources, and then move on to the next open field. And that's fine, as long as there's somewhere else to go. But in our over-used world it might be better for us to adopt a Type 3 strategy.
SUZUKI: What's that?
BENYUS: The Type 3 system is a mature forest. It's not going anywhere. So it has to learn to recycle everything.
RAY C. ANDERSON: Biomimicry would teach a different system that was not extractive and not abusive but was renewable and benign. It would teach a system that used the sun for energy instead of the stored sunlight from three billion years ago, fossil fuels. It would teach a system where cooperation prevailed, instead of competition and confrontation.
SUZUKI: Ray Anderson is using the forest as a model in order to make his company restorative.
ANDERSON: A restorative company, by our definition, identifies as a company that puts back more than it takes, and does good to the Earth, not just no harm.
SUZUKI: In this carpet mill there is no such thing as waste. Yarn is treated as gold, and every bit is recycled into new product to keep the energy that went into making the yarn from being wasted. But to find even more radical savings, they're asking themselves, 'How would nature make a carpet?'
DAVID OAKEY: It was what we could learn, not copy, from nature, or how would nature design a carpet tile. And after a period of just looking at natural flows... outside we had leaves on the ground and the stones, one thing that came up, it was diversity. Nothing was the same. There was no perfection in nature. How would you make each tile to come out slightly different in colour and design? That was the challenge.
SUZUKI: Their nature-inspired design was beautiful, eliminated all waste, and was a hit.
OAKEY: From that came all the positives. They could be laid random, just like leaves or stone. We didn't even think about that while we were designing the process.
SUZUKI: Next, Ray Anderson is taking the company beyond mimicking the designs from the forest floor to mimicking the forest's recycling program.
ANDERSON: We hope to mine the landfills and take all of yesteryear's carpets and textiles and other polymeric materials and make them the feed stock for our factories of the future. And then we will turn to natural products, renewable products, as a source of fibre and polymeric materials.
SUZUKI: And he's looking at how Geoff Coates is using carbon dioxide to make polymers. Could carbon dioxide be a feed stock to make carpets?
ANDERSON: To turn it into a waste product, if you will, and use it for food... why not? If we can figure out how to put them together in the right configuration from such sources as carbon dioxide and water, what a deal. Out of our culture we've acquired the notion that the Earth belongs to us, to humankind, it's ours to do with as we wish, ours to conquer. The Earth is limited and we have to treat it with respect. Good people should see that. But we do have to somehow deal with the culture that continues, as Daniel Quinn says, to whisper in our ear, 'It's yours to do with as you wish.'
W. JACKSON: Clearly we've got to have a different kind of economic system rather than one how to... a system on how to maintain the well rather than how to build a better pump. And that's... how to build a better pump is... is what capitalism is all about, and it's an extractive approach.
ANDERSON: So we have a system today that's totally at war with nature, continuing to use nature, extracting from nature to create wealth.
JIM HARTZFELD: You can't imagine what we do to the planet to hold up our underwear. Materials like lycra, they start off with things like acetylene and formaldehyde, and then you put rare earth metal catalysts with them, you know, handle them very gingerly because they'll just explode on their own. Then you put 6000 pounds per square inch of hydrogen, forced hydrogen, into this molecule. Then you douse it with hydrofluoric acid, and it gets so gunky you can't see through it, so you have to use radioactive leveling devices to find out how much junk is in the vessel. That's just how you start the process of making lycra. So can you... can you imagine doing that process in the conditions conducive for life?
ANDERSON: I'm absolutely certain that business must be part of the solution to the problem. It is the major part of the problem today, and it must become a major part of the solution to the problem. We can't... without business and industry coming aboard and changing course, it's over. It's just a matter of time.
SUZUKI: Interface is the largest producer of commercial floor coverings in the world. Anderson recalls when the seed of sustainability took root.
ANDERSON: It was our customers who started us on this in the first place by asking questions way back in 1994: What's your company doing for the environment? And we couldn't give them a decent answer. And a task force was assembled to assess our company's worldwide environmental position. It was just when I was sweating with what to say to those people that Paul Hawken's book, The Ecology of Commerce, landed on my desk and I began to read it, and it became that spear in the chest experience, that epiphanal experience.
PAUL HAWKEN: And so there was a long period of trying to make people aware of what the problem was and is. And that's kind of a bummer. It is. I mean, it's not a happy thing, it's gloomy, it isn't humankind at their best. And there doesn't seem to be a ready way out.
ANDERSON: We... we... we started the process to unravel 3.8 billion years of evolution, and it's the abusive industrial system that is at the heart of that unraveling, that destructive, voracious consuming process. And it must change.
OAKEY: It was during Ray Anderson's first speech, that... that first day, you know, somewhere around 10:15 a.m., August 31st, 1994, give or take a minute or two, everything that I'd... I'd... I'd learned about was completely called into question. And I saw there was something fundamentally wrong, but I didn't yet have anything to replace it with. Every day I'd learn something that was bigger and worse than I'd learned the day before. So you almost didn't want to go in to work or read that next chapter of that next book because it just seemed like every time you took another step it got worse.
HAWKEN: But the interesting thing about the problems is that, from my point of view, it's only those people who take on the problem statement that really can see what the solutions could/should be. Like Hillman says, the gold is in the shadows. Right? You know... And so what biomimicry did was it was a counterpoint to the problem statement because it is in effect the manual for the solution statement. You couldn't not read the book and not have, you know, this... these experiences of, like, oh my gosh, well, yes and if they can do that, well, why can't... You know, I mean, there was a sense of cascading, you know, opening of... of... of possibilities, you know. And... and that's really the... the jewel, the gem that lies within the problem statement of sustainability, is that it actually leads through. If you keep going into the problem you will... everything opens up.
BENYUS: Any company that truly looks into sustainability and wants to function more like a living system than like a machine is going to be drawn to the model of sustainability on the landscape, which is a mature forest or a mature prairie or a coral reef, something that, because it's not going anywhere, has to learn to take what it has and make the most of it, make more and more and more opportunities for life without importing more materials, without exporting any wastes, simply recycling what's there in new ways, using the energy of the sunlight, creating more and more life and exchanging the building blocks that are right there.
W. JACKSON: This is interesting work, and what else is there to do? There's nothing better to do. I certainly don't want to go sell insurance. And it also... I believe in it being very important. I think it has a potential to increase our imagination about possibilities.
BENYUS: There is a hunger for us to be reconnected and for us to remember how to ask nature for help. My sense is that, as biological beings, if we were to admit to ourselves that on this Earth we have a certain set of opportunities and a certain set of limits, that the Earth is abundant and resilient but that she is not endlessly abundant and she is not endlessly resilient, and instead of bemoaning that fact and trying to push through those limits or overshoot what's given to us, that we learned to do what the other creatures have done, which is to dance within them and to become really, really creative about that... What biomimicry allows us to do is to fit in here, to come home.
Distributor: Bullfrog Films
Length: 44 minutes
Grade: 7-12, College, Adult
Closed Captioning: Available
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