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By John Anderson Lanier
Executive Director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, and one of Ray’s five grandchildren.

I was 18 years old, and I was feeling the butterflies. I didn’t know where I was going, and Atlanta isn’t the easiest town to navigate. In fact, that particular morning was the first time I’d driven alone in Midtown, and I’m pretty sure I took about six extra turns with all the confusing one-way streets. Thankfully, I had planned to arrive an hour early, so I still had plenty of time when I found the right office building.

Unfortunately, the butterflies in my stomach didn’t stop their frantic wing-flapping when I turned off the car. I was about to walk into a room of 10 strangers whose sole intent that day was to judge me. Even seeing their warm smiles as I entered the conference room did nothing to calm my nerves. The butterflies turned it up a notch.

I suppose that I was on-edge because of what was at stake. I had received an immense honor when my high school nominated me for the University of Virginia Jefferson Scholarship, a full academic scholarship to the university I had dreamed of attending for years. Those ten judges were Virginia alumni, and they were interviewing all the scholarship nominees from our region. They would decide who would advance to the next round.

The experience was a blur, and I was saying “thank you” and “goodbye” after what seemed like only a few minutes. Everyone was exceedingly kind and encouraging toward me, but I walked out with the sense that I wouldn’t be moving on. Sure enough, I learned soon after that the judges decided that others were more deserving.

Candidly, they probably were! I was extremely fortunate to attend the University of Virginia even without the scholarship, and when I met a few Jefferson Scholars my first year, I realized how remarkable those students were. In the end, I simply remained grateful that I’d been nominated in the first place.

Team members working on their innovations during our 2017 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Bootcamp.

I found myself reflecting on that experience a month and a half ago when I participated as a judge for the Design Phase of the most recent Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Here I was, more than a decade later, with my role completely reversed. No butterflies this time, but that didn’t mean my job was easy!

As a judge, I spent hours reviewing the teams’ slide presentations and videos. I considered how well they utilized biomimicry, addressed the challenge of climate change, communicated their design, scoped a market for their idea, and formed a team. Each submission I reviewed involved an immense amount of work from these teams, and I’m grateful to them for the time and effort they put toward the challenge. While as judges we couldn’t advance every team to the Accelerator Phase, I was impressed by every entry I saw.

You can read about the finalists here. Over the next year, they will continue to refine their designs and develop their business plans. I honestly can’t wait to see how much further they progress, and I know that when we sit down to judge them for the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize®, our jobs won’t be any easier. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Stay tuned for more. With The Biomimicry Institute, we’ll be awarding a Ray of Hope Prize for the previous cohort of finalists at the Bioneers Conference this October (our immense gratitude to Bioneers for hosting!). Also in October, the next Design Phase will open, again with a climate change theme. I’m sure that you’ll be as inspired by all the ideas that emerge as I am. And heck, if you have your own bio-inspired solution to climate change, I urge you to consider joining the Challenge!

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About the Author

John A. Lanier joined the Ray C. Anderson Foundation as Executive Director in May 2013. Serving in this role has been an immense honor, and he feels privileged to work with his family to advance the legacy of Ray, his grandfather. Lanier’s passion for environmental stewardship was sparked by Ray’s example and story, and he never tires of sharing this story with others.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Lanier was an associate attorney with Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan, LLP, specializing in U.S. Federal taxation. He represented the interests of various Atlanta-based nonprofits, gaining experience in nonprofit formations, compliance and applications for recognition of tax-exempt status. During that time, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation was one of his clients.

Lanier currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Southface, the southeast’s nonprofit leader in the promotion of sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Project Drawdown and Chattahoochee NOW.

Re-printed, with permission from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ecocentricity blog.

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Human Spaces 2.0: Biophilic Design in Hospitality

Over the past year, Terrapin collaborated with Interface and Gensler on a series of preliminary studies to bring clarity to biophilic design trends in hospitality. Until now, our biophilic design research has been focused on workplace wellbeing, and we were surprised to find that similar research did not exist for the hospitality industry. Our exploration of biophilic design trends has been exciting, and, in many ways, confirms what we’ve learned: biophilic design contributes to a memorable guest experience.

The results of our research are compiled in the new Human Spaces 2.0 report.

Hotels.com Analysis

Our first investigation was to determine if hotel operators are recognizing the value of a common biophilic feature: a view of nature. We took a common assumption, that a hotel room with a view to nature comes with a price premium, and asked, “How much more?” Our quantitative analysis from Hotels.com showed up to an 18% increase in average daily rate.  

Onsite & Global Snapshot Surveys

Next, we expanded our view of the guest experience from the guest room to include hotel amenities. To understand the types of biophilic experiences hotels are offering, we created a survey to assess hotel amenities using the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. The survey findings are reflected in a series of case studies each discussing a different amenity: Lobbies, Guest Rooms, Food & Beverage, and Spas.

User Trends Review

We also conducted a review of lobby user trends comparing biophilic lobbies with conventional lobbies. Is there a correlation between biophilic design and guests spending more time in the lobby? Is biophilic design instrumental in making the lobby a destination, rather than just a transient space? Our observations found that it can, with 36% more hotel guests spending time in hotel lobbies that had biophilic elements.

Online and Marketing And Guest Review Comparison

Finally, we looked at what hotels and their guests themselves were saying. The results spoke volumes. We reviewed the websites of biophilic and conventional hotels alongside the guest reviews of the same hotels. While maintenance and service were mentioned most in guest reviews of conventional hotels, reviews of biophilic hotels mentioned nature and design most.


Read the full report and see all of our findings in Human Spaces 2.0. The results of these studies suggest that biophilic design can play an important role in the guest experience. We’re excited by these findings and look forward to continuing research in this area.

About the Author

Rebecca Macies is the Director of Operations at Terrapin and has a background in natural resource policy and management. She is interested in how policy helps shape our relationship to nature, and how we can work with and learn from natural systems to address human needs.

Reprinted from Terrapin Bright Green’s blog.

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Six revolutionary ideas to change the way we feed the planet, inspired by nature

The path from farm to fork is fraught with issues. From how we grow our food, to how it’s packaged and stored, how we choose where and what to eat, to what happens to our food waste, there are a lot of problems to be solved. 

One thing that we at the Institute can do to help solve these issues, is guide innovators to look to nature for not only sustainable, but regenerative solutions that optimize natural resources and ensure that nutrients are put back into the supply chains and ecosystems from which they came. 

As our co-founder, Janine Benyus, has said, “Nature does not create things. Nature has things disappear into systems.” This was the challenge that our Biomimicry Global Design Challenge finalists met. Entrepreneurs from across the globe submitted to our annual Challenge (this year focusing on fixing our broken food system), and the top six are now in the running for our top award – the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize®. This Challenge combines the best of nature, entrepreneurship, and science, with innovators from around the world gathering at Bioneers this October to watch it all come together on the main stage.

At Bioneers 2016, John Lanier, the executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, described his family’s dream of advancing his grandfather’s vision and legacy and bringing biomimicry innovations “to life.” This award does just that. By supporting emerging entrepreneurs, and bringing nature-inspired designs from concept to market, we’re ushering in a new era of innovation inspired by nature.

Before we choose a winner, each team will present at our annual Pitch Event and Technology Showcase. This year’s Pitch Event will be held at the Autodesk Pavilion on October 20th. Get your tickets here to network with fellow sustainability thought leaders, and hear from each team as they present their food system innovations.

Last year, team BioNurse from Chile received the Ray of Hope Prize® for their soil restoration innovation, inspired by the yareta plant. This year’s Biomimicry Accelerator teams, comprised of students and designers of all backgrounds, have found inspiration in a multitude of organisms and ecosystems, from cyanobacteria, to ants, kangaroos, bees, and elephants. Their designs embody our philosophy of asking not “what we can take from nature?” but rather, “what can we learn?”

Team BioNurse receives their award!


In alphabetical order, the 2017 teams and their innovations are:


Inspired by cyanobacteria and skunk cabbage, a team from UC San Diego have developed ANSA Technology, a suite of solutions designed to optimize hydroponic growing operations. ANSA is designed to reduce operating costs and solve nutrient balancing issues, providing an economical and sustainable way to provide healthy and organic food for populations with limited resources.

“In nature there is no waste. Waste becomes nutrients for other organisms to thrive … We’re trying to propel the (food) system into a closed-loop cycle” – Cameron Ravanbach, Team ANSA


Inspired by the protective functions of beetles and certain fruits, this Colombian team has created B-all, a sustainable, edible food packaging system, designed to protect food in the journey from producer to consumer. Their target market is people in disaster situations, who have no access to cooking fuel or nutritious food.

“I tell my students, this may sound silly, but if you listen to nature, nature will listen to you.” Maria Jose Leano, Team B-ALL


The Share-EET team, based in London, wants to shift attitudes about food waste using natural models as inspiration. Share-EET’s events are social experiments where customers share a meal while discussing the implications of their food order. Their (non)restaurant model will only thrive if customers make sustainable choices, demonstrating that personal choices have an impact on the larger community.


Nexloop designs biomimetic products and systems to collect and integrate in situ atmospheric water sources into sustainable and affordable urban food production. The design is a modular, scalable building envelope system for food production applications, such as greenhouses, indoor vertical farms, and container farms. The system combines multiple functions from champion species like spiders, ice plants, and mycorrhizal fungi, to capture, filter, store, and distribution water for food growing.


A team from Chile has designed the Slant app that mimics the way ants communicate with each other both through one-on-one interactions and through pheromone trails. This app aims to reduce food waste by creating a platform for users to influence each other’s decisions regarding the quality of food.


Designed by students at the University of Calgary, this electricity-free cooling device is inspired by how mammals and insects regulate temperature. This alternate food preservation unit is designed to not require an electricity grid, to be significantly less expensive than modern refrigeration methods, and to be incorporated into low resource regions where it is most needed.

“The Biomimicry Institute doesn’t just bring ideas together, it’s bringing the world together too, and helping us all work as one.” Jorge Zapote, Team Windchill

With mollusks and micro-organisms as mentors, we look forward to seeing what sustainable innovations these nature-inspired pioneers bring to life (and to market). To learn more about our Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and the design process these teams have gone through to develop their innovations, watch our Biomimicry Bootcamp video:


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From Bioneers to boardrooms: biomimicry entrepreneurs launching food system solutions to market

A year ago this October, Camila Hernandez and Camila Gratacós stood in front of 2,000 people on the National Bioneers Conference main stage and accepted the first-ever Ray of Hope Prize® for their nature-inspired soil restoration solution called BioPatch. The BioPatch, inspired by hardy “nurse” plants that survive in harsh conditions and pave the way for new plant species to grow, was created as a way to grow and protect new plants while restoring health back to the soil.

With the $100,000 grand prize in hand, the team got the chance to make their goals for BioPatch a reality. Today, they and the rest of their team are working hard to bring their design to market, engaging manufacturing and sourcing partners, rigorously testing prototypes, and linking up with business networks that promote circular economy business models.

“Daring to participate in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge was the first step to lose the fear of starting something new and start to believe that our ideas could be realized,” said BioPatch co-founder Camila Hernandez. “Life can be full of problems or full of solutions, depending on your point of view. This experience has helped me declare my love for solutions that are friendly to the environment and society.”

The six other teams who were part of the inaugural Biomimicry Accelerator cohort are also forging ahead with their nature-inspired food system solutions. From winning prestigious spots in international business incubators to speaking at conferences around the world to scoring additional funding, it’s been a busy year for these biomimicry entrepreneurs. Read on to find out what they’ve been up to and where they are now.

Daring to participate in the Challenge was the first step to lose the fear of starting something new and start to believe that our ideas could be realized.

BioPatch co-founder, Camila Hernandez

Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System
Shortly after winning second place funding in the Biomimicry Accelerator for their aquaponic growing system, Team Oasis was one of ten winning teams in the Blue Economy Challenge, a program that funds sustainable aquaculture innovations. With this combined funding, the team was able to rent a manufacturing space, purchase equipment, and travel to Uganda and Tanzania to establish community organization partners to test the Oasis design. They have manufactured and shipped 13 demo systems to East Africa for these partner organizations to test for six months. At the same time, the team is working on honing their design by improving the aesthetics of the Oasis and making manufacturing more efficient.


This team, with members from Thailand and the U.S., developed a bio-inspired chamber for capturing edible insects, a more earth-friendly source of edible protein. After winning third-place funding in the Biomimicry Accelerator, they created and shipped their first prototypes to the U.S. in April. They are planning on hosting their own biomimicry challenge in Thailand, asking the public to help improve on the existing Jube concept. Jube team leader Pat Pataranutaporn was invited to give a TEDx talk at Arizona State University where he is currently a student, and spent the summer interning for IBM’s Watson group in New York City. Pat is looking forward to combining what he learned during his internship to develop biomimetic algorithms to apply to various software development solutions.


Over the past year, this international team has won multiple awards and coveted spots in start-up programs worldwide. Hexagro Urban Farming’s Living Farming Tree is a modular aeroponic growing system that enables people to grow healthy, fresh food in urban areas. After forming a for-benefit corporation in Italy, Hexagro won the Switch to Product contest sponsored by the Politecnico di Milano and earned a spot in the school’s startup incubator. They have also displayed their designs at conferences all over the world, including at a technology display in Lyon, Milan Design Week, Seeds and Chips in Milan (where Barack Obama gave the keynote address), Tech Open Air in Berlin, and at universities in Costa Rica and Slovenia. They were one of 20 teams chosen to attend the Thought for Food Summit in Amsterdam. They also participated in the Katana Bootcamp in Stuttgart, Germany, where they were selected as the #1 pitch out of 100 teams participating in the bootcamp. Most recently, the team was invited to be part of the Kickstart Accelerator program in Switzerland, where they will compete for a $25k prize. They have also been selected as a semi-finalist for the Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan competition in Singapore this fall.


Mangrove Still
This Italian team created the Mangrove Still, a desalinating still inspired by how coastal plants process seawater that costs five times less than traditional solar stills. The Mangrove Still team has been busy expanding their design from individual units to a complete system that is adaptable to regional climates and locally available materials. Their goal is to develop communities of practice that will incorporate the Mangrove Still design into their local context. They were awarded a grant from Dubai Expo 2020 and are using those funds to run a design hackathon to hone the Mangrove Still system and test the system in Egypt, India, Namibia, Cape Verde, and Cyprus. The team is also working on setting up a crowdfunding campaign and has been presenting their design at conferences, including the European Biomimicry Summit in Utrecht, Netherlands.


Living Filtration System
The Living Filtration System team developed a biomimetic drainage system that keeps nutrients in the soil rather than leaving the field in runoff and was inspired by earthworms and the human digestive system. Members of this University of Oregon team have graduated and are currently pursuing careers. They are all actively working to incorporate biomimicry into their career plans.


The BioCultivator team from Slovakia developed its lizard-inspired, self-sustaining growing system to encourage more urban dwellers to grow fresh food. The team was invited to take part in Startup Awards Slovakia’s bootcamp and was chosen as a finalist in the Art and Design category. This award event was broadcast on national television and was attended by Andrej Kiska, the President of the Slovak Republic. The team was also invited to be part of a mission of Slovak businesses to the Republic of Croatia this past June, was selected to be part of the Women in Tech Forum at PIONEERS 2017 in Austria, and participated at the first CEE Founders’ Summit in December. The team has manufactured 11 prototypes to date and is looking to finish a proof-of-concept in late fall 2017. Team members are working to make connections with potential investors and business partners in order to create BioCultivator 2.0, based on lessons learned from the first round of prototype testing.


The second Biomimicry Accelerator cohort will be coming to Bioneers on October 21, 2017, for the second annual Ray of Hope Prize® award event. Stay tuned to find out which of these teams will win the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s $100,000 prize to take their biomimetic innovations to the next level.

You can get a sneak peek at the second cohort’s innovations ahead of the big Ray of Hope Prize announcement at the Biomimicry Pitch Event and Technology Showcase on October 20, 2017 at the Autodesk Atrium. Watch as the six teams from the 2016-17 Biomimicry Accelerator take the stage to pitch their innovations to a VIP panel, including Biomimicry Institute co-founder Janine Benyus, Green Biz Executive Editor Joel Makower, venture capitalist Ibrahim AlHusseini, and Singularity University’s Robert Suarez. Bioneers attendees get 50% off the event fee with the code Bioneers. RSVP here!

Plus, a brand-new round of the Challenge—along with the chance to join the fourth cohort of the Biomimicry Accelerator—will open this fall. To learn more, go to challenge.biomimicry.org.

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