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By Lauren Herman

How much stuff do you actually have? That is the question Beth Rattner asked the audience at the TEDxSacramento Salon “This Changes Everything: City” on March 7, 2015.

She challenged the audience to imagine pulling all their possession out of their home and placing everything into one pile. What does our stuff tell us about each other and our past? Most importantly, what does it tell us about our future?

Beth points out that our stuff may bring us comfort and joy in the moment, but asks at what cost to our future.

 

Another Man’s Trash is Not Always Another Man’s Treasure

As Biomimicry Institute’s Executive Director, Beth isn’t primarily concerned with the accumulation of the stuff we surround ourselves with. Her true concern lies in the environmental impact of the production and discarding of our possessions.

She points out that the world population will reach 9.5-10 billion by 2050 with 1.8 billion new people entering the middle class in the next few decades alone. Currently, the United States middle class spends $21 trillion a year on what she calls “our” stuff, but quickly reminds us that this will increase as population rises over time.

 Beth Rattner speaking at the TEDxSacramento Salon "This Changes Everything: City" on March 7, 2015 challenging us to question what's in our  stuff ?

Beth Rattner speaking at the TEDxSacramento Salon "This Changes Everything: City" on March 7, 2015 challenging us to question what's in our stuff?

Rather than focus on the amount of stuff we purchase and discard, she brings to light a simple question that often complicates (in a good way) the dialogue around consumerism. What is in our stuff?

Understanding the make-up of our possessions, the items we use in everyday life, including our mobile phones, disposable coffee cups, toilet paper, and blue jeans, is important in the imagining and reimaging our future. Such knowledge allows us to understand the impact that the production and destruction of our stuff has on the environment and our health.

 

Our Design Program and How Nature's Way is the Right Way

Beth reveals that there are fifty million man-made chemicals in the world. In the United States, 60,000-80,000 of these chemicals are used in everyday life, but only one percent is regulated. As a result, Beth states, “We understand the hazards of one percent of [these chemicals].”

We all live with toxic chemicals everyday, perhaps without consciously realizing it. She discusses that a concern for cities should be the impact of these chemicals “becoming a lot greater” when humans live in densely populated areas.

But, Beth makes the point that “We all live with tonic chemicals everyday, but we just don’t know what to do about it. We think that we have to choose between things that are beautiful and things that are safe. But, that’s a false choice.”

We all live with toxic chemicals everyday, but we just don’t know what to do about it. We think that we have to choose between things that are beautiful and things that are safe. But, that’s a false choice.

Beth believes that we have a design problem – nothing more, nothing less. The Biomimicry Institute where she works stresses the importance of nature in design. Nature has the answers that can and will transform our current and future innovations.

Biomimicry follows “Life’s Principles” that “instruct us to build from the bottom up, self-assemble, optimize rather than maximize, use free energy, cross-pollinate, embrace diversity, adapt and evolve, and use life-friendly materials and processes, engage in symbiotic relationships, and enhance the bio-sphere.” The whole point is to learn from and mimic nature – adapt to nature, rather than the other way around. 

 

Ask Nature: What We Can Learn from Nature

Here are some lessons we can use as blueprints to transfer nature's designs to improve our own design process. Log onto Biomimicry's "Ask Nature" to find out more!

-Adhesive: Collaboration between Northwestern University in Illinois and the Kensey Nash Corporation resulted in a new adhesive called “Geckel” made possible by applying the phenomenon called “contact splitting” that creates the dry adhesion strengths of gecko feet and the polymer of an amino acid called DOPA used by mussels to create a wet adhesive.

It is hoped that this “biomimetic hybrid material” will be used for bandages and transdermal drug-delivery patches as it is impervious to water, maintains adhesion over 1000 contact/release cycles, and easily removed when no longer needed.

-Water Proof Material: Nikwax Analogy is a waterproof fabric that mimics the “waterproofing system” and “breathability” of mammal fur. The outer layer of dense microfiber fabric deflects wind and rain, and the inner layer made of asymmetric filaments uses capillary action to move moisture away from the body. It is hoped that this “nature-inspired technology” will be used in clothing produced for harsh weather conditions.

Imagine the other improvements or inventions made possible though the lessons of nature that are adaptable to our lives!

 

Consumers As Part of the Solution, Not the Problem

If we have not yet heeded the cautionary tales of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, An Inconvenient Truth, or the most recent This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, consider Beth’s advocacy for working with nature rather than against it.

 Beth Rattner stressing the importance of consumer participation in sustainable design.

Beth Rattner stressing the importance of consumer participation in sustainable design.

Such an approach is needed in our state of California. The golden state is experiencing the worst drought in its history leading Governor Brown to recently announce California’s first mandatory water reduction for businesses and residents. It is time to think about how the actions and designs of humans, especially large corporations and well-off communities impact such conditions. This speaks to Beth’s discussion on the growing middle class and its consumption habits.

Beth ultimately believes that consumers are the solution, not the problem. She asks us to take a few minutes everyday to sit in nature and observe. Observe how nature cooperates rather than competes for a healthy, thriving environment. She asks us to consider what might happen if companies and society both mimicked nature in this way.

What if companies cooperated rather than competed; what would our environment – our cities look like? Would this contribute to the health of the planet rather than the bottom line of a given company or the well being of one community over the other?

Such considerations will transform our designs, economic systems and approach to life. Don’t be afraid to let nature in — think outside the ‘big box retailer,’ and think inside the eco-sphere.

 

There are more AMAZING speakers to come at the upcoming TEDxSacramento conferenceTHIS Changes EVERYTHING” on June 12, 2015 at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. REGISTER NOW before tickets sell out!

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