A tiny taste of Biomimicry


Many students are attracted to our program because they get to learn how to use biomimicry as a sustainable design framework. They explore it in Systems Thinking, Innovation Tools and Techniques, The Practice of Sustainable Design, and (of course) Biomimetic Design.

But not everyone can go back to school for a Masters degree, take a week in Mexico, or even join a live or online workshop to learn the concepts and tools of biomimicry. We didn’t want that to stop you, so we created a exercise that you can do to get a tiny taste of biomimicry.

A very short biomimicry workshop


A short introduction video from the Director of the MA in Sustainable Design program.


Plastic has amazing properties — that’s why we use so much of it — but it’s clear that single-use plastic packaging is unsustainable. Here are a few things to think about:

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.  Plastics by the numbers:

  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
  • Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
  • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.

[from: The world’s plastic pollution crisis explained]

Today, plastic packaging material flows are mostly linear.

  • Most plastic packaging is used only once
  • Only 14% is collected for recycling 
  • 95% of the value of plastic packaging material is lost to the economy

[from: Plastics and the Circular Economy]

It is estimated that over 80 percent of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase of a product.

[from: The Contribution of Design to Sustainable Development]


The basic idea behind Biomimicry is that nature has a sustainable solution to any design problem that you can think of — including packaging. You can use this tool to discover some of nature’s incredible strategies and then emulate them to create innovative and sustainable design solutions. 


  1. Find a single-use plastic package that you buy frequently.  
    Some ideas: Shampoo bottle. Bread bag. Blueberries.
  1. Identify reasons why this item comes in a single-use plastic package.  What are the functions that this packaging performs?
    Some ideas: Keep liquids in. Protect from bugs. Protect from crushing.
  1. Explore and discover a few of the many ways that nature packages things.  
    Some ideas: Pinecone. Orange peel. Your skin.
  1. Describe one or more of nature’s packaging strategies.
    For example: Pinecones use a double spiral structure to optimize packaging space while allowing growth to continue. They open and close in response to humidity, even after they fall off the tree. Seeds are released when triggered by optimal environmental conditions.
    [For more ideas, explore AskNature.org and type in the functions that you identified above.]
  1. Imagine how you might use nature’s packaging strategies to create sustainable packaging for a product that you buy frequently.
    What strategies does nature use to perform the functions you identified in Step 2? How might you use those strategies to re-design the package you found in Step 1?

This is just a tiny taste of biomimicry. If you want to learn more, check back with this blog, as we periodically offer biomimicry workshops and short courses. If you want to dive much deeper, we invite you to explore our MA in Sustainable Design program.

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]