What if we didn’t need a refrigerator?


One of the things I love about teaching sustainable design is seeing what emerges from student work — it gives me great hope.  

In a recent virtual workshop we conducted as part of the Design Portland’s Design Week 2020, we gave participants a brief introduction to the what, why, and how of biomimicry as a framework for sustainable design. Then, equipped with just a few examples of strategies that selected organisms use to perform specific functions*, we asked them to design a more sustainable refrigerator. In just a few minutes they came up with a wide range of inspiring ideas for innovative solutions (biomimicry is wonderful for that!).  

But more importantly, they started to ask questions — more, better, and different questions.

In addition to designing a better refrigerator, they imagined designing a better food system that was less reliant on refrigeration; they imagined designing a better home that integrated heating and cooling and refrigeration and water management; they imagined designing a better diet that required very little refrigeration. 

When asked to design a better refrigerator, a sustainable designer might ask, “What if we didn’t need a refrigerator?”

Design often involves asking “How might we” questions. Sustainable design takes a step back and asks questions like “Why might we…?”, “Why should we…?”, or “What if we didn’t…?” Human-centered design becomes life-centered design. Biomimicry is seamlessly integrated with systems thinking. The Natural Step is just the first step.  An understanding of visual communications and making a business case help turn ideas into impacts.

In less than an hour, and armed with just a small bit of new knowledge, skills, and understanding (and no post-its or magic markers), this group of smart passionate people were already taking design to an inspiring new level. Instead of designing more sustainable things, they imagined designing a better world — the kind of world we’d all love to live in.

Thank you workshop participants!  I look forward to having many of you dive (back) into the program this fall!

*examples were found at AskNature.org

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]