The resources we use to create products can be divided into substance or energy. Substance is the material resource we use to make a product and energy is the power required to create and consume.


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In Nature resources are very limited both in terms of substance and energy. Therefore, Nature has to be little bit smarter in the way it uses them.  


We can learn from biology how to do more with less, such as using less materials to make things and design in ways that uses fewer processes that saves energy. 

As resources are limited in biology organisms have evolved clever ways to ensure their structures last as long as they need to. 


We can learn from Nature how to make our designs last longer by creating adaptable products that have multiple uses. 

The limited resources in Nature are rarely wasted. At the end of life these are returned to the earth as nutrients. 


We can learn from biology how to design so that our products can be recovered at the end of their useful life. 



Design for Efficiency

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is one of the largest animals on the earth. It can grow up to 15 metres (40 feet) long and weighs 40 tons yet is capable of precise and agile manoeuvres. For example, the humpback can swim in tight circles as narrow as 1.5 metres (5 feet) in diameter.


Scientists discovered that this extraordinary behaviour was made possible by the design of the pectoral flipper. With its characteristically irregular large bumps along the leading edge of its flipper, called tubercules, this enables the wale to manage the flow of water as it moves. This design has been applied to improve the efficiency of wind turbines.


Design for Longevity

It is important for parent plants that their seeds travel far away from them to find their own space to germinate and grow. Without legs to move them they rely of other methods of transportation. The burdock (genus Arctium) does this by releasing seeds (burs) that are covered in prickly hairs that enable them to attach to animal fur or human clothing in which to be transported away.

Engineer George de Mestral wanted to find out why the burs were so tricky to remove from his clothes. He discovered, by looking under a microscope, that the prickly hairs were in fact hooks and was inspired to created a reversible sticking system. Working with a textile mill he recreated the hook and fur system creating, what we today call, Velcro. This reversible sticking system has allowed us to create adaptable clothing and accessories that we can use for longer.  


Design for Recovery

As designers, we often draw on multiple materials to introduce necessary properties to our products. For example, a traditional upholstered chair contains many material types both soft and hard, such as a wooden frame, metal springs, fibre stuffing and fabric covers. This makes recycling arm chairs at the end of their useful life very difficult. What if we could create this type of product using only one material type?

In 2014, industrial designer Lilian van Daal was inspired by the structure of long bones such as the human femur that have a light and spongy core protected by a stiff, dense outer layer, to reimagine the way we design an armchair. Lilian realised she could create light and spongy areas (to sit on comfortably) as well as stiff and dense regions (weight bearing) just like the bone by 3D printing with a single material.  

Lilian was able to apply a simple idea from nature to re-imagine an everyday household object that traditionally requires multiple materials to create (making it difficult to recycle) into a single material structure to promote recovery at the end-of-use.