Exclusive interview with Claire Janisch, founder of BiomimicrySA
During African Utility Week’s keynote session on 16 May 2018, Janisch will address attendees on ‘Biomimicry: Learn from and emulate nature’s genius to create more sustainable designs.’
“Every so often an idea comes around that is a game changer. Biomimicry is such an idea. It shows us that genius solutions to our challenges already exist. Right outside, in nature,” she says.
What projects in the energy and water sectors that you are involved in currently are you most excited about?
Most of our projects are related to water, specific ones worth mentioning:
1. GENIUS OF SPACE PROJECT – LANGRUG
The Genius of SPACE Project is building innovative water and waste treatment solutions in Langrug – an informal settlement in the Western Cape, South Africa. The project uses Biomimicry principles to clean up the grey water, storm water, and solid waste challenges that the community face. These low tech, easily maintained solutions will help to address the key challenges faced by this community such as health and wellbeing.
The project includes water treatment and waste upcycling for restoration of the health of the community and the Berg River. One of the 110% Green initiatives of the Western Cape Government. A finalist in the European Green Tech Awards in 2015. BiomimicrySA is working together with John Todd Ecological Designs to design and implement the innovative solution to the wastewater challenge. The larger team also includes In/formal South, Isidima, Maluti Water, WaterLove Projects, Greenhouse Systems Development and CORC.
2. DURBAN URBAN PLANNING RESILIENCE FRAMEWORK
Developing a Resilience Framework to Inform Urban Planning and Design in the Northern Spatial Development Plan Area, eThekwini Municipality. A well adapted ecological urban system meets it’s functional needs within it’s context. Durban’s context has shifted from one with plenty of available nutrients, energy and water to one with limits and boundaries that can no longer be ignored. Business-as-usual development can only happen within the context of abundant resources and supply of services. The context has shifted to one with significant constraints on energy, water and waste related services and on critical ecosystem services.
3. PLANKENBRUG RIVER RESTORER
Through Wildlands Conservation Trust and funding from a German funding agency, we initiated a project for the design of a river restoration system for the Plankenbrug river in the Western Cape. We connected John Todd Ecological Design and Isidima to take this project forward from design to implementation of a prototype. The pilot project is currently under development. The Water Research Commission is funding postgraduate research related to this project.
4. ABUJA CITY DESIGN
Biomimicry Principles Applied to Design of a new city in Nigeria. Design Challenge: How do we create an abundant and flourishing city in Abuja, that functions like a mature ecosystem by creating a circular metabolism, weblike food chains, a high diversity of species, adaptive decentralised infrastructure; focused on creating cooperative relationships and underpinned by good quality feedback loops of information? Our team participated in biomimicry processes for this concept design. The resulting concept design is a blueprint for designing cities that function like ecosystems and meet many of Biomimicry Life’s Principles.
5. BIOMIMICRY WATER TREATMENT
This project is funded by the Water Research Commission and lead by Golder Associates with biomimicrySA providing the biomimicry expertise on the team. This project looks to exploit knowledge on how nature cleans water, to better engineer constructed wetlands to meet the challenges of current and emerging pollutants and pathogens.
6. PAX TECHNOLOGIES
We are working with Jay Harman of Pax Scientific as well as local partners to enable the availability of Pax Waterand other Pax technologies in South Africa.
What in your view are the main challenges in these sectors?
The main challenge is that the context has changed. A change in context requires a change in strategy. Our strategies, policies, management approaches are based on a context of abundant resources and slow growing cities. We are now in a context of limited resources in rapidly growing cities. Within natural system – well-adapted species are those that are able to adapt their strategy to new contexts. Natural ecosystems have the potential to grow and develop quite rapidly even in the context of limited resources. Integral to these systems are basic principles that enable this.
These principles include:
- circular systems that continue to cycle all resources
- distributed systems that are more locally attuned & responsive and resilient to rapid change (and which enable circular systems)
- integrated development with growth – where modular systems build from the bottom up in ways which each module meets it’s own development needs so rapid growth can happen in balance with development needs
- extraordinary resource efficiency
What is your vision for the role of biomimicry in addressing these challenges?
Biomimicry is about recognising that we can learn from nature’s 3.8 billion years of experience, to develop sustainable an resilient solutions for our world. By reverse engineering nature’s blueprints, principles and strategies, we can design products, processes and systems that are well-adapted to the ever changing contexts of our world. This is particularly applicable to infrastructure. Africa’s natural ecosystems and organisms are particularly well adapted to our context and therefore a rich knowledge economy exists from which we can draw local innovative solutions.
Our vision is that the designers of our world – and particularly the designers of our infrastructure – look to natural systems as model, measure and mentor to design abundant and resilient cities that function like natural ecosystems.
Similar to the approach we applied in the Abuja city design challenge:
“How do we create an abundant and flourishing city, that functions like a mature ecosystem by creating a circular metabolism, weblike food chains, a high diversity of species, adaptive decentralised infrastructure; focused on creating cooperative relationships and underpinned by good quality feedback loops of information?”
You are a keynote speaker at African Utility Week, with a presentation entitled: Biomimicry: Learn from and emulate nature’s genius to create more sustainable designs – can you give us a preview of what your message will be to the utility sector?
Every so often an idea comes around that is a game changer. After we hear it and understand it, we never see the world quite the same ever again. Biomimicry is such an idea. It shows us that genius solutions to our challenges already exist. Right outside, in nature. Tested over eons. When you realize that the simple act of learning from and emulating nature’s time tested genius is so profoundly impactful, it’s one of the most inspiring approaches to Africa’s big challenges. I will share case studies and core principles to illustrate this.
Anything else you would like to add?
It may be useful to watch this TedX presentation, though my presentation at African Utility Week will be different than this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6WIHqxhJ0g
About Claire Janisch
As a Certified Biomimicry Professional, Claire spends her time exploring nature’s genius in diverse ecosystems and shares this new way of viewing and valuing nature through biomimicry expeditions and coaching– teaching & training professionals, students and scholars. Claire also dives deeper into research for companies and organisations – translating nature’s innovation and sustainability principles for the design of new products, processes & systems.
Janisch has a MSc Chem-Engineering in Industrial Ecology and is both a graduate of and has been a lead trainer for the Biomimicry Professional Certificate Program offered by Biomimicry3.8. She is the Founder and Director of BiomimicrySA. Claire was selected in the Mail & Guardian’s 200 young South Africans in 2009, 2010 & 2011 and was a finalist in the Most Influential Women in Business & Government awards in 2012.
As a regional network of The Biomimicry Institute, biomimicrySA promotes the study and imitation of nature’s remarkably efficient designs, bringing together scientists, engineers, architects and innovators who can use those models to create sustainable technologies. The biomimicry process of consulting life’s genius utilises a clear, proven design methodology, complete with effective implementation tools, developed over a decade of work with companies, entrepreneurial organisations, universities, governments, and non-profits.
For more info click here: https://www.biomimicrysa.co.za/about/