Former Design Challenge Participant Tells How to Build a Sustainability Career

As a participant in the 2012-2013 Biomimicry Student Design Challenge, Stephanie Koehler and her team from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design created a solar purification device that garnered her team finalist status in both round one and round two of the global competition. Since that experience, Stephanie has launched a career as a sustainability design strategist. She describes her journey in a three-part article series in Core77.

This is an excerpt from Stephanie Koehler’s third article in the three-part series from Core77. Click here to read the entire series.

During the 2012–13 Biomimicry Student Design Challenge (BSDC) competition, I discovered that solving humanity’s biggest design challenges requires new skills applied within a comprehensive framework that integrates sustainability. I gained a deeper understanding of the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s tenet of what Fuller described as “comprehensive anticipatory design scientists.” (Fuller, 1999)

Learning from nature
Biomimicry, the practice of emulating models and strategies found in nature, provides designers with tools for seeing and learning from nature in new ways (Biomimicry 3.8 Institute), serving to both embed an ethos of sustainability and potentially inspire radical thinking.

For the competition, I explored the use of biomimicry as a process for creating a sustainable product as well as a scalable social enterprise idea. Under the inspirational guidance of Denise Deluca, co-founder and director of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation (BCI), this work ultimately grew from my Master’s thesis project.

My design concept was a water treatment system called SolDrop. My team went on to become the only US finalists in the global 2013 BSDC and I had the honor of presenting at the Biomimicry Education Summit and Global Conference in Boston that year.

Lessons I Learned
The design challenge and thesis experience allowed me to see that biomimicry offers designers many things:
- A toolkit for innovative and a methodology to address design challenges in a new way
- A deeper understanding of sustainability and whole systems thinking through exploring biological strategies
- A means to embed an ethos of sustainability into design
- A unique perspective when designing social solutions and the business ecosystem
- A greater connection to nature, other people, the dynamic living world–in short, the interconnectedness of everything

In retrospect, I took far more away from studying, practicing and making biomimicry thinking a part of my daily habits than I had ever anticipated. Initially I thought I’d just be tackling the product as a designer, but soon shifted to creating a water treatment option that also engages local communities and enhances local economies for long-term positive impact.

Fuller, R.Buckminster. Your Private Sky: The Art of Design Science. Ed. Joachim Krausse; Claude Lichtenstein. Baden: Lars Muller, 1999.