The Biomimicry Institute, Using Biomimicry to Cool Buildings, Biomimicry Institute’s “Design for Decomposition,” Northeast Sustainable Energy Association

by | Apr 14, 2022 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

The Biomimicry Institute, plus using biomimicry to cool buildings. The Biomimicry Institute’s “Design for Decomposition,” and the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association.



The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) is a 501(c)(3) membership organization that promotes sustainable energy practices in the built environment. Originally founded 1975 by a group of builders, architects, engineers and home builders concerned with the energy crisis that year, the association has evolved over time, continually honing its mission. Currently NESEA is owned by Jesper Kruse, a certified passive house consultant. 

Today, NESEA works to increase sustainable energy practices in the building sector with a mission to “advance the adoption of sustainable energy practices in the built environment by cultivating a community where practitioners share, collaborate and learn.” 

The programs include:

  • BuildingEnergy Bottom Lines – Peer networking groups for NESEA members
  • BuildingEnergy Masters Series – Online courses on energy efficiency and building science
  • BuildingEnergy Pro Tours – Half-day tours of high-performance building projects throughout the Northeast

Currently, NESEA is taking proposals for its Building Energy NYC program. Why does NESEA matter to us? The organizations’ focus is important because the building sector in the United States accounts for nearly half of all energy consumption and produces nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Yearly, NESEA hosts a trade show and conferences in Boston and in NYC. NESEA also offers a variety of programs for members and the wider community. 

Although NESEA operates primarily  in the northeastern U.S., it is increasingly reaching out to more broadly nationally and internationally. For example, they’ve  collaborated with the German Consulate and the Upper Austria Trade Commission to bring cutting-edge products and information from Europe to our BuildingEnergy conferences & trade shows.




In 2006, Janine Benyus, a science writer, and Bryony Schwan, an organizational development consultant, co-founded The Biomimicry Institute. According to the Institute’s website, “We exist to shine a light on nature’s genius, and bridge pressing design challenges with proven biological strategies for a better future.” 

Initially, the Institute’s focus was on education and curriculum. It has since launched a handful of initiatives and competitions for the purpose of tackling sustainability problems at all levels of society. Their initiatives include:

  • Ask Nature
  • Biomimicry Launchpad
  • Biomimicry Global Network
  • Ray of Hope Prize
  • Youth Design Challenge
  • Design for Decomposition

Students and researchers who participate in the initiatives come from across the globe. In 2021, the Institute hosted its last Global Design Challenge. The winning team was from the Philippines. Their project was a sustainable, modular raft. 

The raft takes its inspiration from the Victoria water lily. The double-layered modular platform can be used in a number of ways at times of rest, from a park bench to a roof. Then, once it comes in contact with water, its air pockets immediately fill and float, supporting the weight of people onboard in the currents of the flood waters. 

Why does The Biomimicry Institute matter to us? Benyus believes that the more people learn from nature, the more they’ll want to protect it. 

DEEPER DIVE: Biomimicry, GreenBiz



In 2021, the Biomimicry Institute received about $3.2 million in funding to lead a multi-year initiative called Design for Decomposition. The project resulted from a 2020 report commissioned by the Biomimicry Institute, called The Nature of Fashion. In it, it identified decomposition as the missing link in the fashion industry’s sustainability efforts.

The Design for Decomposition research initiatives have four main objectives:

  1. Understand emerging decomposition options
  2. Demonstrate affordable, scalable strategies
  3. Understand the biology and chemistry of decomposition
  4. Prove it works, and then  change minds

The goal is to find new ways to improve current decomposition technologies through mimicry of natural decomposition processes. The Institute is partnering with several organizations, including Yale Center for Green Chemistry and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA).

Dr. Paul Anastas, Director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale explains, “Determining the rate or speed at which molecules degrade in the environment is of crucial importance to assess risks to our own health and health of the environment. Our goal is to close that gap.”

Ghana, Western Europe and the U.S. will host pilot projects to test the most viable decomposition technologies that are commercially viable but have yet to scale.

Why does it matter to us?  There are approximately 101 million tons of fashion waste discarded annually, the equivalent of a dump truck load every second. Depending on the material, it can take 200+ years for it to decompose in a landfill. And we’re running out of landfill space….

DEEPER DIVE: Design for Decomposition, Fashion United, Laudes Foundation 



And now more amazing biomimicry….At the 2021 annual Youth Design Challenge high school students from the Orange Cube Art School in California won first place. Their invention was a naturally cooling brick inspired by hydrophilic hairs found on the Texas Horned Lizard and some types of plants. The students called their invention “The Moist Brick”.

Hydrophilic hairs are hairs that can collect water and move it around the surface without the water getting absorbed. The students considered two points when imagining their product. The Earth’s global surface temperature is increasing, which means air conditioners are going to be running on high–leading to more global carbon emissions. They also noticed that a lot of environmentally friendly building material is specialized and not accessible to the general public. 

The brick or building material they developed condenses water from nighttime air and collects it on the surface of the material. As the heat increases, the water evaporates from the brick, acting as a cooling system. The competition winners receive funds to help them continue product research and development. The students hope to make their product widely accessible.

Why does “The Moist Brick” matter to us? With the Earth’s global surface temperature increasing, and hotter and hotter summers, this product helps limit the need for energy-consuming air conditioning. 

DEEPER DIVE: Biomimicry Institute, Sustainable Brands, Engie