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Sustainability: More Than A Buzz Word

Nature has been at work with the ages, time-testing and evolving its structures and patterns. It is the master of innovation and evolution. While humans have never been separate from this process, why not emulate it? Robert Suarez; a local designer and Biomimicry specialist does just that–aligning his work with the inspiration he draws from nature’s systems and pairing it with human behavior to seek sustainable answers.

“I think with anyone; I like to start with the idea of discovery,” Suarez said. “In the world, I am in; I am always trying to understand the behaviors of the systems and people around me. Sometimes we call that empathy. That’s an important first step.”

Suarez, serving on the board of directors at the Truckee Round House, has 20 years of experience in design–changing the way people live and work. Currently, Suarez is the Co-Founder of Stomp Sessions a new startup business in the action sports industry and was on the founding team of Level Money; “a mission-driven design-led financial services organization in San Francisco.”  He also will be a Thoughts  Leader during the Visions conference at Creating Equilibrium Aug. 25-27.

Suarez’s background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design from Carnegie-Mellon University where he used a human-centered approach to his design, product development, art, and architecture. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Biomimicry from Arizona State University’s  School of Life Sciences. Biomimicry is the design approach that seeks sustainable solutions through mimicking nature’s patterns and strategies.

“I was inspired to reconnect with nature,” Suarez said. “I feel like I lost some of that in the many years of life in the city. Sometimes, living in modern-day society, we forget that connection with nature can easily be engineered out. So that was a big deal.”

Suarez used his connection with nature and the acute understanding of human-centered design to move forward. He sought to create conditions that are conducive to life when it’s all about the bottom line. Suarez wanted to create more sustainable practices and solutions.

Suarez is also the Managing Director of Innovation and Design at Singularity University Labs. SU is a benefit corporation that is a liaison for entrepreneurs, corporations, and partners to create sustainable solutions for the worlds toughest challenges. SU Labs focuses on solving humanities largest concerns —education, energy, environment, food, global health, poverty, security, space, and water– by providing educational programs and workshops. The B-Corp also offers partnerships and “startup accelerators to get individuals, business, institutions, investors, NGOs and governments on board with new technologies–changing the future.”

 

Suarez studying biomimicry in the field. Photo Courtesy Suarez

During SU Lab’s educational workshops, Suarez will often use the craft of science fiction.

“Sometimes we use science fiction,” Suarez said.  “Science fiction is a great tool for storytelling, and it has inspired people to design and develop new technologies in the past.”

First, he encourages his clients to begin with an imaginary reality. Place it ten to 15 years in the future. Then, cast backward. The narrative will reveal the societal, technological, environmental, economic and political actions that need action. He believes that writing about the future, telling a narrative fosters creativity, leading to innovation, addressing big, global challenges including food, water, energy or economics.

“Inherently, when we start writing a story, ideas come up,” Suarez said. “Then we define those ideas.” You create the vision of the future, and you cast back to today. That’s the overall approach.”

He encourages his clients to think about the problem they are changing on a broader scale, reflect on assumptions of technology, and understand technology and where it is going. He breaks the process into five parts with the acronym STEEP (Societal, technological, environmental, economic and political) and each attribute will reveal what elements need to be in place for the future they create. While the idea may seem dystopian, many innovations have been inspired by science-fiction novels, films, literature, and exhibitions.
Through SU Labs, Suarez has worked with an array of large corporations and nonprofits to align their bottom line initiatives with providing the solution to the worlds enduring challenges. Suarez and his team have worked with nonprofits including UNICEF and the World Food Program to help them best utilize technology for social and environmental impact. Suarez explained that since initially working with the World Food Program, they have started to support more startups and entrepreneurs.

Through SU Labs, Suarez has worked with an array of large corporations and non-profits to align their bottom line initiatives with providing the solution to the worlds enduring challenges. Suarez and his team have worked with non-profits including UNICEF and the World Food Program to help them best utilize technology for social and environmental impact. Suarez explained that since initially working with the World Food Program, they have started to support more startups and entrepreneurs.
Sharing this mantra with the Tahoe community, Suarez will present a condensed version of his SU Labs workshop at Creating Equilibrium in front a panel of experts. The experts will be given news headlines from the year 2030 surrounding issues within the global food, energy and water crisis. The experts will then patch-back, year-by-year to today.

Sharing this mantra with the Tahoe community, Suarez will present a condensed version of his SU Labs workshop at Creating Equilibrium in front a panel of experts. The experts will be given news headlines from the year 2030 surrounding issues within the global food, energy and water crisis. The experts will then patch-back, year-by-year to today.

Overall, looking to the future through the lens of science fiction or not, Suarez believes that the future lies in innovation that does not only meet the bottom line.

“I want to see market creating innovation, not growing market through efficiency in creation, Suarez said. “Right now we need new metrics where the value isn’t just cash based. I think people will be rewarded by the positive impact they put into the world, not just the money they make.”

While solutions toward tomorrow’s environmental crisis can be stark, Suarez assures everyone it does, in fact, begin today. And the answer lies in empathy and a conscious connection with the people and systems around us.

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