Climate Change Challenge 2017

Climate Change Challenge 2017


Design Brief

"Adapt to that which you can't prevent, prevent that to which you can't adapt."-BILL MCKIBBEN

Earth has always been a changing planet, but the climate and ecological changes humans have set in motion in the last century are like nothing our species has experienced before. Hungry for energy, food, and other resources, our growing populations are pushing Earth’s systems toward a frightening and well-documented tipping point. The science is clear, and so is our imperative. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, the human community must find ways to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change—and ideally reverse it’s dangerous course altogether.

Our challenge is this:

Create a nature-inspired innovation (a product, service, or system) that combats climate change by either:

  • Helping communities adapt to or mitigate climate change impacts (i.e. those forecasted or already in motion), and/or
  • Reversing or slowing climate change itself (e.g. by removing excess greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere).

Why nature-inspired?

Nature is the best model we have for a sustainable, regenerative way of life. In order for humans to persist and thrive on a healthy planet, our systems must work in concert with nature’s systems. Biomimicry provides a pathway to the solutions we need to accomplish this. Consider how plants effortlessly turn CO2 into energy and materials every hour that the sun shines. What if we learned to do the same? What if CO2 were not the poison of our era, but instead the feedstock of a global carbon-sequestering economy? Nature offers incredible inspiration and time-tested strategies that can be emulated and applied to climate change issues in realms as diverse as energy, water, transportation, buildings and infrastructure, food systems, health, behavior change, and more.

What are we looking for?

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge calls for design concepts addressing any aspect of climate change adaptation, mitigation, and reversal in any sector of the economy. We know that climate change is a complex problem; a hairy knot made up of hundreds, or even thousands, of other problems all woven together. But this diversity means there are also just as many solutions out there waiting to be discovered. Successful teams will define a concrete, well researched area of focus for their design efforts and apply the core concepts and methods of biomimicry in developing a solution. We are especially interested in projects that go beyond familiar approaches to the climate problem by identifying unique leverage points for change, removing barriers to the adoption and spread of existing solutions, and/or clearly demonstrating how biomimicry can lead to new, novel, or more effective solutions.

What are we not looking for?

  • Biomimicry after the fact: If you already have a design solution, please do not retroactively argue that it is biomimetic or “like nature” just to apply to this challenge. Often it is quite obvious to our judges when this is the case. If you are working with an existing design, we’d rather see how you applied biomimicry to improve it. How can learning from nature lead you to a stronger, more sustainable outcome?
  • Common characters:  As news stories and information about biomimicry has spread, many case studies and biological strategies have become common (e.g. the water capturing abilities of the Namib Desert beetle). While this is great for public awareness, creativity and innovation are limited when designers don’t look beyond the common cast of characters. For this reason, designs that rely on biological strategies, design concepts, or biomimetic technologies that have already been well documented should offer significant comparative advantages or greater depth of emulation.

Submission Requirements

All materials submitted must be in English. Visit the Rules and FAQs page for details about the submission process and eligibility requirements. In addition to these guidelines, we strongly recommend that you carefully review the judging criteria before submitting your entry.

In order to enter the Challenge, your team must provide the following:

  1. Team Information: Names and email addresses for all team members, location, and school and advisor/mentor name, if relevant.
  2. Project title (70 character limit)
  3. Design concept overview (300 words maximum): A brief overview of your design concept. This text will be used to describe your project in our public online submissions gallery.
  4. Design concept image (JPG format): A photograph, rendering, or illustration representing your design concept . This will be the primary image used to identify your project on our website or in related media.
  5. Team photo (JPG format): The team photo will be used in our gallery of submissions and/or in related media. The photo should depict all team members.
  6. Video pitch (3 minutes maximum): The video should provide an overview of your design, highlight your design process, convey key discoveries or insights, and ultimately convince the judges that your idea has merit. The video must be uploaded to and publicly available for view. For advice on creating your video, download this guide:  "Tips for Your Video Pitch"
  7. Project presentation document (PDF format, 15 pages or less, no larger than A4 size): A presentation in the form of PowerPoint or Keynote slides (or similar text and image layout). This document will not be made public. See below for details on the content that this presentation must include, based on the category in which you submit.

Open Category Presentation Document Requirements

  • An overview of your scoping process
  • A description or depiction of your biological inspiration process
  • A discussion or depiction of how nature's unifying patterns were considered and applied to the design, including evidence of how this solution represents significant environmental or social wins.
  • The business case for your proposed solution. A discussion of value proposition and target customer segments is required; a Business Model Canvas is optional.
  • A discussion of the current limitations of your design and a description of next steps, obstacles to be overcome for the design to be implemented, and unknown factors to be considered (e.g. materials needed, engineering tests required, etc.)
  • An indication of your team dynamics and the team's ability to succeed.
  • A list of all references and sources, including experts consulted.
  • Optional: Open teams composed of students are also eligible to compete for the “Living Product” Prize. Teams that want to be considered for this prize must also include a description of how their design concept aligns with the principles of the Living Product Challenge. Living Products are informed by biomimicry and biophilia, manufactured by processes powered only by renewable energy, and within the water balance of the places they are made.

Student Category Presentation Document Requirements

  • An overview of your scoping process.
  • An overview of your biological inspiration process, including:
    • A list of all of the organisms and biological strategies you considered, including at least two local organisms in your biome.
    • A description and at least one illustration showing an understanding of the biological strategy that was emulated to create the design;
    • A description and at least one illustration showing how the biological strategy was incorporated into the design;
    • An explanation of how nature's unifying patterns were considered and applied to the design, including evidence of how they help your design achieve valid and significant environmental or social wins.
  • The business case for your proposed solution. A discussion of value proposition and target customer segments is required; a Business Model Canvas is optional.
  • Next steps: A description of the current limitations of your design and a description of next steps, obstacles to be overcome for the design to be implemented, and unknown factors to be considered (e.g. materials needed, engineering tests required, etc.)
  • Team makeup and dynamic: An overview of team member disciplines and how you worked together as a team.
  • References: A list of all references and sources, including experts consulted.

New Deadline: May 4th, 2017 at 11:59pm PDT 

Copyright Notice:

When you submit, you will check a box to verify that your entry is the original work of the team members listed on the Submission Form. Doing so confirms that your entry is free of copyright infringement. If any copyrighted materials are used in your submission they must be properly credited and follow U.S. Fair Use guidelines. This resource from the University of Texas offers more information about US copyright and Fair Use qualifications.

(Note: Only Team Leaders can begin the submission process. For more detail, see the FAQ's.

Judging Criteria

All entries will be evaluated according to the following seven criteria. The criterion are differently weighted, depending on the submission category.

Criteria and weight by category

CriterionOpen Category 
Student Category 
Biomimicry Process
Context and Relevance
Social and Environmental Benefits
Communication and Presentation

Detailed Criteria

Biomimicry Process

  • How well do you demonstrate and document an understanding of function and biological strategies?
  • Did you effectively identify relevant biological strategies applicable to your design challenge?
  • Did you identify multiple biological strategies before identifying the most relevant strategies for emulation? How did you determine and prioritize the strategies most relevant to your design?
  • Did you identify any deep/overarching patterns among the strategies you identified?
  • How well do you show a clear connection between a biological mechanism, process, pattern, or system, and how the design concept submitted emulate that natural model or models?

Context and Relevance

  • How well do you define your specific challenge/problem?
  • How well do you understand the context, design criteria, and constraints of the challenge you decided to work on?
  • What are the benefits/impacts that your design concept has on your specific challenge/problem?


  • Does your design concept represent a promising technology and/or solution? (i.e. show evidence of preliminary market understanding or research)
  • Have you talked to appropriate stakeholders (customers, end users, strategic partners, etc.) or in any way assessed or documented the likely feasibility and impact of your design concept?
  • Open category only: Have you investigated potential prototype concepts and identified the next steps needed to take  to move your design forward? (i.e., towards the prototyping phase?)

Social and Environmental Benefits

  • Will adoption of your design lead to significant social, cultural, and/or environmental wins? E.g., does your design concept improve accessibility for a percentage of the population; help low income populations meet basic needs; address product lifecycle effects on the environment; address issues of toxicity, reduced material usage, and waste reduction; etc.
  • How well do you understand and address the underlying sustainability problems you aim to solve?
  • Have you articulated and defined any sustainability problems?
  • Have you provided more than shallow evidence of how your design concept will address sustainability concerns?
  • How have you applied nature's unifying patterns in your design?


  • How novel is the innovation and/or biological inspiration?
  • If something like your design concept has already been proposed, does your solution offer significant comparative advantages or greater depth to the emulation?

Communication and Presentation

  • Do your submission materials (e.g. presentation document, video, etc.) provide a clear overall description of the biomimicry process you followed?
  • Do your submission materials describe/communicate well your proposed design concept?
  • Is the value proposition clear?
  • Do you support your design arguments with relevant, properly attributed data/information to enhance your credibility?
  • Are your visual materials (e.g. design concept sketch rendering and video) informative, and clear in how they describe your design concept?


  • Have you sought out experts and mentors as needed?
  • Is your team interdisciplinary and does it have the right skills to address the specific challenge selected?
  • Open category only: Is your team clearly motivated to continue working on this solution beyond the design concept stage?
  • Open category only: Do you have the key people (team members, advisors) and core capabilities (interdisciplinary backgrounds/expertise) you need to move on to the next phase of the competition? If not, are you seeking outside assistance to fill those gaps?