David Oakey is quietly, patiently passionate about what he does and what he stands for. Nature-based design principles, known as “biomimicry,” are fast becoming mainstream –in part because of David’s work. But when David first encountered these ideas in the 1990's, the notion of seeking design concepts from nature was considered “out there,” practiced primarily on the eco-fringe of the design world.
In the late 1990's, David – already a successful textiles designer – was influenced by two significant events.
First, Ray Anderson of Interface, with whom David had just signed a three-year design contract, stated that Interface would become a sustainable company.
Second, David read Janine Benyus’s book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. These two events changed his approach to design - and ultimately changed his entire business model and his life. Since then, he’s become one of the foremost advocates of biomimicry and sustainable design, leading global efforts to educate, inspire, and inform everyone from architects to business leaders around the world.
David was first exposed to sustainable, nature inspired design as a child growing up in rural northern England, where his father used waste wool from the local carpet factories as fertilizer on the vegetable fields. One day, David noticed that the fields were no longer covered in bright pink, purple and gold - the colors of the carpet wool in the 1960’s. As a curious child, he asked his father what had happened, and learned that the carpet manufacturers had begun adding nylon and mothproofing chemicals to the wool. "I can't hear the birds sing anymore!" said his father.
Like many children, David thought his father was a little strange. It wasn't until decades later he realized how wise his father had been. As David points out, the carpet manufacturers had broken one of the key rules of sustainability: as in nature, all “waste” products must be reusable or recyclable. A product must be well-designed not only for its own sake, but also for the sake of its waste – whether in the manufacturing process, or at the end of the product’s life.
David practices what he preaches. His business is housed in Pond Studios, which was designed to fit the land on which it stands, leaving as little impact as possible. He continues to influence his clients to follow sustainable design practices, and often lectures about sustainable design at educational and industry events.
As a leader in the design world, David has won over 50 awards for his work. His writings and philosophies have been featured in publications as diverse as Fortune, Fast Company, Smithsonian Magazine, and Interior Design. He shares his experiences in an ever-evolving presentation, Respect for the Future, which encourages audiences around the world to create their own story in partnership with nature.
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