Who are you and what do you do?
It was a random day when a friend sent me a TED talk from Janine Benyus on Biomimicry. He would never have imagined changing my life forever. My passion for environmental sustainability had driven me to study Biochemistry, however, I thought my education was way too narrow-minded. After learning about Biomimicry (= learning from nature for sustainable innovation) I realized how we could use Biology's potential to actually have an impact on our daily lives.
The choice was easily made to move to Akron, OH (the middle of nowhere) to be part of the first cohort of the first PhD in Biomimicry! After four years I’m back in Belgium (where I feel at home) and fully equipped to introduce Biomimicry thinking here. Not only can we make our products, the way we make our products, and the way we do business, more sustainable, we can actually make them life promoting if we design them according to nature’s principles.
My life mission is to motivate and inspire others to be the best version of themselves. If each one of us has a positive impact, however small it might be, we can solve our biggest problems. We cannot trust on big corporations to do it for us. My way of inspiring is others is to live by example, and truly connecting with them. I hope to plant a seed and create the conditions for it to grow into their minds. Connecting with like-minded is empowering, it gives trust that you are not alone and that all efforts can result in actual change when done collectively.
What competences would make you a good Generation T?
The people around me have told me I’m a loyal and empathic person, making me a good listener and communicator. I believe my friends and family know they can count on me for whatever it might be. I also love to organize get togethers where people can connect with others, through good conversation and fun activities. If you want a member that loves to have deep conversations, likes to laugh and enjoy life, comes with new ideas and perspectives and loves to collaborate and support others, than I believe I would be a good fit.
As a generalist rather than a specialist (i.e. I’m interested in so many different things) and thanks to my Biomimicry training (i.e. a holistic view of the world) I love to make unexpected connections between ideas and people. I love ‘connectworking’ (a made-up word; because I believe many networking is too much focused on selling oneself rather than authentically connecting with each other).
I’m a life-long learner, making me accept mistakes as learning opportunities and stimulating me to read many books, watch inspiring videos and learn from deeply talking to others.
I also love to come out of my comfort zone and discover new places, activities, organizations, tastes, and activities; while obviously sharing those with others.
Give specific example(s) on how your projects or activities make a difference and initiate change.
The first thing I bought when moving to Akron was a bike (I obviously used to bike everywhere in Ghent). After a few weeks random people would ask me on the street or in the supermarket if I was the biking girl. We got bike racks on campus and the city now has 25% more bike lanes on the streets.
For my PhD I was involved in many different projects all related to sustainable development. I looked at eggshells and how they could be a more sustainable UV-additive than the toxic TiO2; I co-founded a startup that does R&D to make helmets more protective against concussion by looking at how the hedgehog absorbs impact when falling from a tree; and as one of three first PhD students I co-build a new PhD program for many other students to come (currently already 25 students).
I have also turned one of my daily needs into a commercial product. I was sitting way too much behind my computer leading to neck pain and migraines. Together with my handy engineer boyfriend and our woodworking friend we made a height-adjustable standing desk at uni’s fablab. We founded Jaswig as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and currently have manufacturing hubs in the USA and in Belgium. Not only is the product made with sustainable materials and made locally to reduce shipping pollution, we gain the possibility to change an entire mindset. People sit too much, which is disastrous for their health. It takes 26h to become accustomed to standing up again. As a child you used to hate sitting...
Who inspired you? What made you first passionate about sustainability?
I look at many inspiring change makers to motivate me to push the limits too: Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Janine Benyus, Michael Pollan, Yvonne Chouinard and so many more. They not only keep asking questions, but they also help build the answers collectively. They don't demand change, they are the change.