By John Anderson Lanier
Executive Director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, and one of Ray’s five grandchildren.


I was 18 years old, and I was feeling the butterflies. I didn’t know where I was going, and Atlanta isn’t the easiest town to navigate. In fact, that particular morning was the first time I’d driven alone in Midtown, and I’m pretty sure I took about six extra turns with all the confusing one-way streets. Thankfully, I had planned to arrive an hour early, so I still had plenty of time when I found the right office building.

Unfortunately, the butterflies in my stomach didn’t stop their frantic wing-flapping when I turned off the car. I was about to walk into a room of 10 strangers whose sole intent that day was to judge me. Even seeing their warm smiles as I entered the conference room did nothing to calm my nerves. The butterflies turned it up a notch.

I suppose that I was on-edge because of what was at stake. I had received an immense honor when my high school nominated me for the University of Virginia Jefferson Scholarship, a full academic scholarship to the university I had dreamed of attending for years. Those ten judges were Virginia alumni, and they were interviewing all the scholarship nominees from our region. They would decide who would advance to the next round.

The experience was a blur, and I was saying “thank you” and “goodbye” after what seemed like only a few minutes. Everyone was exceedingly kind and encouraging toward me, but I walked out with the sense that I wouldn’t be moving on. Sure enough, I learned soon after that the judges decided that others were more deserving.

Candidly, they probably were! I was extremely fortunate to attend the University of Virginia even without the scholarship, and when I met a few Jefferson Scholars my first year, I realized how remarkable those students were. In the end, I simply remained grateful that I’d been nominated in the first place.

Team members working on their innovations during our 2017 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Bootcamp.

I found myself reflecting on that experience a month and a half ago when I participated as a judge for the Design Phase of the most recent Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Here I was, more than a decade later, with my role completely reversed. No butterflies this time, but that didn’t mean my job was easy!

As a judge, I spent hours reviewing the teams’ slide presentations and videos. I considered how well they utilized biomimicry, addressed the challenge of climate change, communicated their design, scoped a market for their idea, and formed a team. Each submission I reviewed involved an immense amount of work from these teams, and I’m grateful to them for the time and effort they put toward the challenge. While as judges we couldn’t advance every team to the Accelerator Phase, I was impressed by every entry I saw.

You can read about the finalists here. Over the next year, they will continue to refine their designs and develop their business plans. I honestly can’t wait to see how much further they progress, and I know that when we sit down to judge them for the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize®, our jobs won’t be any easier. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Stay tuned for more. With The Biomimicry Institute, we’ll be awarding a Ray of Hope Prize for the previous cohort of finalists at the Bioneers Conference this October (our immense gratitude to Bioneers for hosting!). Also in October, the next Design Phase will open, again with a climate change theme. I’m sure that you’ll be as inspired by all the ideas that emerge as I am. And heck, if you have your own bio-inspired solution to climate change, I urge you to consider joining the Challenge!


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About the Author

John A. Lanier joined the Ray C. Anderson Foundation as Executive Director in May 2013. Serving in this role has been an immense honor, and he feels privileged to work with his family to advance the legacy of Ray, his grandfather. Lanier’s passion for environmental stewardship was sparked by Ray’s example and story, and he never tires of sharing this story with others.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Lanier was an associate attorney with Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan, LLP, specializing in U.S. Federal taxation. He represented the interests of various Atlanta-based nonprofits, gaining experience in nonprofit formations, compliance and applications for recognition of tax-exempt status. During that time, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation was one of his clients.

Lanier currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Southface, the southeast’s nonprofit leader in the promotion of sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Project Drawdown and Chattahoochee NOW.

Re-printed, with permission from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ecocentricity blog.

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