Member Spotlight: Human Nature Designs

1 years ago

Human Nature Designs

Shaun Daniel




Who are you?


I grew up in a village in the wild northeastern corner of Washington State - a place where you can see the tension between beautiful natural systems and the pull of unsustainable economic and cultural forces that often pit people against one another and their own home. Since then, I’ve lived throughout the upper West and Midwest, seeing some of those same patterns play out at different scales. All the while, I’ve studied and engaged in social change work, sustainability advocacy, communications, the arts, and environmental education. I think of all of these, as ways of approaching the same root needs, addressing the same root cause - which is basically figuring out how to be a good human. How do we live well on this earth? Not just for ourselves, but for others too, our human and nonhuman kin. I guess that’s my core mission and why I do what I do: I want to be a good human.


What are you working on?


I am laying the foundations for an ecological design business, tentatively called Human Nature Designs that will focus initially on rainwater harvesting solutions and the design of water retention landscapes. Ultimately, my hope is it’s something that can grow into a full service, whole systems design and consulting firm that assists with everything from land restoration, bioremediation, design of food and energy systems, rewilding, and an overall shift in the way that we conceive of our role as humans in the biosphere. In a nutshell, I want to be a part of creating a more just, joyful, and regenerative world for all living things. I’m starting with water because it’s where I’ve done a bit more study and because it’s so essential to life on Earth. Right now we have this bizarre situation where we’re worried about water scarcity (how we’ll water our lawns and gardens with a growing population and climate change), even while we inhabit and design spaces where water (especially rainfall) is treated as a nuisance that gets drained away, polluting and eroding areas downstream, and as we double-down on costly, ecologically-destructive, inefficient water infrastructure. But there are all sorts of ways to do things differently, to reverse that dynamic from de-hydrating landscapes to re-hydrating them, restoring the life that we’re seeing disappear before our eyes. By looking at our landscapes and buildings from a whole systems perspective, we can be creative in our solutions and integrate strategies so that they have a multiplying effect to achieve a number of goals at once, like more wildlife habitat, less water pollution, beautiful neighborhoods, edible landscapes, food security, a cut in our carbon emissions, cleaner air, and better health.


How did you start to establish your idea?


I’ve been involved in permaculture and ecological design for many years now. More recently, I received a permaculture design certificate from Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in 2014 and drew on permaculture design for my Master of Science applied project in the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities graduate program. That project proposed a solution to a water and wildlife conservation issue using rainwater harvesting strategies to enhance resilience and restore natural function to a site. Last fall, I teamed up with Nick Schou of Utah Rivers Council to offer a presentation on rainwater harvesting strategies at the Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium. I was impressed by the overwhelming success of URC’s RainHarvest program last summer, which showed how thirsty people are for new approaches. I took that as a sign that the time might be right for a business that can help people to take the next step.


What about entrepreneurship interests you?


I’ve always been a person that tends to take initiative whenever I see something that needs doing. I can’t just not act. So, I see entrepreneurship - particularly sustainability-oriented entrepreneurship - as taking the initiative, doing what I can to help change things for the better. I think like a lot of people, I’ve been in pursuit of better ways to align my values and passions with the things I do for my livelihood. If successful, launching my own business would be a step toward authentically living my life and fulfilling a deep vocation. Many of the other elements of entrepreneurship - like creativity, self-direction, responsibility, a mix of detail and vision - I also find appealing. Plus, given our current culture, I am intrigued by the ability of private businesses to leverage resources quickly and meet people’s needs. In the right context, that can have far-reaching impacts and bring about swift change. Having mostly worked for nonprofits and public entities, I’m looking forward to more fully experiencing this other sphere of work. (Permaculture Voices podcast has some great things to say about the need for society to help people align remunerative work and their passions if we’re going to achieve true sustainability.)


Why did you come to Sustainable Startups? What has been your greatest take away from being in the Sustainable Startup cohort course thus far? 


For quite a while, I had been imagining my business as something still a ways off in the future. But the more I thought about it, I kept coming back to questions like: Why not now? What am I waiting for? And in terms of my business idea, why not me? So I started reading business books and looking at resources that were available locally. That’s how I found Sustainable Startups.


I was drawn to the Entrepreneur Incubator program, and to Sustainable Startups more generally, since it presents an approach to business that I find more in line with my values and my preferred approach to learning. I’ve been quite happy with the progress I’ve made in the couple months I’ve been involved with Sustainable Startups. Having a community of people in similar places in their entrepreneurial efforts has been a big help for finding resources and contacts, getting feedback, feeling helpful to others, maintaining momentum and accountability, and just summoning the courage to forge a different path.


Paolo Freire said, “We make the road by walking.” I think that characterizes what we’re doing in the Sustainable Startups cohort. It’s what we need to do as a civilization in this pivotal point in human history.