The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development

"It's (The Natural Advantage of Nations) a book of affirmation when despair hits."
Janine M. Benyus

"BIOMIMICRY is one of those rare hopeful notes in the modern chorus of environmental warnings. Janine offers a radical alternative to today’s industrial model of progress – an elegant survival strategy drawn from a better understanding of those natural systems on which we are still totally dependent. Perhaps the best thing about this “quest for innovations inspired by nature” is that it is more than just a theory. It is already underway."
Jonathon Porritt, Chairman, Chair of the UK Prime Minister’s Sustainable Development Commission

"(Biomimicry) Introduces a concept worthy of wide exploration in a world dazzled by the industrial artifacts around us... Over the millions of years, nature's life forms through natural selection have had to live with the constraints of the entropy law on a solar budget."
Wes Jackson, The Land Institute

"Janine Benyus is obsessed with patterns, connections, and the beauty of life, intertwined. Biomimicry focuses on finding structures, processes, strategies, and mechanisms that nature has been using for a billion years, that we can emulate and use in modern design.”
Terry Tempest Williams, Author

"Janine Benyus is without question the world's most imaginative person in the field of environmental development and restoration. To be with her indoors is to be transported; to spend time outdoors with Janine is like walking through the looking glass of extraordinary beauty and landing in a meadow of possibilities about our world. Time spent with Janine is a transmission of hope about what we can learn from and be within nature, a species of hope that will follow you for the rest of your life. Time spent with Janine is a transmission of hope about what we can learn from and be within nature, a species of hope that will follow you for the rest of your life."
Paul Hawken, Natural Capital Institute

"Janine Benyus has been instrumental in interpreting the principles of biomimicry to the designers and product developers at Patagonia. She has been inspirational, practical, and engaging in helping us incorporate our respect for the natural world into the creation of our products."
Yvon Chouinard, co-founder, Patagonia

(Nineteen HOK leaders joined environmental pioneers Janine Benyus and Paul Hawken for a three-day workshop on biomimicry and natural capitalism to discuss how these concepts might apply in HOK's everyday work.) "It was a pivotal event for all HOK attendees," said HOK President Bill Valentine. "We were immersed in a sea of information, strategies, science and insight. We left with a strong commitment for a far wider discovery and education of these ideas across the firm."
HOK President Bill Valentine

The Next Wave of Innovation Speaker Series 

Janine Benyus

Janine Benyus is a life sciences writer and author of six books, including her latest -- Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature . In Biomimicry, she has synthesized work done by scientists, engineers and designers who are seeking sustainable solutions by mimicking nature's designs and processes. As a biologist, the question for Janine is not whether our technology is natural, but how well adapted it is to life on earth over the long term. Janine is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Jersey, with degrees in forestry and writing. Janine lectures widely on science topics and has worked as a backpacking guide and as a "translator" of science speak at several research labs. She now writes science books, teaches interpretive writing, lectures at the University of Montana, and works towards restoring and protecting wildlands. An educator at heart, she believes that the better people understand the genius of the natural world, the more they will want to protect it.

Over the last five years, Janine Benyus has created a real stir in the United States. Both businesses and the academic community have responded with enthusiasm to the idea that we should be learning from Nature in a much smarter way to help fashion solutions to some of today’s most pressing ecological challenges. Animals, plants, and microbes have been perfecting their wares for 3.8 billion years. After all this R&D, nature knows what works, what is appropriate, and what lasts. What if we humans began looking over nature’s shoulder for ideas about how to meet our needs without compromising the planet?

Janine’s work introduces a revolutionary field of science that is studying nature’s best ideas and then imitating these designs and processes to solve significant human problems. It can help us grow food like a prairie, harness solar energy like a leaf, make materials like a spider, compute like a cell, or run a business like a redwood forest.
How would a biomimetic revolution come about? Janine believes it could be achieved by systematically interviewing the Earth’s flora and fauna and then providing engineers, architects and designers with the “specs” from biology’s best ideas. Biologists and inventors could then collaborate to use nature as a model. Once we see nature as “model, measure, and mentor,” the rational for preserving life’s diversity becomes self-evident.


Janine speaks on the topic of Biomimicry

Janine lectures internationally to public and private audiences on biomimicry and other science topics, exposing audiences as diverse as high school and university students, businesses including the Graduate school of business at Stanford University, Nike, Interface Carpets, Novell, Proctor & Gamble, and Patagonia among others, municipalities small and large including Seattle, and a myriad of conferences and organizations around the world, including in Europe, Asia, and South America.

Further Information on Janine Benyus

•  [Audio] IT Conversations interview with Janine.
•  [Video] BRC Video Interview, In this special video presentation, science writer Janine Benyus is interviewed by BRC publications manager Patti Marxsen.

•  [Video] A Series of 2 Programs, Biomimicry - Learning from Nature (Part 1: Agriculture and Business and Part 2: Materials and Medicine)

•  [Web Stream] NEW- Big Picture TV free special on Janine Benyus. (free webstreaming of comprehensive interview with Janine.)

Take a look at Sustainability Podcasts for other keynote speaches...


Biomimicry: an ardent desire to protect the genius that surrounds us!

Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a new science that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. The conscious emulation of life's genius is a survival strategy for the human race, a path to a sustainable future. The more our world looks and functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone. Biomimics are looking to nature for specific advice: How will we grow our food? How will we harness energy? How will we make our materials? How will we keep ourselves healthy? How will we store what we learn? How will we conduct business without drawing down nature's capital?

Biological knowledge is doubling every five years, growing like a pointillist painting toward a recognisable whole. For the first time in history, we have the instruments-the scopes and satellites-to feel the shiver of a neuron in thought or watch in colour as a star is born. When we combine this intensified gaze with the sheer amount of scientific knowledge coming into focus, we suddenly have the capacity to mimic nature like never before. "Doing it nature's way" has the potential to change the way we grow food, make materials, harness energy, heal ourselves, store information, and conduct business. In each case, nature would be model, measure, and mentor.

Nature as model ; We would manufacture the way animals and plants do, using sun and simple compounds to produce totally biodegradable fibres, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals. Our farms, modelled on prairies, would be self-fertilising and pest-resistant. To find new drugs or crops, we would consult animals and insects that have used plants for millions of years to keep themselves healthy and nourished. Even computing would take its cue from nature, with software that "evolves" solutions, and hardware that uses the lock-and-key paradigm to compute by touch. In each case, nature would provide the models: solar cells copied from leaves, steely fibres woven spider-style, shatterproof ceramics drawn from mother-of-pearl, cancer cures compliments of chimpanzees, perennial grains inspired by tallgrass, computers that signal like cells, and a closed-loop economy that takes its lessons from redwoods, coral reefs, and oak-hickory forests.
Nature as measure ; Beside providing the model, nature would also provide the measure-we would look to nature as a standard against which to judge the "rightness" of our innovations. Are they life promoting? Do they fit in? Will they last as long as is needed, and no longer?
Nature as mentor ; Finally, our relationship with nature would also change. Instead of seeing nature as a source of raw materials, we would see nature as a source of ideas, as a mentor. This would change everything, ushering in a new era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her.

When we view nature as a source of ideas instead of goods, the rationale for protecting wild species and their habitats becomes self-evident. To have more people realise this is Janine's fondest hope. In the end, Janine is confident that biomimicry's greatest legacy will be more than a stronger fibre or a new drug. It will be gratitude, and from this, an ardent desire to protect the genius that surrounds us.



Biomimicry in Practice

Natural Adhesives (The Story of Velcro)

In the 1940's, Swiss inventor George de Mestral found that, upon returning home for a walk with his dog one day, his pants and the canine's fur were covered with cockleburs. This sparked his interest into how nature performed in such a way - he studied the burs under a microscope, observing their natural hook-like shape, which ultimately led to the design of the popular adhesive material, Velcro. Velcro is a two-sided fastener - one side with stiff "hooks" like the burrs and the other side with the soft "loops" like the fabric of his pants. The result was VELCRO® brand hook and loop fasteners, named for the French words "velour" and "crochet."


Molecular-sized light sponges inspired by leaves

The company Dyesol has developed a new solar energy technology that mimics photosynthesis, the method plants use to draw energy from the sun. Artificial photosynthesis is based on the concept of a dye analogous to chlorophyll absorbing light and thus generating electrons which enter the conduction band of a high surface area semiconductor film and further move through an external circuit, thus converting light into 'green' power.


Carbon neutral fuel from Termite guts!

Nobel Laureate Steven Chu is leading research into the way termite guts process food - the research could lead to pollution free energy generation. To the termite, carbon-neutral energy supply has already been solved. Termite guts take indigestible cellulose, which makes up the bulk of all plant material grown on earth, and convert it to ethanol, a common fuel used in today's industrial society.


A moth's eye-view

Autotype, one of the world's leading developers and manufacturers of film and chemical products, has launched a revolutionary new anti-reflective, anti-glare film that has been inspired from detailed research into the eye structure of night flying moths. Called MothEye Anti-Reflective the new film has been designed for use in a wide range of applications, including flat panel displays, touch screen interfaces, electroluminescent lamps and lenses for mobile phones and PDAs, and can even be processed using the film insert moulding process.


Farming to Fit the Land

Mono-agriculture, or the plantation of crops with only one species of plant/seed/legume/fruit/vegetable, are prone to catastrophic impacts from extreme ecological events such as hail, drought pests or soil erosion. Natural 'agriculture' - for example prairie grasslands or forests - handle extreme ecological events extremely well due to the perennial root system, which holds down the soil, and the mixture of species, which guards against pest outbreaks.


The Blue Mussel and 'sticking' to the road

Researchers at Perdue University have discovered potential industrial applications for the natural adhesive used by saltwater mussels to stick to rocks. The mussel uses dozens of tiny filaments that stretch from the mussel to attach itself to a surface - the mussel uses an organ (called a "foot") to attach each filament to the surface with a small deposit of glue until it is secure enough to withstand pulling forces from the external environment i.e. tides.

Termite mounds and natural passive cooling

The Eastgate Complex, located in Harare , Zimbabwe , is a 324,000 square-foot commercial/office and shopping complex, the largest in the country. The building is designed with two nine-story office buildings and a glazed atrium - amazingly enough in Zimbabwe 's hot climate the buildings primary cooling system is naturally ventilated. Engineers from environmental engineering firm Arup, led by Mick Pearce, sought inspiration for the naturally ventilated marvel from termite mounds - these creatures require their home to remain at an exact temperature of 87 degrees Fahrenheit throughout a 24 hour daily temperature range of 35-104 degrees Fahrenheit (night and day respectively).


Self-cleaning paint from the lotus flower

Germany company Sto AG have developed a biomimicry-inspired exterior coating with a water-repellant surface based on that of the lotus leaf. Developed by Professor Wilhem Barthlott from the University of Bonn in Germany , his discovery began when looking for environmentally benign alternatives to toxic cleaning detergents to reduce environmental impacts, having asked the question "How does nature clean surfaces?" It became obvious that nature doesn't use detergents at all - instead it designs self-cleaning surfaces with hydrophobic properties.


Bullet Trains and birds

The 500-Series Shinkansen Japanese bullet train that runs between Tokyo and Hakata is one of the fastest trains in the world. The challenge for the design of the Shinkansen was how to make it run quietly, learning that the owl family is the most silent and stealthy fliers of all birds, the Shinkansen design team discovered the bird's secret in its wing plumage. Another problem to be overcome was the noise occurring from tunnel exiting, looking into nature for a solution to the sudden changes in air resistance creating such noise, the design team came across the kingfisher bird. The kingfisher's specially designed beak enables it to dive from air to water (low to high resistance mediums respectively) without splashing. Using computer modeling techniques to determine what style nose for the Shinkansen would reduce sonic-booms in tunnels, it revealed the kingfisher beak shape to be the most ideal shape.


Sea-going vehicles of the future

Despite engineers' best efforts in sea-going underwater vehicles, the traditional submersible - submarines - are typically slow, inefficient and lumbering with propeller or water-jet propulsion systems that experience difficulty working in waters cased with seaweed and debris. Much can be learned from marine life - after all, it's their home! Understanding the mechanics and fluid dynamics of fish can have significant implications for the design of super-efficient and agile sea-going submersible technology. The tuna for example is a fast and agile fish that can maintain relatively fast speeds over long distances.


Pax Impeller

Rotor technology-fan blades, mixers, propellers-developed by PAX Scientific, Inc., of San Rafael, California is modeled on streamlined shapes found in nature. Using these shapes, the company's biomimetic inventions demonstrate remarkable improvements in energy efficiency and productivity with significant reductions in noise. A recent breakthrough is a car radiator fan that cools better at significantly less power, improving fuel efficiency and also reducing the every-increasing load on car batteries.

Water pollution clean up - photozymes

Natural enzymes in water, in the presence of light, have the remarkable ability to attract particular kinds of compounds for selective chemical reactions. They have remarkable catalytic properties, created and synthesised by living organisms from mixtures of hydrophilic (water-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repelling) amino acids. Inspired by the efficient (often 100% yield) chemical properties of the enzyme, researchers have developed the 'photozyme' - a bio-inspired synthetic molecule that mimicks the solar 'antennae' in green leaves to perform sun-powered chemistry in water.


Water capturing technologies from the Namibian Beetle

Recent experiments in South Africa are successfully applying water harvesting technology - capturing fog condensation - by mimicking the Namibian fog beetle. The Namibia fog beetle collects its daily water needs by making its way to the top of a sand dune, where he turns his body into the wind and collects on its back fog condensation which is then directed to and collected in its mouth. Based on the water-harvesting activities of the beetle, the fog collection technologies for local communities in South Africa is basic - large vertical shade nets are erected in high areas, and as fog blows through the nets tiny water droplets are deposited. Eventually the accumulation of these water deposits creates large droplets which run down the net into gutters attached at the bottom of the net (analogous to the Namibia beetle). Water is then channeled into reservoirs to the community.



Working with nature to harness its own powerful ecological processes, Biolytix has been able to dramatically reduce the energy, materials and effort required to provide water and sanitation services using methods that can treat up to ten times the BOD5 (organic) loading of rival technologies. It can treat more wastewater than a septic tank in the same tank volume, and to a much higher secondary standard needed for safe irrigation on site. Biowater is a managed decentralized sanitation network for human settlements using Biolytix Filtration, a soil based treatment process for both wastewater and food wastes. It emulates the highly efficient breakdown that occurs in the surface layers of moist organic soils. Biowater replaces a conventional sewerage scheme with a more functional treatment network for about 50% of the conventional cost and creates a recycling potential that can cut garbage collection costs by up to 75%.