back to the wege lecture series

13th - Janine Benyus - Biomimicry and the Quest to Solve Global Challenges

Event Type
Guest Lecture
Janine Benyus, biologist and author of "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature"
Center for Sustainable Systems
School of Natural Resources and Environment
University of Michigan Office of Research
University of Michigan Office of Provost
March 31, 20145:00pm - 6:30pm
Rackham Auditorium, 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor

About Janine Benyus

Janine Benyus is a biologist, innovation consultant, and author of six books, including Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In Biomimicry, she names an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes (for instance, solar cells that mimic leaves).

Since the book’s 1997 release, Janine has evolved the practice of biomimicry, consulting with sustainable businesses and conducting seminars about what we can learn from the genius that surrounds us. Her favorite role is biologist-at-the-design-table, introducing innovators to organisms whose well-adapted designs have been tested over 3.8 billion years.

In 1998, Janine co-founded the Helena, Montana-based Biomimicry Guild with Dr. Dayna Baumeister. The Guild is an innovation consultancy providing biological consulting and research, workshops and field excursions, and a speakers’ bureau. The Guild helps designers learn from and emulate natural models with the goal of developing products, processes, and policies that create conditions conducive to life.

In 2005, Janine founded The Biomimicry Institute (TBI), a nonprofit organization based in Missoula, MT. TBI’s mission is to nurture and grow a global community of people who are learning from, emulating, and conserving life’s genius to create a healthier, more sustainable planet. Programs include the development of biomimicry courses in a range of educational settings from K-12 schools to universities as well as non-formal venues such as zoos, museums and nature centers. TBI also offers biomimicry workshops for designers (engineers, architects, etc.) as well as biologists through the Biologist-at-the-Design-Table training. TBI’s Innovation for Conservation program uses proceeds from bio-inspired products to conserve the habitat of the mentor organisms. In 2008, the TBI launched, an open-source database of biological literature organized by design and engineering function. In early 2009, as part of its K-12 educational outreach work, TBI released Ask the Planet, a CD of children’s biomimicry songs, written and composed by Amy Martin featuring numerous celebrity artists including Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams and Bruce Cockburn.

Janine has received several awards including a Time Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment award, the Rachel Carson Environmental Ethics Award, the Lud Browman Award for Science Writing in Society, and the Barrows and Heinz Distinguished Lectureships. In 2009, Janine was honored with a Champion of the Earth award in Science & Innovation from the United Nations Environment Programme. She traveled to Paris to accept the award on Earth Day and then participated in a two-day conference hosted by Business 4 Environment.

An educator at heart, Janine believes that the more people learn from nature’s mentors, the more they’ll want to protect them. This is why she writes, speaks, and revels in describing the wild teachers in our midst.

About the Lecture

Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and then emulating life’s best ideas to create a more sustainable world. By mimicking nature's time-tested strategies, biomimics are learning to capture fog like a desert beetle, preserve vaccines like a resurrection fern, resist bacteria like a shark, and gather energy like a leaf. Based on 3.8 billion of years of R&D, these designs sip energy, shave material use, eliminate toxins, and turn waste into opportunities.

Once a specialty science, Biomimicry has spread virally in the last 15 years. Hundreds of Biomimicry start-ups are making headlines with nature-inspired technologies that solve global challenges and disrupt business as usual. Leading companies such as Natura, Arup, Airbus, Boeing, HOK, IDEO, Interface, Levi’s, and Nike use biomimicry in their labs as well as their boardrooms, finding inspiration for product and management redesign.

Since the publication of her seminal book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine Benyus and her colleagues at Biomimicry 3.8 have developed a methodology for bio-inspired design while introducing millions to its potential. They’ve worked with over 250 corporate clients and professors from more than 100 universities to embed biomimicry in both design and decisionmaking. They’ve been “biologists at the design table” with some of the world’s greatest innovators, reimagining everything from solar manufacture to city planning. 

In this talk, Janine will give an insider’s view of the latest biomimicry advances on the drawing board and in the market. She’ll discuss the worldwide spread of the meme, and how it is being heralded as a “one of the top 20 breakthrough business ideas” (Harvard Business Review, HBR List), “a paradigm shift for the world of design” (Smithsonian National Design Awards), and “one of 10 innovations that will change the way you manufacture” (Society of Manufacturing Engineers). At this critical tipping-point for the field, she’ll describe what’s needed to take biomimicry global while cultivating ethical thought leadership that will focus Biomimicry on what’s worth doing.  Come learn what all the excitement is about from the founder of this practical, radical, and powerfully hopeful approach to innovation. Hear what happens when inventors become nature’s apprentices, creating world-changing technologies that create conditions conducive to all Life.

A public reception will follow the talk.

View recorded talk.