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Published on April 11th, 2008 | by carolmc

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Delivering Nature’s Wisdom to Business

abalone shellYears before the green movement took root, I had the pleasure of seeing Janine Benyus speak about Biomimicry. I was just as inspired by her work then as I am now.

A biologist by training, Janine is a passionate proponent of using nature’s wisdom,
based on billions of years of refinement, to discover “nonpolluting, energy-efficient manufacturing technologies” that can be applied to provide elegant design solutions for commercial enterprises.

In a recent article, Business Week noted that Janine was named Environmental Hero of 2007 by Time. Through a research nonprofit called Biomimicry Institute and a for-profit consulting firm called the Biomimicry Guild, Janine brings interdisciplinary groups of biologists, engineers, and designers together to uncover natural phenomenon that can be replicated in corporate and commercial applications.

As Adiel Gavish, who recently attended one of the Biomimicry Guild workshops, states in her blog “The Living Business:”

    These systems principles can especially be replicated in any business-small to multi-national, and in any industry. By unlocking the secrets of nature’s success, we can not only improve our business systems, but watch them adapt, grow and evolve like a living ecosystem or organism.

A number of big name corporations have worked with the Biomimicry Guild. A few specific examples will give you an idea of the power of this natural catalyst for innovation.

  • Locusts’ ability to swarm without mid-air collisions provided Ford with the inspiration for an anti-collision system for their 2005 Volvo model.
  • The abalone shell, and its way of assembling its shell, inspired IBM designers to use a similar process to develop processors using 35% less energy.
  • The beak of a kingfisher became the model for the nose cone of Japan’s 500 Series Shinkansen bullet train. (See the Business Week article for illustrative comparison photos.)

Her current project, Nature’s 100 Best Technologies is a web collaboration between The Biomimicry Institute, The Biomimicry Guild, Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives, The World Conservation Union, and the United Nations Environment Program to “highlight the organisms and/or ecosystems around the world that have the greatest innovative solution potential in the areas of manufacturing, materials, health, energy, chemistry, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, building, economics, and more.” Interestingly this research focuses on organisms and environmental habitats that are in danger of extinction. The goal is to stimulate discovery and “reinvention of products, processes, and ways of living” while sparking conservation.

As these ideas gain traction in the business world, innovations are likely to happen in many areas of our economy. I encourage you to expand how you think of nature and it’s contribution to solving our current crisis. The answers are there…will we find them in time?



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6 Responses to Delivering Nature’s Wisdom to Business

  1. MattKelly says:

    Great post Carol. I will be attending the FORTUNE Brainstorm Green event in Pasadena, CA later this month and Jane is speaking–I’ll definately want to attend and post a blog about it, and speak with her on camera afterwards.

    Biomimicry is also being used in the automotive industry interestingly enough. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC has an exhibit featuring a Bone Chair, designed by one of the Opel engineers from Germany that used the same biomimicry principles and they used the same technique to design engine mounts for cars that result in lighter yet stronger systems, which can equate to greater fuel economy and less greenhouse gases. Cool!

  2. MattKelly says:

    Patricia Juncosa, MoMA Cutorial Assistant gives more about biomimicry and the MoMA exhibit as here: http://www.gmnext.com/videos.aspx?id=534ea8b2-bf24-47bc-83d1-a475370ab04e

  3. Hi Matt,

    Sounds like a great event in Pasadena. Look forward to reading about your experience. Have fun.

  4. Alison Wiley says:

    Carol,
    Thank you so much for writing this. I feel it should be on the front pages of mainstream newspapers — because all of our lives are wholly dependent on the natural world. Yet most people walk around thinking nature is just another form of entertainment we can choose. Lovely piece; I hope you keep writing in this direction. I share your values at my blog Diamond-Cut Life http://alison97215.wordpress.com.
    best,
    Alison in Portland, Oregon

  5. Thanks for your comment Alison. I completely agree with you. Nature is far more than a source of entertainment! We can learn so much by observing, studying, and being in nature. I’m looking forward to the release of the Nature’s 100 Best Technologies site and book. Hopefully it will catch the attention of the media!

  6. Dear Dr. L. B.,

    I am imagining that your questions are rhetorical ones.

    You ask,

    “Why are politicians and skeptics so willing to risk their future and everyone else’s future on blindly clinging to a course of action that has a high probability of leading to a seriously crippled future? If you even suspect that global warming represents a serious risk to your survival (and we have far more than suspicion these days), why wouldn’t you do everything protect and conserve your planet?”

    It would please me to hear from others; but from my humble perspective the “answers” to your questions are all-too-obvious.

    First, the leaders in my generation of elders wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, of increasing per capita consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers; our desires are evidently insatiable. We choose to believe anything that is politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; our way of life is not negotiable. We dare anyone to question our values or behaviors.

    We religiously promote our shared fantasies of endless economic growth and soon to be unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction oand overpopulation activities, and in so doing deny that Earth has limited resources upon which the survival of life as we know it depends.

    Second, my not-so-great generation appears to be doing a disservice to everything and everyone but ourselves. We are the “what’s in it for me?” generation. We demonstrate precious little regard for the maintenance of the integrity of Earth; shallow willingness to actually protect the environment from crippling degradation; lack of serious consideration for the preservation of biodiversity, wilderness, and a good enough future for our children and coming generations; and no appreciation of the understanding that we are no more or less than human beings with “feet of clay.”

    We live in a soon to be unsustainable way in our planetary home and are proud of it, thank you very much. Certainly, we will “have our cake and eat it, too.” We will fly around in thousands of private jets and live in McMansions, go to our secret clubs and distant hideouts, and risk nothing of value to us. Please do not bother us with the problems of the world. We choose not to hear, see or speak of them. We are the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the many minions in the mass media. We hold the much of the wealth and the power it purchases. If left to our own devices, we will continue in the exercise of our ‘rights’ to ravenously consume Earth’s limited resources; to expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; to encourage the unbridled growth of the human species so that where there are now 6+ billion people, by 2050 we will have 9+ billion members of the human community and, guess what, even more people, perhaps billions more in the distant future, if that is what we desire.

    We are the reigning, self-proclaimed masters of the universe. We have no regard for human limits or Earth’s limitations, thank you very much. Please understand that we do not want anyone to present us with scientific evidence that we could be living unsustainably in an artificially designed, temporary world of our own making…… a manmade world filling up with distinctly human enterprises which appear the be approaching a point in human history when global consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species become unsustainable on the tiny planet God has blessed us to inhabit….. and not to overwhelm, I suppose.

    Third, even our top rank scientists have not found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the reckless dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet’s frangible environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding at a breakneck pace toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world’s colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic ‘wall’ called “unsustainability” at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

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