Biomimicry – A conversation with Janine Benyus

Janine Benyus at TEDGlobal 2009, Session 4: "Nature's challenge," July 22, 2009, in Oxford, UK. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson

For anyone beginning to explore biomimicry, or wanting to introduce it to new audiences, there is a superb resource online that is often buried below the glamour of TED talks. The new academic year means introducing biomimicry to fresh minds, so I thought I would start sharing the resources I use to do this.

A conversation with Janine Benyus

There is no replacement for reading the seminal text of Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature, but there is an excellent introductory overview that Janine posted on the website, that I designed, many moons ago. We use this as the first hand out in class to get all the students up to speed. It touches on all the big topics, such as;

  • Introduction to biomimicry, what is it, where it came from
  • Why biomimicry is critical for humanity now
  • The future of agriculture, farming like a prairie
  • The future of business, shifting our “niche”
  • Case studies for further research
This overview was written almost a decade ago, and is still the best entry point into the topic of biomimicry.

Favourite Quotes

Introducing the concept of biomimicry:

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 functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

Biomimicry evolving our business practices:

Back before our world was full, and we always had somewhere else to go, this colonizing “Type I” strategy allowed us to stay one step ahead of reality. These days, when we’ve gone everywhere there is to go, we have to forget about colonizing and learn to close the loops.

Closing the loops means trying to emulate the natural communities that know how to stay put without consuming their ecological capital. Mature ecosystems such as oak-hickory forests are masters of optimizing, rather than maximizing, throughput. They recycle all their wastes, use energy and materials efficiently, and diversify and cooperate to use the habitat without bankrupting it. Ecologists call these Type III communities.

Deep concepts that have influenced my exploration of biomimicry:

  • How biomimicry can influence design practice; nature as model, measure and mentor.
  • What we should learn from nature; form, process and ecosystem level natural strategies.

Final Thoughts

When I re-read the interview with Janine this semester I was blown away by the fact that everything is in there. All the concepts that have reverberated through my exploration, teaching and experiments where sewn at the very beginning and continue to resonate with new meanings as I dive into them further.

The TED talks are great candy treats to soak up, and is often the place that most people begin with biomimicry, but there is no replacement for the conceptual depth of Janine’s writing.

One Comment on “Biomimicry – A conversation with Janine Benyus”

  1. […] Janine Benyus’s overview of Biomimicry – her book synthesized into a core outline […]

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