In a world that needs one brilliant idea after another, it’s good to be surrounded by genius. Biomimicry—the process of finding sustainable ideas by echoing nature—is finding a home in commercial innovation labs throughout the world. Janine Benyus describes how companies like GE, Qualcomm and Lucent are developing bio-inspired innovations, including a wind turbine that pirouettes like a whale, a low-MPG Mercedes that flows like a fish, a sunlight-readable display that bends light like a butterfly and a fern-inspired capsule that stores vaccines without refrigeration. Our ability to borrow nature’s blueprints and recipes is on the rise, says Benyus, and so is the need for energy-sipping, nontoxic designs. It’s no wonder that companies are “inviting biologists to the design table,” and biomimicry studios in universities are giving the next generation of designers and engineers a new place to look for answers. The breathtaking beauty and diversity of life on earth arose from a simple and consistent set of biological design rules. Benyus explores with us how these very same rules could spark a no-excuses design revolution.
Janine Benyus is a biologist, innovation consultant, and author of six books, including Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Her favorite role these days is “biologist-at-the-design table,” helping innovators consult life’s genius in the creation of well-adapted products and processes. Her company, the Biomimicry Guild, offers biological consulting, research, workshops and field excursions to clients such as Arup Engineers, General Electric, Gensler Architects, Herman Miller, HOK Architects, IDEO, Interface, Kohler, Nike, Seventh Generation and Procter & Gamble. Benyus is currently creating a “Google of Nature’s Solutions”—a digital library of biological literature organized by design function and a “biology-taught-functionally” course for architects, engineers and designers. To help naturalize Biomimicry in the culture, she founded the nonprofit Biomimicry Institute whose programs include an open-research Biomimicry Challenge and an Innovation for Conservation program that uses proceeds from bio-inspired products to conserve the habitat of the mentor organisms.