Janine Benyus: Natural sciences writer, innovation consultant, and author

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Living Green episode 26: Biomimicry: Janine Benyus is Honored by TIME

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Living Green episode 27: Biomimicry: Janine Benyus is Honored by TIME – part 2

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Janine Benyus is a natural sciences writer, innovation consultant, and author of six books, including her latest − Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.  In Biomimicry, she names an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature's designs and processes (e.g., solar cells that mimic leaves, agriculture that models a prairie, businesses that run like redwood forests).   Since the book’s 1997 release, Janine has evolved the practice of biomimicry, consulting with sustainable business, academic, and government leaders, serving on the Eco-Dream Team at Interface, Inc., 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.

Janine has cultivated a deep knowledge of the natural world, beginning with direct observation in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, continuing in habitats from Maine to West Virginia where she worked as a backcountry guide, and now, in her home wilds of Montana.  

She graduated summa cum laude from Rutgers University, New Jersey, with two degrees in Natural Resource Management and English Literature/Writing.   Her writing career began in the early eighties, when she translated “science-speak” for several research labs including the world’s largest forest research organization.  An abiding interest in community ecology led to her first popular book Northwoods Wildlife: a Watcher’s Guide to Habitats (1989), an ecosystem-organized guide to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  She followed with a national series: The Field Guide to Wildlife Habitats, Eastern and Western Editions (1989), which have become standards in their genre.  In an effort to reach a larger audience of wildlife enthusiasts, Janine wrote an interpretive guide to animal behavior called Beastly Behaviors: A Guide to How Animals Act and Why (1992).  In her next book, Janine coined the term Biomimicry (1997) to describe the emerging field of bio-inspired innovation.  David Perlman of San Francisco Chronicle called Biomimicry “one viable answer to the wake-up call that Rachel Carson sounded a generation ago in Silent Spring.''

In 1998, Janine co-founded an education and innovation practice called Biomimicry Guild.  Through workshops, research reports, biological consulting, and field excursions, the Guild helps innovators learn from and emulate natural models.  The goal is to create products, processes, and policies that create conditions conducive to life. 

Clients have included Arup Engineers, Carollo Engineers, Consorta, General Electric, General Mills, Gensler Architects, Herman Miller, Hewlett Packard, HOK Architects, IDEO, Interface, Kohler, Levi’s, NASA, Nike, Norm Thompson, Novell, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, S.C. Johnson, and Shore Bank Pacific Bank.  As a result of working with the Biomimicry Guild, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer (Interface, Inc.) introduced Entropy™, a carpet inspired by random pattern formation in nature.  In record time, Entropy™ rose to become Interface’s top-selling line of carpet.  Four years later, this biomimetic product represents 40% of their carpet tile sales. 

Janine’s international keynotes have introduced tens of thousands of people to biomimicry, including Amana-Key Executive Leadership Training, American Institute of Architects, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, California Resource Recovery Association, Cambridge University's Centre of International Studies and the Environment, Canadian National Roundtable for the Economy and the Environment, Design Futures Council, Global Business Network, Health Care Without Harm, the Prince of Wales’ Business & the Environment Programme, National Textile Center, President’s Council on Sustainable Development, Schumacher College, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wharton School of Business.  She also hosted and co-wrote a two-hour public television special based on her book, which aired on “The Nature of Things with David Suzuki” in 71 countries.

Janine is currently creating a Google for Nature’s Solutions—a public database of biological literature organized by design function.  She is also developing a “biology-taught-functionally” course for engineers and designers, the only biology most will encounter in their university education.  To help further Biomimicry education and research, she recently founded the non-profit Biomimicry Institute.  These projects are intended to create a flow structure so that nature’s ideas can move freely into human systems design. 

In addition to her biomimicry work, Janine teaches interpretive writing, lectures at the University of Montana, and works towards restoring and protecting wild lands.  She serves on a number of land use committees in her rural county, and is president of Living Education, a nonprofit dedicated to place-based living and learning. 

Janine has received several awards including Rachel Carson Environmental Ethics Award, the Lud Browman Award for Science Writing, the Science Writing in Society Journalism Award, and the Barrows and Heinz Distinguished Lectureships.

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.