International naturalist Janine Benyus urges businesses to mimic nature in innovations

By Janel Shoun on 3/21/2012

   
   

While showing photos of springtime in Western Montana – where her home and office is – internationally known naturalist Jane Benyus noted that our entire society is experiencing a new spring, as researchers and inventors have begun to “use the genius of nature to make businesses more profitable for you.”

Since her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature was released in 1997, Benyus has been spreading the word about the design advantages and efficiency gains to be had by designing products, manufacturing systems and materials using aspects drawn directly from nature.

Examples of successful business ventures that mimic nature include a Japanese train engine shaped like a bird’s head, self-cleaning exterior paint that mimics how lotus plant leaves shed dirt and water-harvesting methods inspired by a desert beetle.

“The people who design and make our world are in the most massive redesign ever,” Benyus told the crowd at the fifth annual Sustainable Business Summit at Lipscomb on Tuesday. “Every biological organism faces evolutionary change, and this biological organism (humans) is facing it now.”

Benyus – who received a standing ovation from the crowd of businesspeople before she even spoke – presented an extensive list of companies around the world creating highly innovative products and materials using designs taken from nature.

Her consulting company, Biomimicry 3.8, has worked with companies all over the globe working to develop more efficient windmill farms inspired by how fish travel in schools, a bacteria-free surface that can be used in hospitals to prevent infection inspired by the skin of a basking shark; turbine blades shaped after whale fins; desalination processes inspired by how our own red blood cells filter water; and many more.

Her list of successes included the project by three Lipscomb University sustainability graduate students that placed in the top 12 finalists of the Biomimicry Challenge, hosted by her organization for college students worldwide. Students Corbin Gibson, Samuel Leu and Paula Smith devised Hickory Hydroponics, a way for farmers to more efficiently grow tomatoes in unused silos.

Benyus urged the audience to take a cue from the penguin, as she showed a picture of a loving penguin couple protecting their offspring. “In the process of taking care of this little guy, they end up caring for the habitat that will benefit their children for years to come,” she said.

Benyus is the founder of the Biomimicry Institute and Biomimicry 3.8, non-profit and for-profit organizations that help designers, engineers, architects and others solve challenges by using knowledge of biological adaptations. Benyus, was given the prestigious Heinz Award in 2011.

“The impact biomimicry has made on the practice of sustainability and innovation is ground-breaking,” said Dodd Galbreath, executive director of Lipscomb’s Institute for Sustainable Practice and the coordinator of the summit. “No longer are manmade systems and nature at odds. Biomimicry shows how technological and economic progress can be enhanced greatly by mimicking nature and its processes."

“Lipscomb University was named the second university in the nation to affiliate with the Biomimicry Institute. We are excited to be a part of this growing movement, which is revolutionizing how companies and consumers relate to nature,” he said.

In addition to delivering the keynote address on Tuesday, Benyus lead a panel discussion on using nature as a guide to individual professional success.

 

About the Sustainable Business Summit, March 27-28, 2012

Leading sustainability practitioners from around the state gathered Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss innovations in business modeling that have a positive impact on the environment and communities at the fifth anniversary Sustainable Business Summit at Lipscomb University. The theme of this year’s summit is Moving from Green to Sustainable.

“Since the first sustainable business summit in 2008, Tennessee has experienced over $4 billion dollars of sustainability related investment,” said Galbreath. “That investment has laid the foundation for new jobs and a completely new, economic course that realizes new wealth, health, justice and life. The focus of this fifth anniversary summit is to review our amazing economic momentum and to inspire our imagination to realize a more complete prosperity.”

The summit provides a forum for business leaders to explore business models, best practices and opportunities that allow organizations to remain competitive, improve profitability while integrating citizenship and sustainability.

Panel sessions included:

  • The Business Case for Sustainability
  • Renewable Energy Trends for Business
  • Sustainability by Design: A Regional Approach to Business Growth
  • Protecting Your Ideas and Managing Risk in Sustainability
  • Financing Energy Efficiency in Nashville

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About the Institute for Sustainable Practice

Lipscomb University’s Institute for Sustainable Practice (ISP) offers an undergraduate major and minor in sustainability with an emphasis in the natural sciences, business and environmental management. The Institute also offers graduate studies and certificates in sustainability allowing recent college graduates and experienced career professionals to specialize in the rapidly emerging profession. The ISP is one of six specialized institutes at the university, an institution which delivers a complete liberal arts education characterized by an integration of Christian faith and practice with academic excellence.