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Janine Benyus, naturally inspired

Posted on 07 October 2014.

"Learn your lessons from nature, it is where our future lies." 500 years later, Janine Benyus brings Leonardo da Vinci’s words right up-to-the-minute.

When Janine Benyus published her first book on biomimicry in 1997, she never imagined the interest it would generate among both the public and the business world – and even the cinema! Today when she is not running around the world attending conferences at prestigious institutions, this American scientist who lives in the wilds of Montana is a consultant for Nike, Boeing and Hewlett Packard. She even appeared in "The 11th Hour", the documentary on the environmental crisis created and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio in 2007. The same year, Time magazine awarded her the title of "Environmental Hero".

"Got a question? Go ask nature!"

And all thanks to a book called “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature”, which was a bestseller in the United States. Janine Benyus became the figurehead of the discipline that promotes innovation inspired by the natural world. An ecologist by training, she was the first to spell out the biomimetic approach. "Nature has already solved the problems we face. Animals, plants and microbes are accomplished engineers. That's the message of biomimicry: after 3.8 billion years of research and development, any failures have become fossils and what surrounds us is the key to survival," she explains.

Fascinated by nature since she was a small child, Janine Benyus has settled in the mountains of Montana, in the northwestern United States. She spends her days wandering the forests, lakes, meadows and caring for her four cows and 3 cats. With her partner, she has built a house that reflects the local ecosystem. "Before starting the project, we made an inventory of the various places," she says. After discovering that the animals there use the ground to warm them in the winter and cool them in summer, she installed a geothermal heat pump that provides warmth and coolness using the temperature of the Earth.

"The natural world operates smoothly without demanding shareholders or large polluting factories, and without spending a dime on research and development!" says Janine Benyus. “By adapting phenomena observed in nature, science can develop environmentally responsible solutions, such as this solar panel inspired by plant photosynthesis, this highly efficient wind turbine modeled on a whale fin and this low energy building that mimics a termite nest. And that's just the beginning... Fauna and flora are an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

For more informations:

- Janine Benyus at the TED conference: Biomimicry in action
- “Naturellement génial”, a series of 4 documentaries on biomimicry produced by ARTE
- The Biomimicry Institute, co-founded by Janine Benyus in 2005  
- Ask Nature, a catalog that lists interesting natural phenomena and their biomimetic applications