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Janine Benyus Looks to Nature for Design Inspiration

Scouring 3.8 billion years

Janine Benyus is the co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8, a Missoula, Mont.-based design consultancy named not after a version of some proprietary software, but rather the 3.8 billion years nature has been doing its own design “R&D.” The firm is the product of Benyus’s landmark 1997 book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, which introduced the world to the idea of applying natural principles to human problems. At the time, biomimicry was a barely recognized field. Now her firm’s clients include Fortune 500 companies, city planners from Lavasa, India, and Charlotte, N.C., and several federal agencies.

Despite biomimicry’s wider acceptance, Benyus still runs up against the attitude that it’s Man vs. Nature in the struggle to survive. “The assumption is that we are not nature. But we are nature,” she says. “And once that separation goes away, as you start looking at these organisms as consummate chemists and inventors, it changes our relationship with the rest of the natural world. It puts us in the role of student rather than conqueror.”