You have questions? We have answers. Or at least a lot of them. For the things we cannot answer, well, we ask nature. (But you knew that.)
Here are three topic areas for things you might not know about us, what we do, and for whom we do it. Clicking on any of the q’s will link you to the next page where they reside:
- How can I request a biomimicry speaker?
- Do you have a list of recommended readings on biomimicry?
- Is there a biomimicry publication that I can subscribe to?
- Biomimicry has changed my life! What can I do to help?
- Is genetic modification a form of biomimicry?
- What about mimicking other aspects of nature, like the hydrologic cycle? Is that biomimicry?
- I don’t believe in evolution. Doesn’t that undermine the basis of biomimicry?
- Is biomimicry the same as bionics, biomimetics, and bio-inspired engineering?
- Can biomimicry be applied to policies and politics?
- What does biomimicry offer in our world of food?
- How do you expect plants manipulated by humans, which have been domesticated
to function in this idealized natural society, to produce enough to feed all of us?
- Can the perspective of man?s dominion over Nature, as it is expressed in sacred
texts, be compatible with the idea of learning from Nature?
- Who is teaching biomimicry at the university level?
- Can I get a degree in biomimicry?
- Are there any biomimicry videos available?
- Could you tell me what I should do to become a bio-inspired biologist that finds great stuff
in nature to help human problems?
OUR NEW BRAND FAQ
- What’s the word?
- What does Biomimicry 3.8 mean?
- Why the change?
- Is this uncharted territory?
- Does The Biomimicry Institute have a new name, as well?
- How does this integration benefit the separate entities?
- Will this new structure change anything about the Institute and the non-profit education work we’re doing in this arena?
- Did we actually “Ask Nature” about all of this?
- What does Janine (Benyus) think about all of this?
- If you want to donate to the non-profit, will all of your donation go there or will some go to the other areas of Biomimicry 3.8?
- What else is in the pipeline for the future?
- Want to talk about any of it?
How can I request a biomimicry speaker?
Click to our Speaker Request Form and enter the details of your event including date, audience profile and size, honorarium, and any other particulars. Your request will be sent to the appropriate person and they will contact you.
Do you have a list of recommended readings on biomimicry?
As you can learn from this website, biomimicry is interdisciplinary. There are numerous fascinating books and articles and websites related to various aspects of biomimicry on topics ranging from mechanics to architecture to art to business, and of course biology. A list of recommended readings and links can be found in the Resources section of this website.
Is there a biomimicry publication that I can subscribe to?
Yes. You may visit the Newsletter section to view current and archived biomimicry newsletters.
Biomimicry has changed my life! What can I do to help?
Join the crowd! Biomimicry is changing the world view of an increasing number of people; it provides hope — and a tool — in a world that can seem desperately unsustainable.
The Biomimicry Institute does not have formal internship or volunteer programs in place yet; however please check out our Get Involved page where we will post new opportunities as they arise. We also invite you to learn as much as you can via this website and the list of recommended readings. Deepen your understanding of biomimicry by trying to apply Life’s Principles to everything you do. And of course, ask nature…
Is genetic modification a form of biomimicry?
Genetic modification is a form of using biology – what we call “bio-assisted” – rather than learning from it. In bio-assisted processes we domesticate the producer. In biomimicry, we emulate the producer. For example, in biomimicry you would study the spider’s “manufacturing process” for silk and then figure out how to emulate that process.
So biomimicry is about learning the recipe of the spider’s brilliant creation, rather than combining spider and goat genes to make some sort of super silk. In addition, there is still a lot to learn about “unintended consequences” of genetic modification. It is still a relatively young science, and despite how wide-spread its reaches are today, we should be cautious with how we use it. David Suzuki, a well known geneticist, wrote this piece (PDF) that you might find interesting.
What about mimicking other aspects of nature, like the hydrologic cycle? Is that biomimicry?
We can learn a lot from the world around us! It might be totally appropriate to develop a design based on the hydrologic cycle or the way sand particles move down a beach, but we wouldn’t call that biomimicry. Biomimicry, as the name implies, is emulating the strategies of life. The core of biomimicry is that it uses nature as mentor, model, and measure, as articulated in Life’s Principles. It is just one tool (we think a very good tool) for developing sustainable designs – designs conducive to life – but it is not the only tool. There are other tools out there to help achieve sustainability, and we encourage you to seek them out.
I don’t believe in evolution. Doesn’t that undermine the basis of biomimicry?
Biomimicry is firmly rooted in science and is based on the scientific research that suggests that life present on earth today reflects the results of 3.85 billion years of evolution. We look at evolution as 3.85 billion years of trial and error, research and development, and rigorous quality control testing that resulted in a 99.9% failure rate, so that the estimated 30 million different species of organisms living on earth today are success stories. They have figured out materials, forms, processes, systems, and strategies needed to sustain themselves in the conditions on earth as it is today – the very same conditions in which we must sustain ourselves.
Although biomimicry is founded on the scientific concept of evolution, perhaps you may be able to replace the concept of evolution or “nature’s genius” with a concept or belief that results in the same idea – that life on earth today embodies a virtually infinite reservoir of sustainable solutions.
Is biomimicry the same as bionics, biomimetics, and bio-inspired engineering?
Biomimicry shares much with the other bio-inspired fields that draw inspiration and innovation from nature. It is our understanding that biomimicry is unique in that the biomimicry method intends to result in sustainable design solutions.
Can biomimicry be applied to policies and politics?
Each organism is beautifully adapted to its place and its conditions. Part of our adaptation is this incredible social structure. You can look at the creation of policies, laws, and systems of reward and incentive as creating habitat conditions. An ecologist thinks about habitat conditions in terms of things like temperature swings or the number of predators or prey you have available, it’s the opportunities and the limits and the rules. Different habitat conditions bring forth different strategies for survival. Herman Daly has said that as a species, our habitat conditions have changed as we’ve grown in number, but our strategies have not.
When we were a small population in a very large world, we acted very much like a Type I system. That’s a pioneering system, like annual plants in a newly plowed field. They hardly put down any roots because they’re not going to stay long—in a few years, their seeds will blow to the next opening. Their strategy is to spread out, get everything they can, and put energy into seeds. What comes in next would be the berry bushes. They put down roots and begin to build a more stable community; they build closer networks with one another. That’s Type II. Then, finally, the Type III system is the mature forest that finally comes after the berry bushes. That system isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to stay on that site until the next big fire or hurricane—hundreds of years in some cases.
When you are staying for a while, you have different strategies. Herman Daly says we are now a large population in a limited world so need to start acting more like a mature forest that isn’t going anywhere. In the forest economy, very few material resources come in, and no waste goes out. There’s an incredible transfer of energy and information, however. There are deep roots, symbiotic relationships, much more mutualism, much more cooperation, tighter feedback loops, because there’s nowhere else to go. The species that are in that place are hooking up in ways that keep on making the most of the limited pool of resources.
How can we encourage cooperative strategies? If we truly believed there was nowhere else to go, perhaps we’d start acting like Type III organisms and we’d put in place the laws and policies—habitat conditions—that would bring forth that behavior.
What does biomimicry offer in our world of food?
The agriculture example of mimicking a prairie is exciting. You have to ask, “What would be growing here, naturally, if we weren’t here?” Ask the land what it will support and what it will help you do, as Wendell Berry says. If we were in the tropics, where multi-canopied forests are the norm, we should ask, “How can I emulate the structure of this jungle?” In the Midwest, the prairie was the natural model. Wherever you are in the world, the simple question of how nature grows abundantly here is the question to ask.
How do you expect plants manipulated by humans, which have been domesticated to function in this idealized natural society, to produce enough to feed all of us?
The really hard thing for many scientists to conceive of is how we can perennialize our annual crop plants. The work of Wes Jackson at the Land Institute has to do with making edible perennials. For years we believed there was a trade off, that plants only had so much energy and if they put energy into roots and became perennial, they wouldn’t have enough energy left to make enough seeds for us [to eat.] That became mythical fact in plant biology until Wes Jackson’s daughter, Laura Jackson, did the work that showed there is no trade off. There’s energy for roots AND large seeds. They have now perennialized wheat, rye, and sorghum.
As far as polyculture goes, that is the idea of planting crops in mixtures. They have found that you don’t need hundreds of species to get the companion-planting benefits of a prairie. You can have as few as eight different species in the field that will be harvested at different times of the year, with different kinds of machinery. They are finding that in a polyculture, these plants are actually over-yielding because they’re not in head-to-head competition with each other. And of course, there is less pressure from pests because it is not a single-species, “all you can eat” restaurant.
Can the perspective of man’s dominion over nature, as it is expressed in sacred texts, be compatible with the idea of learning from nature?
There is a faith-based group called “Caring for Creation” that has a very different reading of the Book of Genesis in the Bible. They see it as completely compatible with their reading of the Bible to be better stewards of the land. To us, stewardship without “studentship” is yet another example of hubris.
Who is teaching biomimicry at the university level?
Biomimicry is spreading rapidly throughout academia! A handful of universities are already offering biomimicry-related courses, and ideally it won’t be long before biomimicry makes its debut as a degree option in course catalogs. Learn who is doing what with biomimicry at the university level.
Can I get a degree in biomimicry?
There are no programs that currently offer a “degree” in biomimicry, however there are an increasing number of academic institutions that are integrating biomimicry into their courses and curriculum. In addition, the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute is now offering a 2-year Biomimicry Professional certificate program that is similar to a Masters degree in rigor and depth.
Are there any biomimicry videos available?
There are a number of biomimicry videos/presentations that are available online. Many of these are included along with links to others on our Videos page. Also check out our Biomimicry 3.8 YouTube Channel, which includes our videos plus numerous others of individuals, organizations, and other things we find inspiring and important.
In addition, CBC did a special on biomimicry on “The Nature of Things” with David Suzuki. The Nature of Things program is two parts, both covering various biomimicry endeavors. We are not aware of a place to rent it – and we realize it is quite costly to purchase. But you may be able to work with your school or local library to purchase the video. With the role of biomimicry increasing in design, you can make the case of the relevance and timeliness of the purchase. Sometimes it helps to ask multiple departments to split the costs (biomimicry is interdisciplinary after all).
Could you tell me what I should do to become a bio-inspired biologist that finds great stuff in nature to help human problems?
What you are describing is what we call a “BaDT” which is a Biologist at the Design Table. You have three options for becoming a BaDT or otherwise bio-inspired biologist. The first option is to sign up for one of our one-week BaDT courses. The second option is to consider taking our 2-year Biomimicry Professional certificate program. A third option is to do an undergraduate or graduate degree at one of the growing number of academic institutions that are integrating biomimicry into their courses and curriculum.
OUR NEW BRAND FAQS
What’s the word?
As you may have heard, our aligned organizations have a new name as of last year (2011): Biomimicry 3.8.
What does Biomimicry 3.8 mean?
The “3.8” in our name refers to the more than 3.8 billion years that life has been adapting and evolving to changing conditions on the planet since the very first life forms emerged. In essence, there are 3.8 billion years of brilliant solutions from which humankind can learn from, actively apply, and use to innovate for a better world. Find out more about our name and logo.
Why the change?
We recognized—and frankly were wowed by—the promise and power of unifying non-profit with for-profit as a cause-driven “social enterprise.” This model allows the Institute to continue to seek charitable funding from individuals and foundations that share our vision, and also to diversify our funding streams to ensure we aren’t entirely dependent on any particular entity to achieve our mission.
Is this uncharted territory?
Fortunately for everyone and everything living on this planet, tens of thousands of companies are now committing to what’s referred to as a Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet and Profit. Some of these, including Biomimicry 3.8, are Certified B Corporations. Moreover, though we only recently unified with one name, our non-profit and for-profit operations have been working together since The Biomimicry Institute was founded in 2006.
Through our educational non-profit, we’ve created the world’s first online library of nature’s solutions, aptly named AskNature. We’ve mobilized a network of K-12 teachers and university professors to teach biomimicry to the next generation. At the same time, our consulting company, has helped over 250 clients worldwide redesign carpets, furniture, manufacturing processes, airplanes, and even entire cities, all in nature’s sustainable image.
Both separately and together, our organizations have reached hundreds of thousands through talks and trained hundreds who now practice biomimicry in their professions. It’s been a fabulous ride.
Does The Biomimicry Institute have a new name, as well?
Yes. All of our donor- and grant-funded programs and initiatives previously operated by The Biomimicry Institute will now be known as the “Biomimicry 3.8 Institute.” These include our Student Design Challenge, Education Summit, AskNature.org, and all of our Youth/K-12 and University education programs, plus more on the horizon.
How does this integration benefit the separate entities?
We have essentially just formalized our already symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship. As ever, we’re endeavoring to be known as THE source for all things biomimicry—non-profit, for-profit, and everywhere in between.
Will this new structure change anything about the Institute and the non-profit education work we’re doing in this arena?
The Biomimicry 3.8 Institute remains a 501(c)(3) public benefit organization with a commitment to promoting the study and emulation of nature’s design strategies. We will continue to provide biomimicry curricula, hold educator workshops and student design challenges, and provide opportunities for educators to network with one another.
The Institute was founded on the belief that in order for biomimicry to take hold, we must educate both students and teachers in the discipline. The need to integrate biomimicry methodology in our educational system still exists and is dramatically increasing.
Under Biomimicry 3.8, the Institute will receive more content, illustrations, and tools for AskNature. Also, the addition of more biomimicry experts under one roof allows us access to chemists, biologists, engineers, designers, architects, and more.
This interdisciplinary warehouse of knowledge translates into more content and resources that can be integrated into the classroom. In addition, the larger network allows the educational community to connect with practicing biomimics in various regions to bring even more collaborative opportunities to the forefront.
Did we actually “Ask Nature” about all of this?
YES. One thing we’ve learned is that organisms never stop innovating to excel. They’re constantly adapting to their changing habitats—reshuffling genetic material, testing new behaviors, and sometimes evolving, like Darwin’s finches, into entirely new species.
So, in true biomimicry fashion, we asked ourselves: How would nature meet the changing needs of biomimics around the world? How would nature bring biomimicry to scale? The answer is Biomimicry 3.8, an exciting new direction that has us evolving and combining our relatively small non-profit Institute and neighboring consultancy into our emerging role as the world’s leading provider of education, training, resources, and network services in biomimicry.
What does Janine (Benyus) think about all of this?
As you likely know, Janine was a co-founder of The Biomimicry Institute in 2006, and is now a co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8. Her vision has guided our planning and transitioning process. So what does she think? Not only did we ask her, but we also captured her inspiring message on camera a couple of months ago. If you haven’t seen her Biomimicry 3.8 announcement video yet, check it out.
If you want to donate to the non-profit, will all of your donation go there or will some go to the other areas of Biomimicry 3.8?
The finances of the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute, as per IRS rules, remain entirely separate from those of the larger social enterprise. All donations to the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute go to specifically support its not-for-profit programming.
What else is in the pipeline for the future?
We will be rolling out new materials and announcing updates across our programs over the coming months, and we’re working on a large-scale expansion and redesign of AskNature.org, three new online courses — including our recently launched Foundational Course: Introduction to Biomimicry, and new Nature’s Chemistry curricula for high school and first year university students.
The Institute’s award-winning library of nature’s strategies, AskNature, is getting a content boost, too, largely from those who participate in our student design challenges, professional training courses, and corporate consulting services.
There is more to come and we are really excited about this transition. Though we have only provided a keyhole view of all the great things we are planning as a result of this organizational unification, we hope you can see that this is an amazing time for the Institute and for all of you who are our students, educators, donors, grant funders, researchers, fellows, affiliates, peers, and fans—of us and of biomimicry.
Want to talk about any of it?
GREAT. Please don’t hesitate to give us a ring—call your usual point of contact with us, or Ali Solomon, 406.543.4108, ext. 300—or even drop by if you are in the neighborhood or at one of our events. Meantime, “act naturally,” as we like to say. Thank you for your support. With all that Biomimicry 3.8 now promises, the future just got a whole lot brighter.