Biomimicry and Green Chemistry Collide

We know that green chemistry works.  We know that biomimicry works.  Is there a possibility that the two crossing will create good things?  The more appropriate question may be:  is there a possibility it won’t?

Recently, Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Guild and author of Biomimicry started doing business with John Warner, the father of Green Chemistry.  Together they’ve been solving some problems facing big businesses.  Just to start off with the fundamental question of why chemistry has not historically been green, Warner started the talk with two mind-blowing talking points:  first, most (if not all) universities do not require even one course of toxicology from chemistry majors.  Second, as a professor, he was the first to make Biomimicry required reading for his organic chemistry course.

Today they spoke together on a panel moderated by Joel Makower at the Innovation Forum.  Their thoughts on the innovation that has resulted from their collaboration were inspiring….

First off, Warner talked about a time he was approached by a paint company that asked him, “Who at your company has worked in the paint industry?”  He answered, “No one.  If we had, we would have made the same decisions you made, and we’d be looking for help.”  In this way, Warner has made ignorance an asset.  The key to innovation, he says, is getting outside our compartments and looking at things with an entirely new viewpoint.

Together with Benyus, the two have helped several California-based startups solve complex biochemical issues.  Benyus’s group found a way that bacteria were able to solidify their cell walls by producing a certain protein.  Turning that over to Warner’s group, they were able to help make a vaccine that didn’t need refrigeration.  The implications?  Medical facilities across the world no longer need freezers.

Chilling?  I know when she mentioned this, it sent shivers down my spine.  Similarly, they’ve managed to find out the process by which coral fixes carbon in the ocean, and use that to fix carbon coming out of smokestacks.  Cool, right?  It gets better–this product can replace Portland Concrete, which, because it has to be superheated for so long, accounts for 6-8% of ALL CARBON EMISSIONS GLOBALLY.

Look for this collaboration of sustainability change-makers to continue to produce some earth-shifting innovations…


Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill) and Principal

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.

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