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bioneer

noun [countable]

an individual or group who creates new solutions for dealing with environmental issues, especially when these interact with other social and economic factors

bioneering

noun [uncountable] adjective

'Bioneer is short for biological pioneer. The Minnesota conference is one of 22 regional conferences to examine how business, society and culture can work with environmental issues …'

Minneapolis Star Tribune 28th October 2007

'BioneeringBioneers Conference focuses on ecological restoration … Bioneer activists like artist Mayumi Oda seek renewable-energy alternatives to nuclear power. Bioneer entrepreneurs, like Paul Dolan at Fetzer Vineyards and Greg Steltenpohl at Odwalla, provide markets for growers of organic grapes and fruit.'

Whole Earth Review Spring 1996

bioneers are innovative groups or individuals who work to find practical solutions to environmental issues

On 19th October 2007, over three thousand visionaries and entrepreneurs gathered in San Rafael, California for the 18th annual conference of bioneers. Bioneers are innovative groups or individuals who work to find practical solutions to environmental issues, focussing in particular on the interplay between these and other aspects of 21st century life, such as business, culture and politics.

The term bioneer is formed from a blend of the words biological and pioneer. Bioneers, who describe themselves as 'working with nature to heal nature and ourselves …', come from all walks of life, and they include scientists, businesspeople, politicians, priests, farmers and journalists. Their philosophy is based on the principle that, just as people have created the environmental and social problems faced by the world, people can in turn work with the environment to solve them.

Examples of some of the innovative solutions invented by bioneers are:

  • cultivating medicinal mushrooms, and applying fungi to clean up dangerous toxic wastes
  • transforming the buying patterns of major paper consumers (e.g. stationery companies like Staples) to protect millions of acres of forests
  • 'environmental banking' such as swapping debt payments from tropical countries for preservation of the rainforest

On the model of the noun/verb pioneer and related adjective pioneering, such examples are often described as bioneering, which is used both as a noun and an adjective.

Background to bioneer

The noun bioneer was coined in 1990 by Kenny Ausubel, a US author, filmmaker and eco-activist. Though initially the terms bioneer and bioneering were mainly confined to descriptions of the annual Bioneers Conference (also founded by Ausubel and his wife Nina Simons in 1990), in more recent years they have crept into more general usage, for example in the development of new environmentally-friendly fuels, or biodiesels.

In his use of the word bioneer, Ausubel draws a distinction between the concept of biotechnology and what he advocates, now sometimes referred to as biomimicry. Biotechnology refers to the exploitation of biological organisms and processes for profitable use in medicine, genetic engineering, agriculture and so on. In contrast, biomimicry (a blend of prefix bio-, 'relating to living things' and mimicry, meaning 'copying or imitating') involves taking creative inspiration from natural processes and organisms in order to solve problems in an ecologically-sensitive way.

If you want to find out more about the ethos and activities of bioneers, check out the bioneering website www.bioneers.org.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 14th January 2008.

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