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Bryony Schwan : Using Our Voices and Discovering Nature As Our Greatest Teacher


Often working for the environment requires discovering and sharing facts many people aren’t sure they are ready to hear. It can feel draining to share news such as many of our daily products contain harmful chemicals. The flip side to this is the energizing, peaceful feeling nature provides: sharing these powerful components of nature feels like a mood and energy lifter.

Bryony Schwan, a South African native, who calls Montana home, has the opportunity to witness nature as our greatest teacher in her role as Director of the Biomimicry Institute. Bryony works with people globally, from scientists, architects, to engineers on finding solutions to human problems by watching and mimicking nature.

Nature’s designs are naturally sustainable and brilliant. By tracking nature and integrating its designs into ours we are making new grounds: creating new non-toxic, sustainable designs. For instance, “By using nano-scale structures that mimic butterfly wings, humans have created new paints, fabrics, and cosmetics that are free of toxic metals and require less energy to manufacture.” ( Bryony created the Biomimicry Institute at the persuasion of scientist and friend, Janine Benyus, author of the book, “Biomimicry.”

Bryony’s work in environmentalism started out with quite a different focus. Upon arriving in the United States she noticed beautiful landscapes in Montana being torn down with little monitoring and little efforts to rebuild. Noticing she was one of the only women speaking out let alone attending meetings, she decided to do something.

On her own, and with a small grant from Patagonia, she began the organization, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) as a medium for women’s voices to be heard. Fourteen years later, today WVE is a national non-profit and a leader in creating educational awareness regarding women’s environmental health specifically focusing on the links between chemicals and our health. (

During our interview, Bryony told several stories of women demonstrating the Power of One Woman. She said she feels each of us has the power to make a difference. She said, “I started Women’s Voices for the Earth in 1995 after attending community meetings and being told that the environment is a man’s issue.” I spoke with current WVE director, Erin Switalksi, who spoke of her respect for Bryony’s work. She credits Bryony for creating WVE and developing its vision.

I didn’t sleep much that night after talking with Bryony. I learned many important facts about environmental health I had not known. What I also learned from Bryony is not only the power one woman has, but that how important it is to act on our truth, and to spread this message – to use our voices. I sat with how I was going to this myself. I also learned how by doing this we just may discover that many of our answers lie in nature – with nature providing us with brilliancy, resiliency and solutions.

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