Virginia architect William McDonough has outfitted Ford, IBM and Nike with earth-friendly offices, but what he’s really building is a movement for global change.
In 1977, as a Yale grad student, McDonough designed and built Ireland’s first solar-heated house, then created the first green offices in the United States for the Environmental Defense Fund. Since then, the founder of William McDonough + Partners in Charlottesville, Virginia, has received the National Design Award and two presidential honors for sustainable building.
After he and industrial designer Michael Braungart designed a production system for a Swiss textile factory that creates effluent as pure as drinking water, McDonough channeled his ambitions toward zero waste. He thinks in terms of “upcycling”—reincarnating materials indefinitely in a continuous loop of use and reuse—instead of recycling, which takes a raw material only one step farther.
If you design products with completely biodegradable or completely reusable components, you can bypass landfills altogether, taking the “grave” out of the cradle-to-grave lifecycle of everything from laptops to athletic shoes, McDonough explains in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (North Point, 2002), written with Braungart. The book itself is printed on a coated synthetic paper that could one day be stripped of ink and reincarnated as a bestselling novel.
McDonough has developed master plans for six cradle-to-cradle cities and one village in China. In addition, he’s enthusiastic about concepts such as downtown parking lots covered in solar panels. “I’m very interested in solar-powering the world as quickly as we can,” he says.
Stamp of approval
To encourage manufacturers to embrace cradle-to-cradle design, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry recently introduced Cradle to Cradle Certification. Certified products must meet strict standards for healthy materials, reusability, low- and renewable-energy use, clean manufacturing, and social responsibility.