Saturday, May 14, 2005

Designing the Future

This is an article about a group that is trying to find a way to label products according to their environmental design. Cradle to cradle vs cradle to grave design. William McDonough is the author.


Martie said...

Designing the Future
In a new interview series, NEWSWEEK talks to a leading ecological architect whose goal is nothing less than eliminating waste and pollution.


May 16 issue - Imagine buildings that generate more energy than they consume and factories whose waste water is clean enough to drink. William McDonough has accomplished these tasks and more. Architect, industrial designer and founder of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry in Charlottesville, Va., he's not your traditional environmentalist. Others may expend their energy fighting for stricter environmental regulations and repeating the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle." McDonough's vision for the future includes factories so safe they need no regulation, and novel, safe materials that can be totally reprocessed into new goods, so there's no reason to scale back consumption (or lose jobs). In short, he wants to overhaul the Industrial Revolution—which would sound crazy if he weren't working with Fortune 500 companies and the government of China to make it happen. The recipient of two U.S. presidential honors and the National Design Award, McDonough is the former dean of architecture at the University of Virginia and co-chair of the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development. He spoke in New York recently with NEWSWEEK's Anne Underwood.

UNDERWOOD: Why do we need a new industrial revolution?
MCDONOUGH: The Industrial Revolution as a whole was not designed. It took shape gradually as industrialists and engineers figured out how to make things. The result is that we put billions of pounds of toxic materials in the air, water and soil every year and generate gigantic amounts of waste. If our goal is to destroy the world—to produce global warming and toxicity and endocrine disruption—we're doing great. But if the goal isn't global warming, what is? I want to crank the wheel of industry in a different direction to produce a world of abundance and good design—a delightful, safe world that our children can play in.

You say that recycling, as it's currently practiced, is "downcycling."
What we call recycling is typically the product losing its quality. Paper gets mixed with other papers, re-chlorinated and contaminated with toxic inks. The fiber length gets shorter, allowing more particles to abrade into the air, where they get into your lungs and nasal passages, and cause irritation. And you end up with gray, fuzzy stuff that doesn't really work for you. That's downcycling.

[My mentor and colleague] Michael Braungart and I coined the term upcycling, meaning that the product could actually get better as it comes through the system. For example, some plastic bottles contain the resi-dues of heavy-metal catalysts. We can remove those residues as the bottles come back to be upcycled.

Not all products lend themselves to that.
Most manufacturers take resources out of the ground and convert them to products that are designed to be thrown away or incinerated within months. We call these "cradle to grave" product flows. Our answer to that is "cradle to cradle" design. Everything is reused—either returned to the soil as nontoxic "biological nutrients" that will biodegrade safely, or returned to industry as "technical nutrients" that can be infinitely recycled. Aluminum is a technical nutrient. It takes tremendous energy to make, but it's easy to recapture and reuse. Since 1880, the human species has made 660 million tons of it. We still know where 440 million tons are today.

Are there products already that meet cradle-to-cradle goals? If so, how do we find them?
Within the month, we will be branding cradle to cradle. Products that meet our criteria for biological and technical nutrients can be certified to use our logo. A note on the packaging will tell you how to recycle it. You'll know: this one goes into my tomato plot when I'm finished or this one goes back to industry forever. We have already approved a nylon, some polyester textiles, running tracks, window shades, chairs from Herman Miller and Steelcase, and carpets from Shaw, which is part of Berkshire Hathaway. The first was a Steelcase fabric that can go back to the soil. We're now working on electronics on a global scale.

How do paper products like magazines fit into this picture?
Why take something as exquisite as a tree and knock it down? Trees make oxygen, sequester carbon, distill water, build soils, convert solar energy to fuel, change colors with the seasons, create microclimates and provide habitat.

My book "Cradle to Cradle," which I wrote with Michael Braungart, is printed on pages made of plastic resins and inorganic fillers that are infinitely recyclable. They're too heavy, but we're working with companies now to develop lightweight plastic papers. We have safe, lightweight inks designed to float off the paper in a bath of 180 degrees—hotter than you would encounter under normal circumstances. We can recapture the inks and reuse them without adding chlorine and dioxins to the environment. And the pages are clean, smooth and white.

So we can keep our trees and have newspapers, too.
Most environmentalists feel guilty about how society behaves, so they say we should make longer-lasting products—for example, a car that lasts 25 years. That car will still use compound epoxies and toxic adhesives, but the ecological footprint is reduced because you've amortized it over a longer time. But what's the result? You lose jobs because people aren't buying as much, and you're using the wrong technology longer. I want five-year cars. Then you can always be getting the newest car—more solar-powered, cleaner, with the newest air bags and safety features. The old car gets upcycled into new cars, so there are still plenty of jobs. And you don't feel guilty about throwing the old one away. People want new technology. You're not typing on an Underwood, if you know what I mean.

So growth is good?
Yes, if you use nature as a model and mentor, if you use modern designs and chemicals that are safe. Growth is destructive if you use energy not from the sun and a system of chemicals that is toxic, so it's anti-life.

Given that industry today fits your definition of anti-life, why aren't you fighting for stricter environmental regulations?
If coal plants release mercury—and mercury is a neurotoxin that damages children's brains—then reducing the amount of mercury in emissions doesn't stop that. It just says, "We'll tell you at what rate you can dispense death." Being less bad is not being good. Our idea is to make production so clean, there's nothing bad left to regulate. This is extremely interesting to people of all political persuasions—those who love the environment and those who want commerce free of regulation.

Can you really have industry so clean it requires no controls?
[At the Rohner textile plant in Switzerland] we designed a fabric safe enough to eat. The manufacturing process uses no mutagens, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, heavy-metal contaminants or chemicals that cause ozone depletion, allergies, skin desensitization or plant and fish toxicity. We screened 8,000 commonly used chemicals and ended up with 38. When inspectors measured the effluent water, they thought their instruments were broken. The water was as clean as Swiss drinking water. A garden club started using the waste trimmings as mulch. Workers no longer had to wear protective clothing. And it eliminated regulatory paperwork, so they've reduced the cost of production by 20 percent. Why spend money on paperwork, when you can spend it delivering service or paying your workers a living wage?

Where would I find this fabric?
It was selected for upholstery on the new Airbus 380. It's made of worsted wool to keep you at the right temperature—cool when it's hot and warm when it's cold—and [a plant fiber called] ramie to wick away moisture. It's a high-performance-design product. Going ecological doesn't mean downgrading performance criteria.

How do you get more industries to adopt these ideals?
Industries don't change unless they have to or there's some commercial benefit. At Herman Miller [the furniture company], we designed a factory full of daylight and fresh air. Productivity soared. And because of all the natural light, they cut lighting costs by 50 percent—overall energy by 30 percent. We've been doing this a long time. But now that China has taken it up, it portends exciting things.

What are you doing in China?
The China Housing Industry Association has the responsibility for building housing for 400 million people in the next 12 years. We're working with them to design seven new cities. We're identifying building materials of the future, such as a new polystyrene from BASF [with no noxious chemicals]. It can be used to build walls that are strong, lightweight and superinsulating. The building can be heated and cooled for next to nothing. And it's silent. If there are 13 people in the apartment upstairs, you won't hear them.

We've designed a luxurious new toilet. The bowl is like a lotus leaf—so smooth, axle grease slips right off. Nothing sticks to it, including bacteria. A light mist when you're done will be enough to flush it, so you won't use lots of water. We'll have bamboo wetlands nearby to purify the waste—and the bamboo, which grows a foot a day, can be harvested and used for wood.

The Chinese are afraid urbanization will reduce productive farmland, so we'll move farms onto rooftops. At least, that's what I'm proposing. The farmers can live downstairs. And when you look at the city from a distance, it will look like part of the landscape.

Is it practical to put farms on roofs?
Traditional roofs aren't practical. They degrade from thermal shock and ultraviolet radiation and have to be replaced in 20 years. For the Gap's corporate campus in San Bruno, Calif., we planted a "green roof" of ancient grasses. The roof now damps the sounds of jets from the San Francisco airport. It absorbs storm water, which is important because they have serious issues with storm water there. It makes oxygen, provides habitat, and it's beautiful. We also made a green roof for Ford Motor Co.'s River Rouge plant. It saved Ford millions of dollars in storm-water equipment.

How will you fuel the Chinese cities?
I want to see solar power cheaper than coal, but to get the speed and scale to do that fast, you need a place like China. We're not talking about dinky solar collectors on roofs. Think of square miles of marginal land covered with them. This could drop the cost of solar energy an order of magnitude. And for every job making solar panels, there are four jobs putting them in place and maintaining them. We could import these panels, and for every job the Chinese give themselves, we get four. What a gift. And I guarantee you, China will never be able to capture an American photon. We would have indigenous energy and energy security. And we wouldn't be throwing our money into holes in the ground.

And we wouldn't need nuclear energy.
I love nuclear energy. I just want to make sure it stays where God put it—93 million miles away, in the sun.

Your ideas are really catching on.
It's an amazing moment in history. We also have two huge new projects in England—working with the cities of Greenwich and Wembley. The developer, Adrian Wyatt, has asked us to conceive the meta-framework for the project.

We won't get everything right the first time. Change requires experimentation. But no problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. Our job is to dream—and to make those dreams happen.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2005


Martie said...

Architect William McDonough is a radical. He also is lauded as a pioneer in sustainability, representing ideals admired by green builders.

During the past two decades, green — or sustainable — building has grown from a few scattered practitioners who have been doing it for years to more mainstream builders who have recently taken on the mantle. Twenty-eight percent of respondents in Professional Builder’s second annual State of Green Building Survey said three-quarters of their units built were green.

Still, McDonough contends that even though home builders are doing much better than they were, the industry — and almost every industry and entity in American society — is only scratching the surface of sustainability. The ultimate optimist, McDonough says he has solutions on the table and the drawing board that blow the status quo out of the water. But his path to change is on a plane completely different from most — rather than efficiency, which most builders strive for, McDonough champions effectiveness.

The current model of eco-design is eco-efficiency, or “doing more with less,” McDonough contends. But that model only means using fewer trees, generating less pollution, consuming less fossil-fueled electricity, and recycling or “downcycling” products into lesser-quality products than their originals — in other words, doing better within an already flawed system. The philosophy is much different at William McDonough and Partners, a 40-member architecture firm in Charlottesville, Va., and at McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, a company run by McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart that designs — and redesigns — everything from upholstery fabrics and carpets to hair gels and tennis shoes that are better for people and the earth.

“What we’re saying is efficiency isn’t necessarily good, because it has no value,” McDonough says. Using less within the existing system only takes away value, adding none. He says industries, including home building, need to look to new products that benefit the earth rather than strangle it more slowly.

“The question isn’t ‘Am I doing something right?’ it’s ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” McDonough says. “To make the wrong thing more efficient might be pernicious because it perpetuates the wrong system. We’re looking at eco-effectiveness — doing the right thing and doing it efficiently.”

He points to the push for greater energy efficiency in buildings, which often means minimizing air leakage. Less fossil fuel is burned, but toxic substances in those buildings aren’t replaced with safe ones. Products containing formaldehyde, a carcinogen, and polyvinyl chloride, which produces toxic chemicals when burned, are still put into homes, possibly affecting indoor environmental quality.

So what is effectiveness? McDonough answers that question with an analogy: A cherry tree’s hundreds of dropped blossoms are inefficient — many “wasted” blossoms don’t produce new trees — but they are effective because they nourish the soil. Nature’s effectiveness runs contrary to the built world’s cradle-to-grave paradigm, but McDonough’s life’s work involves making the cradle-to-cradle model work for human industry as well as nature.

What if you could “take a piece of dirt and build something that could make oxygen, sequester carbon, fix nitrogen, distill water, accrue solar energy, change colors with the season, be a habitat for thousands of species and make more energy than it uses?” he asks. “That’s a honey locust. What if we could build houses like trees?”

The possibilities for more effective land development, homes and businesses are expanding. Solar energy collectors, green roofs planted with a layer of vegetation to cut down solar gain and catch and filter rainwater, proper solar orientation of buildings, operable windows as part of ventilation systems — all of these can be used toward the goal of sustainability.

Coffee Creek Center in Chesterton, Ind., for which McDonough and Partners created the urban plan and design guidelines, is a prime example of his ideas at work. Lake Erie Land Co.’s 640-acre, master-planned community includes neo-traditional commercial and mixed-income residential components, as well as the 167-acre Coffee Creek Water Conservancy, which runs down the middle. On this former farmland, green space was set aside; wetlands, prairies and wet prairies were restored or re-created; the eroded banks of Coffee Creek were re-sloped to allow for natural overflow; and wetland buffer areas were constructed to mitigate the effects of surrounding farm runoff into the creek, all with the goal of restoring pre-settlement hydrology to much of the site.

Two thousand-plus multifamily and single-family homes are projected for the development, with models already open and five other units already built. Calumet Construction, which has just begun construction on the first 38-acre parcel, is offering packages featuring paints and carpets low in volatile organic compounds, floors made of bamboo (a quickly renewable wood alternative), and other options in the five-star Energy Star-rated homes.

For a current project in Virginia, McDonough uses what he calls anticipatory design as he waits for technology and economy to align. That home is ready to accept solar-energy-harnessing technology, making the home responsible for producing the energy the owners need, as soon as it is cost-effective.

Waiting for solar to be financially viable is another of McDonough’s principles: “My strategy is to use business as the agent of change. The triad of sustainable development is economy, equity and ecology.

“We understand that extremes are dangerous. If you’re a finger-wagging greenie, you might forget some social purpose or economic reality. We honor capitalism by saying if it isn’t profitable, don’t do it. If businesses are not thriving, I can’t change them. We look at how to balance these things and make them all fabulous, not just one sector.”

Martie said...


Eco-Effectiveness is a strategy developed by renowned architect and sustainability leader William McDonough for business growth and prosperity that generates ecological, social, and economic value. It represents a fundamental conceptual shift away from the flawed system design of the Industrial Revolution, not just a damage management strategy.

Eco-effectiveness seeks to design industrial systems that emulate the healthy abundance of nature. The central design principle of eco-effectiveness is waste equals food.

When waste equals food, the "be less bad" imperatives of efficiency fade. When a product returns to industry at the end of its useful life and its materials are used to make equally valuable new products, the minerals or plastics of which it is made do not need to be minimized-because they will not become waste in a landfill. Industry saves billions of dollars annually by recovering valuable materials from used products. Similarly, products designed to be made of natural, safely biodegradable materials can be returned to the soil to feed ecosystems instead of depleting them.

On-line Publications and Articles

"Waste Away," The New Yorker

"Prophet of Bloom," Wired Magazine

"Reinventing The World," Green at Work Magazine

"Think Green," Metropolis Magazine

"The Next Industrial Revolution," The Atlantic Monthly


Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (ISBN: 0865475873)

Martie said...

by James Surowiecki
Issue of 2002-05-06
Posted 2002-04-29

Seventy years ago, the Ford Motor Company's River Rouge factory, in Dearborn, Michigan, was the show horse of the second industrial revolution. Spread out over a thousand acres, it included a steel mill, a power plant, glass and cement factories, and an assembly plant. Coal, iron ore, and sand were hauled down the Rouge River on giant freighters, and were transformed first into steel and glass and then into Model A's, tractors, and airplanes.

Today, there's a new show horse at the Rouge. As part of a two-billion-dollar redesign, Ford is covering much of the roof of its new factory with a plant called sedum, effectively turning the roof into a ten-acre garden. Skylights and giant windows will flood the factory with natural light. And the complex will include acres of natural swales and wetlands. The change will please the tree-huggers but should please the bean counters, too. The "living roof" lowers energy costs by keeping the factory cooler. The skylights and windows reduce the need for artificial light. And the wetlands serve as a natural filtration system for rainwater running off the buildings. It might seem silly to build an environmentally friendly plant to turn out gas-guzzling trucks, but the new Rouge may well offer the possibility of a new industrial revolution.

Or so William McDonough believes. McDonough is an architect and product designer whose ideas inspired the Rouge renovation. He is also something of an environmental heretic. In his new book, "Cradle to Cradle," McDonough (with his co-author, Michael Braungart) argues that the battle between environmentalists and industrialists is as outmoded as Earth Shoes. "The growth/no-growth argument is specious," he said last week. "Growth is good. The question is, how do you want to grow?" McDonough's guiding principle seems simple enough: the source of our environmental woes is waste. There is nothing wrong with cars, TV sets, and running shoes. What's wrong is the waste—chemicals, heavy metals, CO2—that's produced when we make them, use them, and, eventually, throw them away. Eliminate that waste, and you eliminate the problem.

Right, and why not cure cancer while you're at it? Last time we checked, waste—landfills, smog, river sludge—was the price we paid for a healthy economy. McDonough doesn't see it that way. We don't need to make less stuff. We only need to make stuff differently. In McDonough's future, there would be only two kinds of products. The first would be made of natural substances—he calls them "biological nutrients"—and they'd be perfectly biodegradable. Had enough of those pants? Just toss them out the window, like an apple core. The second would be made of "technical nutrients"—steel, plastics, polymers, silicon, glass—and would be endlessly reusable; old shoes would become new shoes, old cars would be turned into new cars. Everything would be raw material for something else.

McDonough hasn't simply imagined these products; he has started to make them. A new fabric that he created for Designtex, which Lufthansa is testing for airplane seat cushions, is free of poisonous dyes and fibres; you can eat it, if you like. He thinks we'll soon have an ice-cream container that biodegrades in a matter of hours. "It's fun to just throw stuff away," he says. "You could put 'Please litter' on the wrappers." The pages of "Cradle to Cradle" are made not of paper but of a new waterproof polymer that can be reused forever.

This isn't merely a souped-up form of recycling. For one thing, recycling tends to be economically inefficient. For another, most recycling is actually downcycling, with the material becoming less valuable each time it's used. When the steel in old cars, for instance, is melted down, it becomes too weak for making new ones. Products aren't made to be reused. They're made to be thrown out. Products that will live forever (or die right away) must be designed that way from the beginning.

We may be decades—centuries?—away from McDonough's perfect world, but he does seem to point to a path out of the seemingly unwinnable trench war between conservation and commerce. Never mind the invisible hand; McDonough's talking about the invisible hand-me-down. Thirty years ago, two scientists named Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, who were looking for a way to measure the burden that economic growth places on the earth, came up with the E=mc2 of the modern environmental movement. The equation was I=PAT, meaning that environmental impact was the product of population size (P), level of affluence (A), and technological capability (T). The equation expressed some of the movement's central tenets: population growth, economic growth, and consumption are bad, technology rarely makes things better, and when you combine them all you get Armageddon. Translated into public policy, these tenets helped produce a thicket of environmental regulations, all predicated on the assumption that the only way to save the planet was to set limits and keep businesses and consumers from violating them.

Of course, those regulations have done a great deal of good. But they also encourage companies to devote tremendous time and energy to figuring out how to get away with as much as possible, and to think of environmental concerns only as obstacles to profitability. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are stuck in the role of scolds, nagging corporations, in essence, to wear hemp and drink soy. But McDonough is saying that affluence and technology don't have to be enemies of the earth. In fact, they could be its best allies. We can save the world and get rich, while littering the yard with our biodegradable beer cans.

Martie said...

Prophet of Bloom

The future of manufacturing will be built on industrial-strength ecology, says architect William McDonough. The first step: Turn Ford's legendary River Rouge plant into a lean, green profit machine.

By Florence Williams

A sign up ahead reads WARNING: SLAG HAULER CROSSING. Sitting in the back of a sedan, architect William McDonough is riding through Ford's aging River Rouge factory complex in Dearborn, Michigan. At 1,100 acres, it's the largest industrial site of early- to mid-20th century America, a testament to the scale of Henry Ford's vision. The Armani-clad McDonough surveys the ruins strung along the dark, slack river, cruising past eye-level piles of black, powdery ash heaps, a spindly gas tower, and the proto-industrial blast ovens. A red oxygen furnace belches as it haltingly refines coke into steel.

It hardly looks like the site of the next industrial revolution, yet that is exactly what McDonough intends to make it. In late 2000, the Ford Motor Company hired McDonough, a designer cum environmentalist, to blueprint the site's 20-year, $2 billion redesign. The centerpiece will be a vast but energy-efficient truck assembly plant, not far from a new low-emission paint plant. Company CEO William Clay Ford Jr., Henry's great-grandson, says that the goal is nothing less than transforming River Rouge into "the model of 21st-century sustainable manufacturing."

Green architecture is an emerging field, and McDonough, who was trained at Dartmouth and Yale, spent most of the '80s experimenting with it. His highly lauded Herman Miller factory in Zeeland, Michigan, and Gap corporate offices in San Bruno, California, are designed to maximize natural lighting and air circulation. At Oberlin College, in Ohio, he built a solar- and geothermal-powered facility for the environmental studies department designed to generate more energy than it uses.

In 1995, the architect teamed up with a German chemist, Michael Braungart, to found a research and consulting firm called McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry. The company specializes in environmentally safe manufacturing processes and materials. The MBDC message is that "regulations are signals of design failure" and that everything from cars to computers to urban centers can be designed so that they never pollute.

"Regulations are signals of design failure," declares McDonough: Everything from cars to urban centers can be designed to never pollute.

With the fuel-injected charisma of a motivational speaker, McDonough frequently tells seminar attendees, industry groups, and clients like Intel, Nike, IBM, Monsanto, and Wal-Mart that we can all be rich, happy, and free from liberal guilt. He sees no inherent contradiction between greening the world and profit-making, and once riled the hemp-shirt crowd for stating that he would like to be a billionaire primarily "as an inspiration to other people."

For McDonough, who is 50 and a part-time professor at the University of Virginia, River Rouge is a mighty feather. The scale of the Ford project - and the potential reach of the global company - represents all-new opportunities, both in terms of fame and influence. Rouge will, he hopes, be his Bilbao, or better. "Frank Gehry can apply his principles at the level of a museum, but can he apply them to the level of an urban context? No. Can he apply them to furniture? Yes. Can he apply them to the material in the furniture? No," McDonough declares, tousling his brick-colored locks. "I'm developing an operating system for sustainability."

McDonough's grandiose plan extends far beyond architecture. He wants to remake the Ford Motor Company and then make over everything else. He's prone to statements like "I want to solarize California" and "What if a car were a buffalo? Now wouldn't that be interesting?" He says he wants to change the way Americans think about mobility, energy, communications, synthetic materials, and even nature itself.

In some ways, Ford's Rouge facility couldn't be a better test bed for McDonough's happy new world. It was once the most studied and admired manufacturing complex anywhere. In the 1930s, the Rouge employed 100,000 workers and encompassed 15 million square feet of factories scattered across a site the size of New York's Central Park. Outside, an entire fleet of ore freighters idled along the dredged Rouge River, and inside, 100 miles of railroad tracks knotted the grounds. Industrialists from all over the world came to witness the only physical plant where wood, sand, ore, and rubber went in one end and finished vehicles - everything from tractors to Mustangs - spilled out the other. The facility made Ford's every engine, windshield, and tire, but over time the company shifted its manufacturing operations, spreading them across more than 100 sites worldwide. By the 1980s, much of the complex was obsolete and fearfully contaminated with carcinogens. Even so, it limped along, never shutting down entirely. Then a boiler exploded in 1999, killing six workers and injuring two dozen more. The Rouge needed serious help.

McDonough saw an opening. Using a few well-placed contacts, he wrangled a meeting with the company's recently appointed 43-year-old chair, Bill Ford. "I went up to his office and he said, 'Why are you here?'" recalls the architect. "I said, 'What interests me is that you can change the world. With $80 billion of purchase orders, all you have to do is say you want a different way, and things start to move.'"

The meeting, scheduled for half an hour, lasted all afternoon. The two men talked about McDonough's radical - some would say kooky - ideas for the future of industrial manufacturing. The tenets of this new world are laid out in McDonough's provocative new book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, due out in April. In it, he envisions a technically advanced world of zero waste, where nothing ever hits the trash bin and all materials, under a kind of karmic destiny, can be recovered to lead productive lives over and over again.

McDonough argues that traditional recycling is tired and inadequate. We need, he writes, to move beyond merely sorting our trash. That might help us reuse some tin and plastic but just postpones their inevitable trip to the landfill. He dismisses the familiar plastic bottles-to-fleece shtick altogether: The bottles are made with antimony, a heavy metal. Why use hazardous materials at all? Why not design a productive afterlife into materials at the outset? So MBDC created a wool-and-cellulose upholstery textile that can, when composted, serve as garden mulch. It's an example of what McDonough terms a "biological nutrient," able to biodegrade completely.

Of course, not everything can be made out of plant matter. But even synthetics, says McDonough, can be fabricated to be continually reprocessed in industry. McDonough terms these "technical nutrients." Worn-out plastic consumer goods can't be composted, but they can remain useful, even valuable, to manufacturing.

Nylon, for example, typically cannot be broken down without leaving residual waste. But a new process pioneered by the German chemical company BASF - not incidentally an MBDC client - can now yield a perfectly reconfigurable nylon fiber. The new fiber is easily depolymerized into simple molecules and then easily repolymerized to start all over. After it's woven into products like carpets, it can be returned to the manufacturer to be remade. Caught in a virtuous circle, such goods need never be discarded. Instead of being inefficiently "down-cycled" into something like a plastic park bench, your carpet can be reincarnated every time you redecorate.

Herein lies the Big McDonough Idea: "The materials go back to soils safely, or they go back to industry. That's it. That's the new paradigm."

But how new is it? Certainly garbage theorists like Barry Commoner posited similar closed-loop ideas. In their 1999 book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, authors Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins sketch out plans for responsible, efficient manufacturing that incorporates materials recycling. McDonough proselytizes incessantly, but his contribution is that he is starting to develop the necessary technologies that might make it all work. With the right materials, even something as complicated as a car could simply be melted down and turned into a new car, says McDonough. And since automobiles are increasingly being leased by drivers anyway, why not build consumers' loyalty by continuously and profitably transforming their old cars into snazzy new ones? In McDonough-speak, "Even manufacturing can become a restorative act."

The "living" roof of grass insulates the factory, filters emissions, returns rainwater to the river at EPA-approved levels - and will save Ford millions.

Bill Ford, who sits on the board of Conservation International and has long maintained an interest in things green, liked what he heard that day. He later said of McDonough, "He's got a hell of a sales pitch. He's very persuasive, and we were on the same wavelength immediately." McDonough says his presentation "totally fit into Ford's personality, his psyche, and his whole understanding of the way the world works." At the end of their meeting, Ford looked out over the Rouge and then turned to ask McDonough, "Do you think you can apply what you and I have been talking about to that place?"

Even for someone with McDonough's messianic ambition, remaking the Rouge will be no easy task. First there's the contamination, which the company is required by an EPA consent order to clean up. Then there's the reality that the automaker had a terrible 2001. Total sales were down 9 percent over the previous year, and Ford is still forking over expensive settlements in the Explorer-Firestone tire debacle. Recession and war make the green whims of Bill Ford seem less than urgent. On top of all that, there's a corporate engineering culture that tends to look quizzically, if at all, at environmental do-gooding.

McDonough seems undaunted. When he talks about his work on the project, he is both confident and grave. "If we can't apply our ideas here, then we're just blowing smoke," he says. He grows animated as his sedan approaches a sprawling, 1 million-square-foot steel-framed building that will be the new state-of-the-art truck assembly plant. Although McDonough is not the architect of record (the company is using a local industrial firm), he has had a significant hand in it. There are plenty of McDonoughesque details: The building will encourage recycling by having no trash room, as the company is requiring all its suppliers to use returnable packaging. But the plant's most ecologically correct feature is also its biggest architectural statement - a "living" roof of grass seemingly vast enough for a herd of antelope. The half-million-square-foot covering is designed to absorb rainwater, filter stack emissions, and insulate the factory. It consists of a series of box-shaped panels filled with 5 inches of topsoil and planted with sedges. The green roof has become something of a McDonough trademark; there's one topping the Gap's offices in San Bruno.

Around a bend, McDonough nears a grassy lot with a few new plantings, as incongruous as a community garden in the South Bronx. McDonough and Ford are working with a Michigan State University biologist who is pioneering phytoremediation, a process that uses plants to break down and purify hazardous chemicals - in this case, the mutagenic pyrene, anthracine, and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that spill over from the coke ovens. "Typically, they do what they call hog-and-haul, or scrape-and-bake," explains McDonough. "They come in and they take away the bad stuff, and then it's somebody else's problem. We want to do remediation onsite." The most promising plants so far, big bluestem and green ash, are area natives that will also attract wildlife, moderate surface air temperatures, and provide scenic breaks.

Up the road at the Rouge office building, a lattice of dark nylon-mesh covers the brick exterior, forming an unusual trellis. McDonough hopes the vine-covered surface will attract nesting birds. "The idea is that all of the surfaces become alive. So instead of dead brick, we'll have 'living' walls. Why not make oxygen? Why not provide a habitat for hummingbirds? Why not?"

Well, for starters, it all seems a little whimsical. Does building a truck plant with a grass roof help the environment? Does it even make the roof better? Will companies really invest millions of dollars up front to overhaul traditional manufacturing systems in order to realize long-term, even intangible benefits?

Tim O'Brien, former director of Ford's Environmental Quality Office and one of the Ford execs to whom McDonough reported, answers those questions with a qualified yes. No matter what, Ford must retrofit the Rouge, O'Brien says. It might as well do it right and take the opportunity to experiment with some potentially influential technologies. Standing amid displays and coffee cups in the Rouge Room, a basement bunker that serves as redesign headquarters, he lays out the numbers: The architect's plan for the $18 million rainwater treatment system - of which the grass roof is a major part - will potentially spare Ford from having to build a $50 million mechanical treatment facility to meet EPA standards. Designed to clean some 20 billion gallons of rainwater annually, the system should be fully operational by Ford's centennial in 2003. The roof already returns water to the Rouge River at EPA-approved levels of cleanliness for the first time since anyone bothered to monitor it. As O'Brien puts it, "We haven't always looked broadly at some of the social and ecological costs and benefits of the business decisions that we make, but when you take that wider-angle lens, you sometimes find good examples of ecological projects that are terrific business successes as well."

Other McDonough initiatives have been nixed. The company was loath to plant native prairie grasses on the roof (they have a tendency to catch on fire). Instead, McDonough is using a Mediterranean variety. Furthermore, "wind power is a special suggestion of Bill's we haven't been able to make sense of now," says O'Brien. Ford, is, after all, an old economy kind of place. "Somebody as visionary as Bill, you know, it's hard to get used to," says Don Russell, an engineer in the company's environmental quality office. "And a lot of people here are the type you wouldn't expect to be amenable to suggestions, so I've seen a lot of strange things I wasn't really expecting. Things like the grass roof didn't seem like they'd fit with the way we normally do business, but I think he's really changed a lot of minds since he's been here."

McDonough still has a few minds to win over. So far, Detroit insiders have reserved judgment on the worth of the green elements. Paul Eisenstein, who is a veteran industry watcher and the publisher of, ticks off his list of questions: "Will these innovations truly work as planned? Will Ford's commitment hold? Will it follow through at other plants, or will this only be a showcase?" Jim Hall, an analyst with industry research firm Auto Pacific, answers him: "The truth is, if it's replicable to other industrial sites, it works. If it isn't, it doesn't - but even so, a greener face for the company alone has value, if for no other reason than for PR."

Not surprisingly, PR value doesn't satisfy many environmentalists, who, after all, believe that the single most damaging invention for the planet was the internal combustion engine. "I have visited Ford's bed of native prairie blooms, and I cannot help but ask: What, in fact, is all this sustaining?" says architecture and planning critic Jane Holtz Kay. She wryly notes that, no matter how green its landscape, the automaker still "flogs its hottest seller, the SUV." David Korten, president of the People-Centered Development Forum, explains: "It's like when advertisements say, 'You can contribute to the environment by buying an energy-efficient air conditioner,' when the proper response would be to just open the window."

"If you have a solar-powered SUV and all the materials go back in the automotive system and the tires degrade safely - then drive all you want."

"Yes, Ford makes SUVs," groans McDonough. "Can we justify working with them? Yes." He elaborates: "If you have a solar-powered SUV, which is what we're going to do, and all the materials are designed to go back in the automotive system and the tires all degrade into safe molecules for worms, then I don't care, drive around all you want. It's not a problem." Clearly though, the criticism puts him on the defensive. "Whom am I supposed to work with?" he asks. "These are the agents of change. And they are committed to a major transformation."

Perhaps, but so far, the McDonough "revolution" has proceeded step by baby step - a pace not always so different from business as usual. For example, when McDonough helped Nike design a new rubber, the company patented the process. Made from water-based solubles instead of volatile organic compounds, the rubber is greener than the old type and even costs slightly less - but only Nike gets to use it. General manager Darcy Winslow defends the decision to keep the rubber recipe a secret and points to a counterexample: cushioning foam. The shoemaker asked DuPont to reformulate the foam that's the soul of its sneakers, and while the new, greener foam is patented, "DuPont supplies it to hundreds of other manufacturers," says Winslow.

McDonough has no time for niggling details, a trait that suggests another big thinker zealous to unite a big mission with big profits: Henry Ford himself. Nostalgic for his agrarian roots, Ford experimented with his own brand of recycling. He wore a fragile suit made with a fiber derived from soybean husks (his tailor told him not to cross his legs, lest the trousers crack). Back in 1941, he even attempted to turn soybean pulp into car-seat textiles and to laminate the fibrous plant base into plastic car bodies. "I foresee the time when industry shall no longer denude the forest, nor use up the mines, but shall draw its material from the annual produce of the field," he wrote. "The part that has food value will be separated and made into a perfect food for man, and the rest of the plant will find its use in industry."

McDonough, in his own sort of karmic recycling, may fulfill the old man's dreams. Then again, Ford's offbeat soybean idea proved short lived. There was no way to make the soy-covered cars waterproof. The prototypes melted in the rain.

Martie said...

(excerpt from an article in April/May 2001 Green@Work Magazine)

by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

If you are leading or designing at a forward-thinking company today, you are probably striving to be more eco-efficient in an attempt to do something "good" for the environment. Essentially a damage management strategy, eco-efficiency works to make a system "less-bad," not the same thing as being "good." In fact efficiency, per se, has no value. It is simply a tool for a larger system, which can be positive or negative. (An efficient Nazi, for example, is a more terrible thing.) If the world's industries are ultimately destructive from a design perspective, making them more efficient will not help much.

But eco-efficiency's damage management can be a valuable transitional step. As part of a much larger agenda, together we have developed five distinct steps from eco-efficiency to eco-effectiveness which we use to help our clients turn around. These steps will help you slow down, figure out where you need to go, and make the journey to your vital new goal. We'll be describing these steps in alternating Web site monthly features over the next several months.

The steps are:
Step 1. Free of . . .
Step 2. Personal Preference (based on scientific experience)
Step 3. The Passive Positive List
Step 4. The Active Positive List
Step 5. Re-invention

This month we start with the first step, Free of . . .

We find Free of . . . quite funny. To proudly announce that something does not contain a problematic substance is a curious thing to do. Consider serving a meal and describing it to your guests as "poison-free." Poison-free is not necessarily a mouth-watering prospect. But in the marketplace, the opposite appears to be true: to describe a product as being Free of . . . something is actually a selling point. So when we consider how to use the Free of . . . strategy in a productive way, it helps to first recognize the potential absurdity of the concept, and to understand that positive selection and definition of a product's ingredients is the ultimate goal.

Let's look at one of the less productive ways the Free of . . . label can be used. For example, some detergents display the message "phosphate free." This announcement on the box of detergent makes what the manufacturer perceives as the customer (whom we perceive as the "consumer" because they actually consume the soap--it goes back to the biosphere) less fearful because the product is free of phosphate. But the manufacturer hasn't necessarily told you what they've substituted for the phosphate, which might even be worse. In some cases, the phosphate has been replaced by toxins far more dangerous for the ecosystem than phosphate.

When used within an eco-effective framework, the Free of . . . strategy is an important first step towards transforming the making of things. A PVC-free product, for example, is less bad than one which contains PVC. If something is free of substances that can potentially cause harm and are bio-accumulative (what we call "x substances") such as PVC, cadmium, and lead, then eliminating those compounds is definitely a productive step.

One substance we urgently wish to see phased out is mercury. The mercury in thermometers sold to hospitals and consumers in the United States each year is estimated to total 4.3 tons. It only takes one gram to contaminate the fish in a 20 acre lake. Thermometers represent only about one percent of the mercury used in the U.S.; the largest percentage is used for industrial switches of various kinds. An industries-wide phase-out of mercury for this use and replacement with new technology is, from our perspective, a crucial Free of . . . agenda.

We would encourage the quick phase-out of x substances in existing designs. But this is not the best designers and leaders can do. The most prosperous strategy will be to select the positive ingredients that we really want to find in our products, our systems, our culture, and the world.

Martie said...

exerlpts from article: Think Green
Companies that would be considered hybrid and earth friendly

The architecture and community-design firm William McDonough + Partners has designed corporate campuses for Nike Europe and the Gap, built a factory for Herman Miller, and created a center for environmental studies at Oberlin College that purifies its own water and is designed to produce more energy than it consumes. In 1999 McDonough entered into an agreement with Ford Motor Company to redesign its 85-year-old, 1,212-acre Rouge River facility, an ambitious and innovative industrial/environmental makeover that will require 20 years--and $2 billion--to complete. McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, a firm McDonough founded in 1995 with Hamburg-based Braungart, works with clients including Ciba, Bayer, BASF, Unilever, Visteon, SC Johnson, Milliken, Steelcase, and British Petroleum to engineer what the two have termed "the next industrial revolution." Along with his architectural project for Ford, McDonough and Braungart are working with the automaker and its chairman, William Clay Ford Jr.--great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford--to reinvent the way automobiles will be manufactured and recycled in the twenty-first century. "Henry Ford was the father of the assembly line," McDonough says. "We want William Clay Ford to be the father of the disassembly line."

As an architect McDonough has always worked in concert with sun and soil. Born in Tokyo in 1951, the son of an American business executive, McDonough's first independent project was the 1973 Grant House, the first solar-heated home in Ireland, which he designed during his first year of graduate school at Yale. After completing his master's there in 1976, he worked on small- and medium-scale projects in New York, searching for true north on the rooftops of Manhattan to bring maximum light to his structures. Bright and articulate, McDonough was also a compelling speaker who was frequently invited to address small groups interested in environmental design and architecture.

He was commissioned in 1984 by the Environmental Defense Fund to design its New York headquarters. But the project had a catch: the EDF told McDonough it would sue him if any of its employees took sick due to poor air quality or noxious substances in the construction. When McDonough asked his suppliers if they could provide him with a list of chemicals contained in their products, he was told it was proprietary information

In 1991 McDonough, noted green architect, received an invitation printed on a disposable diaper for the opening of the New York offices of the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency. The EPEA was created by Braungart. As an activist Braungart had paddled rubber boats to waste sites on the Rhine, climbed chimneys at Swiss chemical factories, and been kicked and punched by security personnel and factory workers. In 1986 he was involved in a Greenpeace protest action on the factory roof of the Swiss chemical company Ciba Geigy. On Christmas Day the executive officer asked Braungart and his colleagues to climb down, offering them soup and fiowers--and giving them his word that they could return if they so chose. The group declined the offer. But when Braungart climbed down a few days later he began a dialogue with the official, which led to a series of meetings with Ciba CEO Alex Krauer. Through these discussions Braungart realized that pure protest, although useful, was at best a partial solution. As an environmentalist--and especially as a chemist--Braungart saw that it was his duty not only to call attention to damage produced by industry but also to propose solutions and alternatives that were ecologically acceptable as well as economically viable. He subsequently created the EPEA.

Page 3

"Waste equals food, whether it's food for the earth, or for a closed industrial cycle," McDonough says. "We manufacture products that go from cradle to grave. We want to manufacture them from cradle to cradle. Let's do a car. For us, the body of a car is a buffalo. The Indians used every last piece of that buffalo. Instead of thirty-five different polymers, we can make it using three or four. Because we're going to get them back, they don't have to be cheap. Instead of paints that contaminate the steel and produce dioxins during recycling, we have paints that are nutrients to the steel." McDonough enjoys speculating, and grows animated as he imagines the technology he might help invent. He suggests that steel could be coded according to its composition and that specially developed lasers placed along the disassembly line would read the codes and sort the automobile's parts into the appropriate recycling tracks. "High chrome goes to high chrome, stainless goes to stainless, copper to copper. A car becomes a car becomes a car."

One of MBDC's first projects involved the creation of a 100 percent biodegradable fiber for DesignTex, a New York--based manufacturer of commercial interior fabrics. Creative director Susan Lyons had read about McDonough when the architect--after winning a commission to design an office building in Warsaw--had insisted that the developer plant 150 acres of new forest to offset the greenhouse gases the building would produce. In early 1992 she arranged a meeting with McDonough. "I felt I'd done my homework, told him I'd looked into organic cotton and PET [polyethylene terephthalate]," Lyons remembers. "He said, 'I have three words for you: Waste equals food.'"

For Lyons it was an epiphany--and a timely one. The clippings at Rohner Textile AG, the Swiss mill that wove many of DesignTex's fabrics, had just had its trimmings declared hazardous waste by the country's stringent government. Through his connections with Ciba Geigy, Braungart obtained a list of 8,000 chemical substances commonly used in the textile industry. After testing, he eliminated all but 38. For fiber they chose a blend of worsted wool and ramie. Trimmings from the cloth that McDonough helped design were ground into a felt that was used as winter soil covering and, as it decayed, mulch on nearby Swiss farms. The water leaving the Rohner Textile factory after filtering through the cloth was so clean--cleaner than the drinking water going into the factory--that Swiss inspectors thought their equipment had malfunctioned when they first analyzed it. McDonough's most recent collaboration with DesignTex was a totally recyclable polyester that was first presented this April at EnvironDesign 5.

When Nike wanted to examine the life cycle of its athletic shoes, they turned to MBDC for help in replacing questionable compounds found in the materials they used. The company took its most popular rubber sole--a compound used in approximately 20 percent of its shoes--and developed an alternative nontoxic material, which will be introduced this fall. In the next three years Nike hopes to incorporate additional ecologically friendly compounds into 60 percent of its product line. "We're making choices that go far beyond compliance with what's legal," says Darcy Winslow, general manager of sustainable business opportunities at Nike. "We are asking whether you can reutilize this material. How should we replace the chemicals we no longer want to use? We're starting up a dialogue with our suppliers, defining what we want from leather, from foam, from polymers."

McDonough's greatest single project will undoubtedly be the Rouge River plant for Ford. He and his team of designers have already drafted plans for a 450,000-square-foot habitat roof, which along with a porous parking lot and surrounding wetlands will retain storm-water runoff for three days, purifying the water of toxic compounds before it trickles into the river. The water-management system is expected to cost $13 million, less than a third the estimated cost of a chemical-water remediation system. But McDonough and Braungart may leave an even more important legacy at the Michigan automobile manufacturer, with innovations in the ways vehicles are designed, manufactured, and dismantled: Steel to steel. Plastic to plastic. Products of consumption--tires, brake pads, fiuids, fuel--releasing beneficial substances into the environment instead of toxins like asbestos and antimony. Products of service--steel, plastics, glass--melted down and reincarnated at the same level of service, or even higher.

"We're not interested in acceptable levels--in minimal impact," McDonough says, his words hypnotic, like a Buddhist chant, lulling his listeners into a state of wordless comprehension. "We're not interested in being less bad. We're interested in being 100 percent good. We don't want to minimize waste--we want to eliminate the idea of waste. Imagine an automobile plant that is 100 percent powered by solar energy, or that even produces excess energy. Imagine a motorcycle made of magnesium powered by electricity produced by wind power. Ride the wind! How's that for marketing? Imagine waste that is delightful. Imagine brake pads in cars and shoe soles and cookware that produce children's health--and not cancer or Alzheimer's. Imagine a car that is alive--that poops--that leaves cylinders of solid nitrogen behind it that can be used as fertilizer in the field. That's not minimal, that's fecund. Now that's interesting."

Martie said...

Designing the Next
Industrial Revolution
A Talk by William McDonough
at Bioneers 2000


The following text is a transcription of a videotape which has been distributed widely in Ukiah. Copies have been personally delivered to the members of the Ukiah City Council, the Ukiah Planning Commission, the academic senate of the Mendocino College and the Mendocino College Board of Trustees, and (soon) the Mendocino Board of Supervisors.

For more about William McDonough check out his web site at

Kenny Ausubel (introducing Mr. McDonough):

. . . His projects range from Oberlin College where he has designed the Environmental Studies Building to Herman Miller and many other corporations.

More than revolutionizing the field of sustainable design, he's gone much further, penetrating the core of our industrial processes and products themselves, and developing the nontoxic alternatives for building materials., solvents, dies and production methods. It is the beating of the butterfly's wings that will dispel the gray haze and return blue skies. His work is now in play in some of the worlds largest corporations, Nike and Ford Motor Company

Nor does this mean a sack cloth and ashes life style. Bill shows us that we can have the same abundance that nature has created but without harm.

Recently appointed as the founding chairman of the new China-U.S. Center for sustainable development and he is aiming to transfer leapfrog technology to permit a petrochemical bypass, avoiding many of the horrific mistakes currently in place in the developed countries.

If there was a sudden attack of sanity in our political system Bill and Michael would probably be contracted to create a Marshal plan in government for the next industrial revolution.

Bill is a ground breaking educator, former dean of architecture at the University of Virginia, a professor there, founder of the Institute of Sustainable Design and Commerce, Professor at large at Cornell, Chairman of Second Nature, bringing sustainability curricula to universities, authored the Hanover Principles on Sustainable Design. Received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, Zero Population Leadership Award, and Time magazine name him a Hero of the Planet.

Here's one of the architects of a truly restorative future, William McDonough:

William McDonough:

I'm a designer. I want to talk about design itself because I think that design is the first sign of human intention and if you look around today at the tragedies in the making, you realize that the question is "Did we really intend for this to happen? Is this something that we designed?

We should look at some retroactive design assignments and realize that it is time for some new ones.

I'm going to ask you to join me as a designer. I am going to present you with the problem we are faced with and I going to ask you to help me solve them so you can see what we have to deal with every day.

Two fundamental questions for design

I can tell you this, there are two fundamental questions that we ask ourselves over and over when we are designing, and they are these:

How do we love all of the children of all species for all time? You notice that this is not how do we love our children. This is all of the children of all of the species for all time.

The other question is one that Wes Jackson has so eloquently asked, and that is: When do we become native to this place? When do we all become indigenous people?

Not many people consider themselves indigenous. I was at the Hanford Nuclear Plant, where they make the plutonium for the bombs, and they had some scientist there where they mark the ground where they bury the plutonium such that an extraterrestrial arriving 5000 years from now would not dare to dig. I call it the semiology of extreme danger. . . .

The .... tribe happened to be at the same conference and when they heard what the scientists were talking about they laughed and said: "Tell the scientists not to worry, we'll tell them where it is.!"

They weren't leaving. Why is it that we are always leaving?

There are many tragedies happening in the world today---plutonium, global warming, toxification, endocrine disruption. You realize that if we have this concern for all of the species for all time, how is that in Germany at this time, no mother's milk would be legal to sell on a store shelf?

How do you love all of the children if you toxify mother's milk?

So we need to look at these tragedies and realize that if we are designers, we have to take responsibility. We can't say it is not part of your plan that these things are going to happen. It is part of your de facto plan. It the thing that is happening because you have no plan.

And, you know, planning is most effective when it is practiced in advance.

We realize that we own these tragedies. We might as well have intended for them to occur. Essentially what we have done is become strategically tragic. Once you realize that our culture has adopted strategies of tragedy, perhaps its time to adopt strategies of change.

The is great humility in the search for strategies of change because we don't know what to do. Obviously we have great traditions that we can back to study, different peoples, indigenous people. But we don't know what to do .

Thomas Jefferson as a designer

If we look at this idea of strategy of change, you can go back in this western culture, to Thomas Jefferson. I was the dean at the University of Virginia and as such I had the great privilege to live in a house designed by Thomas Jefferson. If you spent five years living in a house designed by Jefferson, you think of this Jefferson as your architect. He clearly was my designer and I though about him and I'd say he was a pretty good architect. You know, he had a lot of other things on his mind, but he did pretty well. He also saw himself as a designer first.

You can see that in his home and his tombstone which he designed. On it, you will notice that it records only the things he designed. It says Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, Author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom (which matured into the Bill of Rights) and Father of the University of Virginia

Notice that he is only recording his legacy, not his activity. There is absolutely no mention of having been President of the United States, twice.

When the Exxon Valdeese goes down in Prince William Sound, the GNP goes up because there are so many people there cleaning up. What are we measuring? We are measuring activity, not legacy. This is not design.

If we look at the Declaration of Independence as a design, what is the design assignment of the Declaration of Independence. The document calls for " life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, free from remote tyranny. Imagine racking you brain for those three things that you would hold onto most fiercely, that you would become a revolutionary: Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness, free from remote tyranny,

We realize that this idea of freedom from remote tyranny caused them to become revolutionaries: Washington, Madison, Monroe, Jefferson, all within 60 miles of each other woke up every morning planning sedition.

I think it time for a new revolution.

We know that Jefferson, Franklin and the founding fathers were aware of the Iroquois nation and their confederacy. We know that Franklin spoke Mohawk, for example. If we look at the tradition there, you realize that the great peacemaker instructed that the make all decisions on behalf of the seventh generation, ?? says that we often forget the second half which is "even if it requires you to have skin as thick as the bark of the Pine." It means don't eat your seed corn.

Jefferson understood this, too. When he designed the federal government, another one of his small projects, he was looking at the idea of the federal bonding authority and what the terms should be and he decided that a federal bond should have the life of one generation. This was his logic in a letter to Madison in 1789:
He wrote: "The earth belongs to the living. No man may by natural right oblige the lands he occupies to debts greater than those that may be paid during his own lifetime. Because if he could, then the world would belong to the dead."

That was 1789.

If we look at his other designs: the Bill of Right, we can recognize, as Rachel Carson did, that none of the founding father would have suspected they would allow anybody to put toxins in a river that would destroy children's health, because they would never imagine that we would do such a thing.

If you look at the Bill of Rights today and you walk into a carpet manufacturer today and tell him: You have 16 know carcinogens in your carpet. And they say; It's not against the law.

Where are we here? If Jefferson were to return to day he would be calling for a Bill of Responsibility.

The idea that we have a full range of legal conditions which allow people to do these things is insane from a design perspective.

The Guardian and Commerce

According to Jane . . . ., Humans have evolved two syndromes for survival:: the guardian and commerce

The guardian is the state, the university, the knights of the round table, Commerce is business. The characteristics are completely different: The Guardian is very slow, very serious, it wants to preserve the public will, it reserves the right to kill. It can send rockets to Afghanistan, troops to the Gulf, It reserves the right to be duplicitous (the CIA is legal) and it shuns commerce. As a dean if you came to me and said you had a million bucks, put my kid in school, I'd say "We can't have this conversation."

Commerce, on the other hand, is very quick, it very inventive, and it's honest, because you can't do business for someone very long unless you are honest. And so these two conditions are fundamentally different. When you put the tow together you get a monstrous hybrid. If you put commerce into the Guardian, you corrupt it. If you put the guardian into commerce you slow it down.

What is a regulation: A regulation from a design perspective is a pure signal of design failure. It's the Guardian stepping in and saying "Wait a minute, you want to put cadmium in this river and kill children's brains downstream. We never gave you the right to kill. We reserve that to ourselves. We'll tell you a what rate you can dispense death.

From a design perspective, a regulation is a sign of design failure.

What do we call someone who is trying to defeat a regulation and is not being punished. The words betray the act itself: We say they are "getting away with murder." Indeed.

Jefferson's third design, the University of Virginia, is still there. He got a lot of complaints form the legislature that his ten professors were always arguing with each other. They didn't understand that. He said, "In revolutionary times and in education, we require the fierce clash of ideas."

From Natural Rights to the Rights of Nature

If Jefferson was talking about natural rights, then we need to talk about the rights of nature. And if you look at the tradition of rights as Jefferson did, of Anglo Saxons, it was noble males, and his Declaration of Independence, 1776, it was white, land-owning protestant males of a certain age, only 6% of the population. Emancipation, women suffrage, native Americans, the civil rights acts of the 60s, and then in 1973 was the first time human being gave something other than humans the right to live, with the Endangered Species Act.

Well if you look around today you realize that the question now is the rights of nature and the endangered ecosystem. Look what's going on with the Everglades.

And so we need to understand what nature is, and in 1838, Emerson engaged this question, just at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. His question at Harvard was: If humans are natural, are therefore all things done by humans part of nature?

His conclusion was that nature is those things that are immutable, what he called the unchangeable essences, the things that are to big for humans to effect. And his examples were the oceans, the mountains and the leaves. Well, we now understand that we can effect these things, and the whole concept of "away" has gone away. Remember, you used to be able to throw things away?

So we need a new design, but what is design?

In 1831 Emerson's wife died and he went to Europe on a sail boat and he returned on a steam ship. If we extract this for effect, he went over on a wind power, recyclable craft, operated by craft people practicing ancient arts in the open air, and he came back on a steel rust bucket putting smoke in the sky, oil on the water, operated by people working in the dark, shoveling fossil fuels into the mouths of boilers.

The funny think is that we are still designing steam ships. We are here. The sun is shinning gloriously outside, and we are here in the dark, shoveling fossil fuels into the mouths of boilers and creating nuclear isotopes so we can sit here and talk about global warming and nuclear isotopes.

We need a new design.

It's what I call a vote for Thoreau, because all sustainability, like politics, is local. Thoreau didn't travel very much. When he was asked why he didn't travel much he said, "What do you mean? I've traveled widely in Concord."

All sustainability will be local. Who's going to do this then? Who's going to lead? You are.

Peter. . . at the Sloan School of Management asks the CEOs who come in for the Learning Laboratory: Who is the leader on a ship crossing the ocean? The answers he gets are the captain, the navigator, etc. He says, No, it's the designer of the ship, because you could be the best captain in the world but if the ship is not seaworthy, you are going down.

We need a new design. Designers must become leaders; leaders must become designers.

Personal background

I was a born in 1951 in Tokyo, Japan. I grew up in Hong Kong. When I was a little kid, my mother would take me to the money changer to change my Dad's pay check, and I would be at eye level with an 80 year old woman holding a dying or dead baby for begging sympathy. This is what happens when you have 6 million people living on 40 square miles and no water. And I thought this was ordinary life.

I spent my summers in Puget Sound. My grandfather had been a lumberjack cutting down the old growth. He and some friends won the Yukon lottery and he went out an bough a thousand acres of old growth and built a log cabin and lived there with my grandmother, raised oysters, traded raspberries for flowers with he neighbors, composted, put things away for the winter, and I thought that was ordinary life. This incredible abundance.

Then in the early 60s by father became the president of Seagram Oversees. We moved to New York. That's when we built the Seagram Building. I lived in Westport Connecticut, the third richest town in America, where 16 year olds have Porches. And I thought that was ordinary life. I didn't get to do that, I had to dive a hardware truck, because my Dad was a depression baby. Thanks Dad!

Then I went to Dartmouth College, and then I went to Yale and while I was at Yale Architecture School, I built the first solar heated house in Ireland. That should give you a sense of my ambition. There is no sun in Ireland.

In the early 80s I was asked by the environmental Fund to design the new national headquarters. Fred Kropp, their executive director at the end of the contract negotiations: By the way if anyone in our office gets sick form indoor air quality, we're going to sue you.

So I spoke to our attorney's, and I asked, what does this really mean. He said it's called negligence. It means that you know better and you do it anyway, and I said, well great, we have no problem: We don't know anything?

And neither did anybody else apparently, because we went around and found a couple of people , one in Colorado and another in Connecticut. We started calling manufacturers and asking what's in your carpets, your glues, your particle boards and they all said "It's proprietary, it's legal, go away.

But we're still at it. We now work with about a half trillion dollars worth of companies. We're asking the same question.

In 1987, I was asked by a member of the Jewish community in New York to design a memorial of the holocaust at Auschwitz, a place for the Jews to pray. I went to Berkinow at Auschwitz, I stood in the center of Berkinow, a mile in diameter two miles in circumference, and I realized that engineers and architects had come together to design a giant killing machine. If design is the first signal of human intention then this was signal of the worst of human intention. And I thought to myself, at what point does a designer say: Wait a minute. You're asking me to do this? They design a gate that says "The work shall set you free.", and the engineers design a rail head that brings people in on cattle cars to be taken out on one side where they will be taken into gas chambers and exposed Cyclon B being developed by E. J. Farbe and Chemical Works. Then some of their skin would be stripped, gold would be removed from their mouths, their hair might be taken for stuffing of mattresses, and then their corpses would be taken to the crematorium, where German engineers were calculating how to most effectively and efficiently stack the human corpse, depending on fat content, so that it would burn most efficiently.

And if you came out on the other side of this car you were taken to a slave labor camp and you were forced to work for E. J. Farbe Chemical works. And do you know that all of the cosmetics you are wearing in this room were tested in human eyes at Auschwitz.

At what point does a designer say, I can 't do this kind of work. Not only can I not do this kind of work, I can't even participated. Not only that I have to rail against it. Wait a minute, I have to revolt against this. I have to go to war. I have to become a revolutionary.

I got back to New York. We were designing Paul Stewart's Men's store. I looked at our specifications and I realized that without being able to do very much about it, I was designing a gas chamber. We're sitting it one right now. These fabrics that you sit on contain antibodies, carcinogenic heavy metals. Don't squirm!

Designing the Last Industrial Revoltuion (A "retroactive design assignment")

I realized that if I looked at the first industrial revolution as a design assignment, it would have to look like this. And while i give this assignment to you now - You are all the designers - I want you to think about Berkinow. Think about Auschwitz. Think about designers intention.

I would like you to design an industrial system for world culture that treats nature as its enemy to be evaded or controlled; that measures prosperity by how much of the can be cut down, bury, burn or otherwise destroy, which measures productivity by how few people are working, progress by the number of smokestacks---If you are especially proud, put your names on them; destroy biological and cultural diversity at every turn with one size fits all solutions; require thousands of complex regulations to keep people from killing each other too quickly; and while you are at it, produce a few things so highly toxic that it will require thousands of generations to maintain constant vigilance while living in terror. Can you do this for me?

Welcome to this morning.

It's time for a new design assignment.

The Hanover Principles of Sustainable Design

In 1991, I was commissioned by the town of Hanover, Germany, along with my firm and friends, to write the Hanover Principles. The same culture that created the worst of human intentions---the Germans had gone to a deeply dark place in the 40s---was asking what would the best of human intentions look like. And so we wrote these principles:

1) Insist on the rights of humanity and nature to coexist. This is not please hope that they will.

2) Recognize interdependence. Expand design consideration to recognize even distant effects.

3) Respect the relationship between spirit and matter.

Now the Germans tried to get rid of this one. It was number 8 at the time. I said, wait a minute, all the native people who looked at this said there was only one principle and it was this one. The rest come form here. So why don't we make it number 5. They said, you don't understand, we're trying to remove it. It's too fuzzy. I said, why don't we make it number 3. Do you see where we are going? They said, OK, number 3, It's fine. So there it is: number 3.

I work for businesses, and I remember calling the Chairman of Monsanto to say that we need a conference on the ethics of genetic engineering and he asked why does the spirit-matter connection matter? Well think about this from a business perspective. If you cross bt with plants in soy and so on, what have you done? You crossed the animal kingdom with the plant kingdom, something that God never tried to do. At what point is the world's largest market, Hindu, unable to eat American food? When can you no longer be a vegetarian? That's a business question. Six weeks later, they started burning Monsanto crops in India.

How about the human genone project? Do you know that they put the human genone into swine to get medical serum for humans. That's very interesting. What happens to the pigs? Did you eat human genone for breakfast this morning? Do you think someone might want to ask you if you want to be a cannibal? Does it matter?

4) Accept responsibility for the consequences of design.

5) Create safe objects of long-term value. Don't tyrannize the future.

6) Eliminate the concept of waste. I think this is the one that rang true for most people. This is not minimize waste. This is not efficiency. Remember this is 1991. This is before Factor 4. This was when eco-efficiency was about to be launched at the Earth Summit. Instead, this is to eliminate the whole concept of waste.

7) Rely on natural energy flows. Nature doesn't mortgage the past or the future.

8) Understand the limitations of design. Be humble

9) Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge.

Einstein and Growth

Think of Einstein as a poet. Now imagine the sun is energy, it's physics; the earth is mass, it's chemistry'; and the two come together, c squared, and guess what happens, magic, we get biology, the single photosynthetic cell, our common ancestor. It becomes sentient and it develops spiritual consciousness. Isn't that amazing! And then all heaven breaks loose on the planetary surface. All of the sudden we have more and more niches being created occupied by more and more species and it is fecund and it grows and grows, and growth is good!

Now, ask a 6 year old if growth is good.

The debate today between commerce and the environmentalists today is growth versus no-growth. What a ridiculous debate. Commerce is saying that they have to have growth for the interests of commerce and the environmentalists are saying that growth is destroying the world. But isn't the question really: What do you want to grow?

Wouldn't we rather grow prosperity and not ignorance? Wouldn't we rather grow intelligence and not stupidity? Wouldn't we rather grow health and not sickness? What do we want to grow? Growth is good.

Our design criteria

The criteria we use are different than most people. We use Cost, performance and aesthetics, the same one everybody uses. But we the next three we add: Is it ecologically intelligent? Is it fair? And is it fun?

It is interesting that the other day I was with Michael Dell of Dell Computers, because Dell is adopting our protocols, which should be quite interesting. I was looking at our design criteria and I said, isn't that amazing, I just realized something: Ecological intelligence is Life, justice is liberty, and fun is the pursuit of happiness! And Michael Dell said, you know, you and Jefferson are interesting people but you forgot the most important thing. I said, really, what's that? BANDWIDTH!

OK, if waste equals food, everything is nutrient, and if everything is a nutrient it belong (?) in a metabolism. What are the metabolisms of the world? Well there is the one of life itself, we call the biological one, and there is the technical one. And so we design to go into these cycles.

A biological product is something you can consume. It goes back to soil. We have to rebuild our soils. It takes 10,000 years to build an inch of soil.

Other products we call products of service. You want the service not the ownership. If I had a TV hiding behind this podium and I told you I had an amazing object that provides incredible service, but before tell you what it does, let me tell you what it is and then you tell me whether you want this is your house: It has 10,360 chemicals, it's full of toxic heavy metals, has an explosive glass tube and we think you ought to put it at eye level with your children and encourage them to play with it. Do you want this in our house?

Why are we selling people hazardous waste? What you want is to watch TV, not own hazardous materials. We call these products of service. You want to design them so they go back to the same industry from whence they came.

But the idea of designing for durablilty is insane at this point. If I told you that I just bought a computer and it was going to last me for 25 years, you would say: You are an idiot!

What I want is the service of this computer until new chip are developed or whatever. A computer should be designed to go back and back forever, instead of destroying the world.

This is not eco-efficiency. We got into a lot of trouble with the environmental world because we say ecoefficiency is a dead end. What does ecoefficiency mean from a design perspective: You wake up in the morning feeling 100% bad; you spend your day trying to feel less bad and your goal is zero.

Show graph here.

Can you imagine Thomas Jefferson putting that on his tombstone?

The problem with ecoefficiency is that you run out of steam. Monsanto can reduce its toxic emissions by 90% over 5 years. That's very nice but there still two questions: What were you doing in the first place? And now that we are worried about endocrine disruption, our concern went from parts per million to parts per trillion. So while you have reduced the pollution by a factor of ten its danger was increased by a factor of 1000s so now you have a new 100%, and a Zeno's paradox, and you're never going to get there. I can leave here and go north to Canada or south to Mexico. If I find myself going 100 miles per hour towards Canada, but I'm supposed to be going to Mexico, it's not going to help me to slow down to 20 miles per hour.

(For a fuller critique of ecoefficiency, see the Article in Atlantic Monthly by McDonough, et. al.)

You see nature's not efficient. You don't look at a cherry tree in the spring and say: Oh, my God, how many blossoms does it take! I mean, can you imagine Mozart being efficient. He would hit the keyboard with a 2 X 4: Bong! Got 'em! All the keys at once!

There's nothing about efficiency that we humans delight in. Can you imagine an efficient Italian dinner: a little red pill and a glass of water.

So what we want to do is celebrate the abundance of the natural world. We want those cherry blossoms to become trees; we want to close our cycles. It's too bad the first industrial revolution was invented by northern Presbyterians; They have to bury everything, including their emotions. (Laughter) Those are my people: It's OK. What we are looking at is the celebration of abundance instead of the lowering of limits.

Let's just imagine we are 10% sustaining and we want to go to be 100% sustaining. You notice I'm not saying "sustainable." When I won the award from Clinton at the White House, the press all came up and said: "Oh, Mr. Sustainable, what does it all mean?" and I said I'm not that interested in sustainability, really, because if it is just the edge between destruction and regeneration, if sustainability is just a kind of maintenance, is this exciting? If I were to ask if you were married and you said yes, and I asked, What is the relationship to your spouse like, and you said, Oh, ah, sustainable. Who cares. What we are looking for is fecundity, sex, children, movement.

Anyway, at least this way we have to imagine what 100% good looks like which is different from just trying to keep the world going in a way that is less bad.

So here's the science part of the talk; (shows graph). We're using too much stuff over time. We see this tragedy. We say Oh my God we're using too much stuff over time so we have to use less stuff over time. Well that's nice, except no business person is trained to like this chart. and on top of that it doesn't change the story.

This means that by being more efficient, Mitshubishi can make twice as many cardboard boxes out of the trees in Indonesia. That's very nice, but does it change the story. It still good bye to the trees in Indonesia.

Gregory Bateson in Mind and Nature when he was coining the term cybernetics, asked the computer a question: He said: Tell me computer, when do you think computers will begin to think like humans? There is a long pause, and finally the computer says, "That reminds me of a story."

Well what is the story? Let's change time to stuff, stuff to intelligence, make the line time, and then watch this: Over time, we are using too much stuff, but we are getting smarter and smarter, and using less and less stuff, and we have sequestered materials for human use in techical or biological cycles and we can leave the rest of the world alone.

What has happened is between capitalism and socialism, we have a social market economy, but any extreme positiion, and ism, Naziism, sexism is a dangerous thing.. Does efficiency have any value? Ask the philosopher. Does it have any value? No. An efficient Nazi is worse then and inefficient Nazi.

So what we are looking for is effectiveness. What we want to do is the right thing. What is that? If it were just a social market economy, we realize that the capitlist will destroy the world: they cut down the trees and destroy the fish . socialists will destroy the world because as Alexi ..., Russia's chief scientist tells us, Russia is now 16% uninhabitable. They call it ecocide. That's an area the size of Texas.

And ecologism would be just as dangerous. If I said, you must go solar. What am I saying? Make your neighbors nervous because you are about to put ugly heavy metal rectangles on your roof, learn electrical engineering, take high technology risks, negotiate with your local energy monopoly and do something completely uneconomic. Go for it!

So what we are really looking for are things that bring things together. We have developed the famous triad of sustainable development. When we talk to our commercial clients we use a design tool we call a fractal triad.

Above: the "Fractile Triad"
More about the Fractal Triad

((more to come: there are a few more minutes of this tape, concerned with the diagram above and with projects, some of which are listed below.))


New Environmental Studies Building at Oberliln College

Redesigning the River Rouge: $2 billion, 20 year redesign of the Ford Motor Company plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

More about changes at Ford

"My sister told me the other day that I'm sounding more and more like a '60s idealist. But there's one big difference. In the '60s we could see a lot of environmental problems emerging, but we didn't have the solutions. Now the technologies are coming onstream so fast that the solutions really are in our grasp. I have not been half as outspoken in the past as I intend to be in the future."

Henry Ford, III