Photograph of William McDonough
William McDonough was first introduced to closed loop material cycles while growing up in Japan and Hong Kong. He was born in Tokyo on February 20, 1951.

William McDonough is an architect and a globally recognized leader in sustainable design development. He was the inaugural chair of the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on the Circular Economy and currently serves on the Forum’s Global Future Council on the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security. For more than 40 years, McDonough has defined the principles of the sustainability movement.

McDonough has written and lectured extensively on design as the first signal of human intention. He was commissioned to write The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability as guidelines for the City of Hannover’s EXPO 2000, and he is co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002), and its follow up, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability-Designing for Abundance (2013).

McDonough also shared a “New Language of Carbon,” which illustrates a values-based terminology that recognizes carbon as an asset, rather than a toxin, and the life-giving carbon cycle as a model for human designs. He recently articulated the Circular Carbon Economy, a framework for carbon management, and presented the concept at G20, 2020 workshops. He is a Distinguished Research Professor at KAUST focused on Circular Carbon Economy.

McDonough is the architect of many notable landmark buildings in the sustainability movement including Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan; Herman Miller’s GreenHouse factory and offices in Holland, Michigan; Hero MotoCorp’s Garden Factory in Neemrana, India; Nike’s European headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands; and the Gap’s corporate campus at 901 Cherry in San Bruno, California – now YouTube’s headquarters. His architecture and community design practice, William McDonough + Partners, continues to design major projects for leading corporate, not-for-profit, and residential clients.

McDonough also advises commercial and governmental leaders worldwide through McDonough Innovation, as well as MBDC, the Cradle to Cradle Design consulting firm he co-founded. He also co-founded two not-for-profit organizations to increase public accessibility to Cradle to Cradle thinking: GreenBlue (2000), to convene industry groups around Cradle to Cradle issues; and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (2009), to expand the rigorous product certification program. He co-founded and launched Fashion for Good (2017), a joint-apparel initiative which articulates and supports McDonough’s Five Goods based on Cradle to Cradle Design™.

McDonough received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development (1996), the first U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (2003), and the National Design Award. More recently, he received the 2017 Fortune Award for Circular Economy Leadership in Davos. In 2019 Fortune magazine named him one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and Time magazine recognized him as a “Hero for the Planet,” noting: “His utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that—in demonstrable and practical ways—is changing the design of the world.”


  • Yale University, Master of Architecture, 1976
  • Dartmouth College, Bachelor of Arts (Visual Studies), Magna cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1973


  • American Institute of Architects
    • Fellow
    • Committee on the Environment, Founding Member
  • American Society of Landscape Architects, Honorary Membership
  • Royal Institute of British Architects, International Fellow
  • Urban Land Institute, Fellow
  • U.S. Green Building Council, Charter Member

Selected Honors and Awards

  • World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, Fortune Magazine, 2019
  • Award for Circular Economy Leadership, World Economic Forum, 2017
  • US Green Building Council Leadership Award, 2016
  • J.N. Darling Conservation Award, National Wildlife Federation, 2014
  • Rachel Carson Environmental Award, National Products Award, 2013
  • 21st Century Visionary Science Leadership Award, U.S. EPA, 2008
  • Presidential Green Chemistry Award (for work with Shaw Industries/Berkshire Hathaway) President George W. Bush, 2004
  • Benjamin Botwinick Prize for Ethical Practice in the Professions, Columbia University Business School, 2003
  • Hero for the Planet, Time Magazine, 1999
  • United States Presidental Award for Sustainable Development President Clinton, 1996
  • National Design Award, The Smithsonian Institution, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 2004


  • University of Virginia
    • Dean, School of Architecture and Edward E. Elson Endowed Chair, 1994–1999
    • Darden School of Business, Alumni Research Chair, Visiting Executive Lecturer, 1999–present
  • King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
    • Distinguished Research Professor, 2020–present
  • Stanford University
    • Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Consulting Professor  2004–2021
    • Stanford University Libraries Living Archive of William McDonough, 2012–present
  • University of Cambridge
    • Sustainability Leadership Council, Founding Member, 2007–present
  • Yale University
    • School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Leadership Council, 2002–present
  • Arizona State University
    • International Board of Trustees for Sustainability, 2007–present
  • Instituto de Empresa
    • Eco-Intelligent Management Center, Chair, 2004–2006
  • Cornell University
    • A.D. White Professor-at-Large, 1999–2004
  • Tongji University
    • Honorary Professor, 2004


World Economic Forum

  • Commissioner, The Global Commission on BiodiverCities, 2021–present
  • Member, Global Advisory Board of Scale360°, 2020–present
  • Member, Global Future Council on Biodiversity and the Bio-economy, 2018-present
  • Member, Global Future Council on the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security, 2016-2017
  • Chair, MetaCouncil on the Circular Economy, 2014-2016
  • Chair, Global Agenda Council, Future of Sustainable Construction, 2008–2009
  • Cultural Leader, 2002–2008
  • Member, Global Agenda Council on Design, 2010

United Nations

  • Sustainable Development Goals
    • Presenter and Panel Participant, 2014
  • The Earth Summit: Conference on the Environment & Development
    • Official Representative for Architecture and City Planning, International Union of Architects and the American Institute of Architects (dual role), Rio de Janeiro, 1992
    • Official Representative, New York 1992

China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development

  • U.S. Chair Emeritus of the Board of Councilors, 2009–present
  • U.S. Chair and Member of the Board of Councilors, 1999 – 2009

Corporate Leadership

  • Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, Advisory Council 2018–present
  • Walmart, External Advisory Council, 2009–2013
  • SAP CEO Sustainability Advisory Panel, member, 2011–2012
  • General Electric, Ecomagination, Board of Advisors, 2008–2009
  • Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Advisory Board, 2004–2014
  • VantagePoint Capital Partners, Senior Advisor, 2004–2015
  • Cherokee Sustainability Advisory Council, member, 2004–present

Non-Profit Leadership

  • Fashion for Good, Co-Founder, 2017
  • Clinton Global Initiative, Advisor, 2013–2016
  • Cherokee-McDonough Challenge, Advisor, 2012–present
  • Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, Co-Founder, 2009
  • Healthy Child Healthy World, Advisory Board 2006–2011
  • Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Co-Founder, 2005
  • GreenBlue, Co-Founder, 2002
  • H.John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, Board of Trustees, 2001–2004
  • President’s Council on Sustainable Development, Special Advisor to President Clinton, 1993–1996
  • W. Alton Jones Foundation, Board of Trustees, 1992–1996
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