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Renewable Matter Interviews William McDonough

In a Renewable Matter Magazine interview, “Upcycle and the Atomic Bomb”, William McDonough and Emanuele Bompan discuss the Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things.  McDonough reflects on how we became an unsustainable civilization and how a circular economy, based on good design, is the solution.

Bompan: Design plays a central role. 

McDonough: “Design is the first signal of human intention. Without the intention actions don’t necessarily begin. So the first act is to represent your values. Human values. Such as ‘we will not destroy the planet for future generation, because we believe in a healthy and safe world.’ And you apply those to your business: This is the upcycle. Deciding to become 100% good. And mean it.

“Look at chart of constant improvement (see image below). You decided, ‘yes I want to be less bad,’ but being less bad is not being good. It is being bad, just less so. Upcycling, instead, is being less bad and at the same time being more good. Typically, upcycle is a qualification, not just a quantification (such as ‘I doless bad stuff’). Recycle is not upcycle because the transformation is not really improving the quality, making it more complex and less able to be beautiful. Downcycling: mix it with something that can’t be recovered cleanly. Upcycling: bring it back into the system for next use and increase the quality. Putting it back in the world. This is upcycle. Something that is better than before.”

MBDC, LLC 2015Bompan: A culture of waste born, imbued of consumer capitalism. How can we shift this approach and say: upcycle?

“Designers are terribly optimistic about things. The world of the arts is looking with intensity at details, they see things deeply. It’s the wonder, it deliciousness, beauty. Gods is in the details. These are drivers. On the other hand, we have specialist learning more and more of less and less, for them devil is in the details, a detail that can debunk a theory. It is not the wonderment, it is a focused understating. Something that can change design and the business is asking the right question: how can something beautiful destroy children’s health? Or the planet? If I make the finest silk in a factory and pollute the river, you can’t say I am providing the fashion industry with the most beautiful silk.”

A journalist and urban geographer, Bompan has been involved with environmental journalism since 2008.  To read the full interview, visit