The Guardian’s Jim Witkin published an interview with William McDonough this week.
Upcycling: making design effective, sustainable and values-driven
Emphasis should shift from minimising negative footprints, to designing for a beneficial footprint
McDonough says some low-energy bulbs shouldn’t be seen as effective because they contain toxins like mercury, making it difficult to recycle them. Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty
Designer, adviser and author William McDonough wants us to think differently about how we design our products, buildings and urban environments.
McDonough, who often sports a bow tie, has the look of a professor. He speaks softly even as he discusses some very weighty topics. “Design is the first signal of human intention,” he told me in a recent interview, “and if our intention is to destroy the planet, we’re doing a great job.”
Instead, he proposes the design process should align with our human values, always striving to improve the world for future generations. “Design should be regenerative, and always consider what’s next” for the materials used.
Cradle to cradle
McDonough, and his partner, German chemist Michael Braungart, first articulated these concepts in their 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things. They suggested that all materials used in manufacturing and commercial processes should be viewed as nutrients, either biological or technical.
Using these nutrients, manufacturers could create “completely healthful products that are either returned to the soil or flow back to industry forever”, they wrote. To make their point, the book itself was made from a technical nutrient, a synthetic paper made of non-toxic plastic resins.
The book became an influential work on sustainable development and green design. In 2007, Time Magazine hailed McDonough and Braungart as “heroes of the planet”.
Then came the Cradle-to-Cradle certification system, which evaluates a product’s materials (down to the molecular level), energy and water usage, and social factors involved in making and using it. More than 400 products have been certified, from bricks to babies’ nappies to shipping containers used by the US Postal Service. Puma, the sportswear manufacturer, recently released a line of C2C-certified shoes and clothing that are either fully biodegradable or recyclable.
In 2010, they made their certification system and intellectual property publicly available through the non-profit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.
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