Last week we began exploring circular design with the work of Albin Kälin. He is the CEO of the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) in Switzerland. Kälin is a leading practitioner of circular design based in Europe. Next, we will look at another circular design exemplar, William McDonough. He is the founding principal of the firm William McDonough + Partners, with offices in Charlottesville, VA and San Francisco, CA, in addition to many other business interests.
"The eco-effective future of industry is a world of abundance that celebrates the use and consumption of products and materials that are, in effect, nutritious - as safe, effective, and delightful as a cherry tree." - William McDonough
The linear approach to the consumption of world resources is an unsustainable long-term approach. As collective stakeholders, we must work quickly to have more designers practice the circular design methodology. Our current disposable economy negatively impacts the poor while the wealthiest few become richer, often at the expense of others. We need to shift quickly to become better stewards of our natural resources.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is an approach to realizing an eco-effective future. The book by McDonough and Michael Braungart provides an overview of the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) philosophy written by those who developed the methodology. The content integrates design and science in a way that helps the reader understand the benefits to society. In addition, the book guides organizations in the necessary shift away from the Industrial Revolution manufacturing model that has historically resulted in up to 90% waste of often toxic materials.
The work of McDonough and Braungart to develop the Cradle to Cradle methodology is cyclical with two classifications: biological cycle and technology cycle. Those that are biological are naturally biodegradable. Technological are chemicals, metals, and oil-based materials that can be reused or recycled in a closed system that produces equal or better quality. C2C is a practical, innovative, and quality design that is chemically safe and recyclable. The concept results in safe and potentially ongoing reuse of materials and nutrients cycles.
A third-party assessment is an opportunity to ensure that the design and manufacturing of products comply with C2C practices. William McDonough + Partner's sister company McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), is the creator and Accredited Assessor of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program. The certification is a science-based standard that supports the circular economy with the world's most advanced standard for the design and manufacturing of products. The resulting product assessment and certification include five categories:
1. Material health – Ensuring materials are safe for humans and the environment
2. Product circularity – Enabling a circular economy through product and process design
3. Clean air & climate protection – Generating clean energy and protecting the climate
4. Water & soil stewardship – Safeguarding air, water, and soil resources
5. Social fairness – Embracing safe, fair, and equitable labor practices that advance human rights and strong communities
The certification has five levels of product achievement, whereas gaining initial certification status requires meeting the minimum criteria level in all five categories. The criteria become progressively challenging as one moves through each level of achievement.
Bill Ford Jr., Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman, enlisted the design services of McDonough to transform the Rouge Complex. A once wetland area had become a brownfield site of massive scope. McDonough led a project that reworked the 70-year-old site to one that became a model for environmental stewardship in the manufacturing industry. All manufacturing processes were evaluated and redesigned to eliminate waste throughout the plant. The results of high-performance design results in:
1. A healthier overall environment
2. Attracting high-caliber employees
3. Decreased annual maintenance
4. Healthy work environments
5. Higher levels of employee productivity
6. Significant reduction in the use of toxic or difficult-to-recycle materials
7. Setting a higher standard for manufacturing operations
What was once a harmful environment to all living creatures is now a "home for birds and bees and thousands of trees."
The linear approach to the consumption of world resources is not a sustainable long-term approach. As collective stakeholders, we need to work quickly to have more people join the Cradle to Cradle methodology movement. A society with too many impoverished global citizens will increase if we do not shift away from our current disposable economy. Likewise, we need to move quickly to become better stewards of our natural resources.
I encourage those interested in the topic of C2C to watch one of many TED talks by McDonough. In Cradle to Cradle Design, McDonough provides an additional opportunity to learn more about the benefits of adopting C2C. He hits the point hard from the beginning with an example of a rubber duck. It comes with a label: "This product contains chemicals known by the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm." Again, an example of products regularly designed in our current world that must become a relic of the past.
I continue to be grateful for sustainability exemplars like William McDonough. His work began with designing the first green office for the Environmental Defense Fund in 1984. His work in the subsequent years is legendary. Support for this platitude is his recognition by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 world's most outstanding leaders in 2019.
Next week's blog will continue to look at the benefits of the biomimicry design approach that aligns with the humanist manufacturing framework.
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