UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

An International Exchange Student Perspective on the Genius of William McDonough

August 25, 2011 By Joel Thomas

McDonoughBy Miroslav Šulc, undergraduate exchange student from the University of Economics in Prague, Spring 2011

One of the highlights of my exchange at UNC Kenan-Flagler business school was a lecture by William McDonough, an environmental architect, co-author of the book Cradle to Cradle, and with no doubt the first true genius I have witnessed in my life.

William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the German chemist, co-authored the book Cradle to Cradle to change the common understanding of sustainability and design. The lecture itself was focused on sharing their basic ideas and to convince others that we must take action to actively shape the future of our planet.

The basic idea of Cradle to Cradle is that reducing emissions or waste by 50% isn’t enough. Not even 90% is enough. The goal should be a completely closed loop of production and recycling, and complete elimination of the idea of waste. “Growth is good, but instead of growing destruction, we should grow things we can actually enjoy“. McDonough states that nature itself is the best designer of all. Take, for example the design of a tree. Are you able to design something that “makes oxygen, fixes nitrogen, creates a microclimate, filters water, makes complex sugars and food, stores solar energy, changes color with seasons, and self-replicates?“

You might say that you have already heard ideas like these, but the biggest difference is that William McDonough actually takes action to realize his dreams and ideas. By creating self-sustaining buildings that create more power than they need to operate and purify their own water, he shows us that the only key element we lacked to realize green design is ambition. If you still are not convinced about the genius of this charismatic man, there was a point during the lecture, when my jaw literary dropped. He and his colleagues are designing the concept of a “whole sustainable city” for the Chinese government. How cool is that?

I can barely scratch the surface of all the ideas presented during the lecture in this short article, but you can view his conversation with Thomas Darden, CEO of Cherokee Investments Partners, which took place before his public address, on the UNC Kenan-Flagler YouTube Channel. And if you visit the website of his design group www.mcdonoughpartners.com, you will find more amazing ideas.