DAVID SKORTON: Welcome, everyone. What a terrific turnout. It's important that we have a good turnout for a very important topic like this and for a very distinguished speaker. I know that you're going to enjoy this very much.
It's the eve of Earth Day, 2009. And I'm delighted to welcome you to Cornell's premier annual event on the environment, the Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture. I especially want to welcome and thank our distinguished speaker today, who's a very well-known sustainable design expert, William McDonough, who is a principal of William McDonough and Partners, as this year's Iscoll lectureship. And Frank DiSalvo is going to do a complete job of introducing our honored speaker. But I wanted to welcome you to Cornell.
Each year, a faculty committee from a cross-section of academic disciplines selects the Iscoll Distinguished Environmental lecturer. The first lecturer in April, 1999, was F Sherwood Rowland, a Nobel laureate in chemistry who is credited with discovering the link between CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons, and ozone depletion in the atmosphere, something that's part of the conventional wisdom now. The following year, the second lecture, we heard from two distinguished members of our own Cornell faculty, professors Tom Eisner and Jerrold Meinwald, founders of the field of chemical ecology and pioneers in the search for naturally-occurring medications.
Since then, we've heard from many others who are working at the frontiers of scientific inquiry and environmental policy and who have raised our awareness of the science and the issues related to the problems facing our planet, from global poverty to the loss of biodiversity to the perilous state of the world's oceans, among many other topics. I want to recognize Jill and Ken Iscol in absentia for establishing the Distinguished Environmental Lecture program, which has enriched the intellectual life of the university for a decade and has now become one of the most significant and widely-recognized environmental lectureships in the country.
Jill, a political fundraiser and activist, is also president of the IF Hummingbird Foundation, which supports domestic and global efforts to strengthen democracy by reducing economic and educational disparities and promoting social Justice. Ken, a 1960 graduate of our ILR School, has owned and operated mobile and personal communications businesses for more than three decades. Jill and Ken were early partners in the former Cornell Center for the Environment and have been longtime promoters of sustainability efforts and stewardship on campus.
In addition to this lectureship, the Iscols support Cornell's Johnson Museum of Art, the College of Human Ecology, where they have established a second campus lectureship to bring community leaders to campus to teach their models of success to students and faculty. And now, it's my pleasure to turn the program over to Frank DiSalvo, the Johnny Newman Professor of Physical Sciences in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and the director of the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future.
As many of you know, the goal of the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future, under Frank's able leadership, is to leverage, coordinate, and amplify the efforts of Cornell faculty, staff, and students across the university who are working in some aspects of sustainability and to foster collaboration with a wide range of external partners. Frank has provided the leadership to the center to get us moving in the right direction, picked really excellent associate directors. And Frank, would you please come forward and introduce this year's Iscol Distinguished Lectureship?
FRANK DISALVO: Thank you, President Skorton. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the 11th Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture. It's my great pleasure to introduce Mr. William McDonough, this year's Iscol lecturer. It's already been a great day, with Mr. McDonough talking to groups of students in classes. He took part in a well-attended panel discussion. He met with graduate students during the lunch, as well as faculty in roundtable discussions, and all of this after arriving very late last night because of travel complications. So I assume he's running on the last little bit of nervous energy left.
Anyway, we're very excited to hear his prepared remarks. But before we do that, I'd like to tell you a little bit about his background. Growing up, he lived around the world. He lived in Japan. He lived in Hong Kong, and Montreal, and then ended up in Connecticut.
He was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude in 1973. He studied architecture at Yale University, receiving a degree of master of architecture in 1976. He founded William McDonough and Partners, Architecture and Community Design, in 1981.
He and his firm have thrived, winning many awards that I will soon mention. In addition to leading his firm, in 1994, he became the dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, a position he held until 1999. He remains a professor in that department and in the School of Business at the same university to this day. He is also a consulting professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. And he was an AD White Professor-at-Large here at Cornell from 1999 to 2005.
As I said, Mr. McDonough and his firm have won numerous awards. And I'm only going to mention some of them here. He has won not one, not two, but three US presidential awards, the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development in 1996, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2003, and the National Design Award in 2004.
In 1999, Time Magazine recognized him as a Hero of the Planet. In 2007, Time Magazine again called Mr. McDonough and his collaborator, Michael Braungart, Heroes of the Environment. He was also awarded the Benjaman Botwinick Prize for Ethical Practices in the profession by the Columbia University Business School in 2003. He will now be able to add the Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lectureship to his many honors. His presentation this afternoon is entitled "Cradle to Cradle Design." So please share with me a warm welcome for Mr. McDonough.
WILLIAM MCDONOUGH: Thank you so much. Well, it's a privilege to be here. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you so much for the introduction. I'm a big fan of Cornell. I should say my wife went to Cornell, graduated in 1985. She sends her regards.
I'm here tonight to talk about a celebration of abundance, something lived and something dreamed. And I think the difference between what we're going to talk about tonight, in terms of cradle to cradle design and typical environmental design conversations, is that the world really needs to be seen as a place where abundance can be celebrated by all of us. And it becomes a question of human rights.
And if we can look through the lens of abundance, we can imagine that we have an abundant amount of clean energy, an abundant amount of clean water, an abundant social fairness, abundant materials that are safe and healthy, and not bemoan our limits and simply strive to eke out a meager existence with them. This is an important strategy, I think, as we go forward into the next century and look at the fact that our human population will increase and our resources will become strained and need to be put into close cycles by cradle to cradle design, something lived and something dreamed.
Now, I'd like to talk about design tonight as the first signal of human intention, because I think designers have intentions. We wake up in the morning with intentions. And the question has to be, what is our intention as a species at this point in history? Because the human species is the dominant species. And if we look at what happens in the world, we realize that we can control many of the situations that we find out there. 99% of the large mammals are under human management. We are absolutely and clearly the dominant species.
Now, if we look at how we're going to relate to that, I've come today from Charlottesville, Virginia, where I've had the privilege of being the dean of the University of Virginia School of architecture, of living in a house designed by Thomas Jefferson. And when you get to live in a house designed by Mr. Jefferson, you think of him as your designer. And I clearly saw him as my designer.
And you also realize that he probably saw himself as a designer first, because all you have to do is look at his last design, which was his tombstone. And you will notice that on it, he only recorded the things he designed. It says, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American independence, the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, which matured into the Bill of Rights, and father of the University of Virginia. That's it. Anything missing? Can you imagine being president of the United States twice, and it's not important enough to put on your tombstone?
This idea is that he is recording his legacies, not his activities. He's recording what he designed and what he left behind for future generations, including us, Thomas Jefferson's seventh generation. And this idea of legacy was not unfamiliar to him, clearly. When he was designing the federal government with James Madison in 1789, he wrote a letter describing why he thought the term of a federal bond should be one generation.
And his logic was this. He said, the Earth belongs to the living. No man may, by natural right, oblige the lands he owns or occupies to debts greater than those that may be paid during his own lifetime. Because if he could, then the world would belong to the dead and not to the living. The world would belong to the dead.
Well, if we think about today, perhaps Mr. Jefferson would be calling for declarations of interdependence. And this interdependence would also include the rights of nature itself because when we listen to this idea coming out of the enlightenment of humans having natural rights, we can start to ask, as Roderick Nash has done, what about the rights of nature itself to exist?
This picture is of a roof that we designed at Ford Motor Company. It's 10 and 1/2 acres of habitat. And you'll notice in the lower left corner here, these are killdeer eggs. The killdeer arrived five days after the roof was put down.
The idea here was to design as if other species cohabit the planet with us. And the idea of the rights of nature is fundamental, I think, to our human experience and what our human experience is about to be. If we look at the history of rights through the lenses of this country, we can see Jefferson reading Magna Carta, the rights of noble males, writing the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33 in 16 days, the rights of white, landowning, Protestant males, 6% of the population.
We then see emancipation, suffrage-- welcome aboard, ladies-- 1920s. Then we see the Civil Rights acts of the '60s, and then in 1973, the first time something other than a human being is given the right to even exist, with the Endangered Species Act. And so the question is clearly that this trajectory is toward the rights of nature itself to exist. And what would that mean to our designs?
Well, what would the first question then be for a designer? The first question we ask in our designs is how do we love all the children of all species for all time? That's the first question. And it becomes a powerful one for us, because it's not just our children, and it's not just our species, and it's not just for now.
Now, this might be an emotional entreaty. So we need to put a clear goal with it. And I've tried my best to put the whole goal into one sentence, so it's all crammed together. Here it is. Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world with clean air, water, soil, and power, economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed, period.
I had the privilege of speaking twice for President Bush at the White House, which for me was very much like an anthropological field trip, as you can imagine.
And I had a chance to speak to the OMB and to secretaries of lots of departments, and so on. And I was asked, what did I think of clean nuclear power? And it's very interesting today that a lot of environmentalists are picking up on nuclear power as a clean form of energy relative to the CO2 question. And that's an interesting debate we need to have.
But one of the things for design, from a designer's perspective, as I'll talk about now very specifically, is that if we look at clean nuclear power, what we can celebrate is the idea of nuclear fusion and the fact that we could spend trillions of dollars on nuclear fusion, capturing its power immediately, because we've already got our fusion reactor exactly where we need it, 93 million miles away.
It's eight minutes. It's wireless. What is our problem? I love clean nuclear power.
Now, if we look at the relationship we have to society and to the economy, in terms of the issues of sustainability and sustainable development, we realize that it's a much richer mix than many people imagine. We have been somewhere between socialism and capitalism in a social market economy. And any ism is a dangerous thing.
A pure capitalist will cut down the fish and cut down the trees and forget the fish, for example-- dangerous for the environment. Pure socialist is dangerous for the environment. I pointed out today that the former USSR has been declared by its scientific community to be 16% uninhabitable. They call it ecocide. 16% uninhabitable-- this would be the equivalent in the United States of having to put a fence around Texas.
Now, this means that, really, there's a third ism that's been missing, which we call ecologism. And ecologism would be just as dangerous as an ism, because it would be too extreme-- worried about the environment only and not worried about people, society, or capital.
And so we've developed a very simple fractal triangle to help us with our design work. And I'm going to use it to explain why we think the mix of sustainable design issues has to be really engaged on a very rich level. Because the problem with sustainability in many contexts is if it's seen as a kind of maintenance, it's not that exciting. If I ask you, what is your relationship to your spouse and you say, sustainable--
I'd have to say I'm sorry.
This isn't very exciting. This is not about maintenance. There's something much richer here that we need to engage. So if we look at economy, equity, and ecology, what we can see is that if we want to be 100% fabulous, then we want to be 100% economic, 100% socially fair, and 100% ecologically intelligent. Well, that would mean in order to be 100% economic, we would want to be 100% in every aspect of it.
What is this corner right here? Well, this corner is, can I make it and sell it at a profit? This is pure economy, economy corner. This is the equity corner of economy. This would be what? Well, perhaps are people earning a living wage?
This would be the economy corner of the equity corner. This might be are men and women being paid the same for the same work? Equity, equity nothing to do with ecology or economy-- this has to do with respect and fairness. Are people treating each other with respect and dignity? This is where we would find racism, and sexism, and things like that.
This would be fairness from an ecological perspective. What would that mean? Well, that would be no more cancer in products or in the workplace or phthalates in children's toys, and so on.
This would be ecology, equity ecology first, equity second, what is fair from the environment? Is it fair to cause climate change or global warming, and their impacts and acidification of the oceans, and so on? This would be ecology, ecology. Are we following nature's laws?
And then over here, this is what we call eco-effectiveness. Are we being effective with natural systems and meet nature's design requirements? And this is eco-efficiency. Am I being efficient with these resources?
Now, the problem we see in a lot of environmental talk today is that basically, it's this zone that people are focused on. It's this economy zone still. Because what we see are things like business for social responsibility, where we look at people. This is business first for social responsibility, or corporate responsibility. And then we see eco-efficiency, people trying to do more would less, as if that's the fundamental goal of a sustainable strategy while they make a profit.
And I think that what I'd like to talk about tonight is that the agenda is much richer than that and takes us to the extremes of human rights. It takes us to the extremes of ecological intelligence. And so the fundamental question of people at this time, I think, in history is, what does it mean to become native to place?
How many of you consider yourselves indigenous people? Not very many-- now, isn't it interesting, because a friend of mine, Oren Lyons, who is one of the Faithkeepers of the Onondaga, was asked by the UN to come to a conference of indigenous people. And his response was, who's not indigenous?
What does it mean to be an indigenous person? At the Hanford nuclear repository, they had a symposium where they brought scientists together with semiologists to discover how to mark the ground where we store the plutonium so that even an extra-terrestrial 5,000 years from now wouldn't dare to dig. The semiology of extreme danger-- how do you design a sign of extreme danger? And the Yakima, who were there for another meeting, heard about what the scientists were doing and started laughing and said, you know, you really don't need to worry about this. We'll tell them where it is.
They weren't leaving. What does it mean to be indigenous? It means we're not leaving. We're staying. And we'll tell our stories over millennia. Now, what are these stories?
Well, I think that our consciousness of where we live changed in the late '60s with this image from the Apollo missions, the whole Earth image, the most published image, I think, in history. And our consciousness changed, because we saw our home [INAUDIBLE] hole. And yet, our designs haven't really changed. Our buildings are still the same fundamental buildings, perhaps more efficient, a little more efficient, and so on. But our designs have really not changed.
And I think that Einstein pointed out that no problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. And so as we see the problems out in the world today, we realize that it's a change of consciousness that we're going to have to integrate with our new design. And we can bring to that science that we didn't have in the 1960s.
Now, here are the ocean currents. And the kinds of things we can now see, for example, as Captain Charles Moore out of LA has pointed out, in the Pacific gyre right here in the North Pacific, a few years ago, they found six times as much plastic as plankton-- six times as much plastic as plankton. They redid the experiment last year. They found 46 times as much plastic as plankton by weight in the North Pacific gyre.
What else are we learning? We're learning about the oceans suffering from acidification. 48% of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide since 1850 is now in the oceans. And we're seeing that their pH has dropped from historical levels, which we can tell from the Ross ice shelf [INAUDIBLE] of 8.8 to 8.2 pH down to 8.06 today. And it's expected that it could drop to 7.9 pH by the end of the century. This is the point at which we start to see the fact that we drop out the bottom of the food chain. And coral reefs start to dissolve.
If this is our intention, if this is our design, if our design is to cause climate change, to acidify the oceans, to spread plastic in the oceans, to spread persistent toxins, bioaccumulatives, endocrine disruptors, and heavy metals around the planet, toxify, we are doing a great job, if that's our plan. Now, if that's not our plan, it's become our de facto plan. Because we don't appear to have another plan.
So what we need is a new design, a new plan. Where would we get inspiration for this? Well, working with the natural world clearly helps us. This is Irian Jaya rain forest, 240 plus species of tree per hectare. We can look at the natural world for inspiration.
As an architect, I clearly have to look at these lines right here. This is known as gravity. In my business, it's not just a good idea. It's the law. Yeah.
So what other laws might we find in this picture? And so, I work together with a German chemist named Michael Braungart. And we wrote for the World's Fair in the year 2000 The Hanover Principles, Design for Sustainability, and then more recently in 2002, Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things.
And the book is plastic. Now, why a plastic book? Well, it's described in the first chapter. This book is not a tree. We're awash in plastic. It's a marvelous invention on the part of humans.
And when you think about it, why would we want to use something as valuable as a tree to make something as prosaic as a flat, white sheet? Because if you think about a tree is a design assignment, which we will again later in the talk, think about this. If I asked you to design a tree, what would I be asking you to do? I would be asking you to create a piece of human artifice that makes oxygen, makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, provides habitat for hundreds of species, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, creates micro-climates, changes colors with the seasons, and self-replicates. How we doing?
It took us 5,000 years to put wheels on our luggage.
We're not that smart. And here we are, looking at a tree. Wouldn't it be marvelous if we could design things that made oxygen?
The notion then is that we could move from being the idea of just simply being less bad, which is our current eco-efficiency model, to being more good. Because being less bad is not being good. It's being less bad by definition. So by definition, we're simply bad.
So if we say we're going to reduce the energy consumption of our buildings because we're bad, well, fine. You know, we're still bad. And it's like saying I could leave here and go north to Canada or south to Mexico. If I found myself 100 miles an hour towards Canada but I'm supposed to be going to Mexico, it's not going to help me to slow down to 20. I'm going the wrong way.
Now, if slowing down helps me turn around, then it's a legitimate part of the strategy. So efficiency is an efficient and a critical part of our strategy. It's just insufficient to the task at hand.
Because what we also see is that a regulation is a signal of design failure. If we see regulations, it's a signal that there's something wrong. And society is reflecting on it. And it's an opportunity for us to redesign and to change the design of things.
And the design we're talking about is metadesign, to get a whole new design moving. And the inspiration we use for this is the tree. And this time of year, even here on this campus. as delightful as it can be, is the cherry tree. And when we look at the cherry tree, what we see is this marvelous thing that is incredibly inefficient.
Look at this. Do you imagine walking up to these trees and going, in the spring, how many blossoms does it take? But we love the cherry tree. We even know it's thousands of blossoms to create a couple more, because it's in closed cycles. It refreshes the soil. It refreshes our spirits. And it continues to create these cycles.
We don't love efficiency per se. Efficiency has no value per se. I mean, you could think of Mozart. You don't listen to Mozart and then sit there thinking, oh, how many notes does it take? He could have hit the piano with a two-by-four and got them all at once-- very efficient. But would we love it?
So what we're looking for is a way to make growth good. Right now, growth is considered by most environmentalists to be a bad thing. We look at asphalt as two words assigning blame.
So if we wanted to imagine what it would be like for growth to be good, then I think we can go back, in a poetic sense, and look at the fundamental, some of the fundamental science of the last century and use it for inspiration for design. So I like to look at E equals MC squared as a poem. And I like to ask myself, well, why was Einstein afraid? And as you heard, I grew up in Japan. You know, why did Hiroshima disappear?
Well, clearly, C is a big number. And I'm not a scientist, obviously. If we square it, it's almost infinite. And therefore, if M is in any way a positive, then E is almost infinite. And this is why Hiroshima disappeared. A small amount of M can yield an immense amount of E.
But if we look at it as a poem, then what we see as designers is that energy really can come from the sun. And that's physics. And we have kinetic energy transformed into photons, comes here in eight minutes. We have thousands of times more energy striking the Earth's surface than humans will ever need.
So we will solve the energy problem, because we have solar income. It strikes the Earth's chemistry, which is inorganic chemistry. And amazing things started to happen, which Einstein called magic, which is biology.
And so from a design perspective, we look at these for inspiration. What we see is that physics meets chemistry, and we get biology. Now, if we take all the chromium out of South Africa and use it to make little products that we want to wear on our feet, or clothing, or watch images on, and so on, and we take that and we throw them into the ground as we finish with them, we will toxify the planet.
And future generations will look back and say, what did you do with the chromium? What were you thinking? You've toxified us. And you've removed it from our utility.
The other obvious issue here is this one of biology and how marvelous this idea that the Earth could be fecund and could be growing biota on a continuous basis. The basic design is of continuous growth of biota. That's really interesting. This is why asphalt is two words assigning blame, because it destroys the ability of the Earth's surface to be generative.
So if we look at this through Francis Crick's lenses, for nine years after discovering DNA with James Watson, he wrote an essay called "Of Molecules and Men" for the lecturer at the University of Washington. And in that, he looked for what he called the nature of vitalism, what it meant for something to be a living thing.
And his conclusion was, in order to be alive, if you had three characteristics. You had to have growth, even just to maintain stasis. You had to have free energy, and it typically came from sunlight. And you had to have an open metabolism of chemicals operating for the benefit of the organism and its reproduction. Wouldn't it be marvelous if humans could design things that followed these same rules, that we celebrated the growth of the artifice, that we realized that it was powered by outside income-- otherwise you couldn't have growth, and that came from the sun-- and there was an open metabolism of chemicals that were operating for the benefit of the organism.
Well, if we're going to look at these metabolisms, for example, then what we've done is parsed that into two. What we say is that there's the biological metabolism and the technical metabolism. A thing should be designed to either go back to soil safely in the biological metabolism or things could be designed to go back to the technical cycles, the technical metabolism. So we would end up with two kinds of nutrients, biological nutrients and technical nutrients.
So biological nutrients would be things like textiles, foodstuffs, things that abrade, like the soles of your shoe, things that are going to go back to nature or into your lungs, of they abrade. Things like that should be characterized as biological nutrients. And we should be able to return them to soil safely-- soil, air, water, but typically to soil to help rebuild the soil safely, not just compost them and then have toxic compost, but safely compost it.
Technical nutrients we call products of service. What you really want is the service of the TV, or the computer, or the carpet, or whatever. What you get are toxic molecules with no way to return them into cycles. We started with the carpet industry, because I started in the building it world. And we looked at the carpets and said, what you really want from the carpet is acoustics, performance, appearance, cleanability, and so on. What you get are toxic materials.
We looked at the average face fiber in carpets and found 16 known carcinogens in face fiber. And then the backing is typically PVC, which is also known to cause the creation of dioxins in different kinds of situations, and so on. So is it an optimized design? No. But what it could be is if the carpet was designed to go back into closed cycles, then the carpet could become a product of service.
When you finish with the carpet, you call the company. They take it back. They get you a new carpet. The carpet becomes carpet again forever. I'll show you that in a minute. But this is what's happening now. We're very excited about this. Because then the question is no longer growth or no growth, but what do we want to grow? And then we can choose what we want to grow-- prosperity, health, security, community, peace, culture, instead of this facto plan that grows climate change, persistent toxification, and so on.
So if we're going to do this, we need a goal and a trajectory. And so working with the US military on how to solar power the military-- it's the largest single user of power in the world-- we looked at this strategy of creating a flight path toward 100% sustaining design. And let's take a look at energy, for example, would be optimized sustainability might be renewable power. You can define this however you have, however you want after building consensus. But let's just say it was renewable.
What we find is that efficiency is very useful in the short term, because it creates dramatic value at the beginning. But it's insufficient. Because if your idea is to be 100% renewable, just because you've used as little coal or nuclear as possible doesn't mean you've reached that. So we really need this effectiveness strategy to take us over that hurdle. And that would be to start to adopt strategies related to renewable power, how to integrate this economically, and how to develop the technologies that we're going to need.
And this is a fundamental question, because Peter Drucker, the management consultant, pointed out in his book, The Effective Executive, in 1984, that it's the manager's job to be efficient and to do something the right way efficiently. But it's an executive's job to do the right thing. And then we talk about doing it the right way. what is the right thing to do? That represents leadership.
So what is eco-effective design? We use three design principles-- waste equals food, use current solar income, and celebrate diversity. And we've developed this protocol that works from the molecule to the region. And I'll just give you my background and show you some of the designs. And then we can do some questions and answers.
I was born in Tokyo in 1951. And when I was a little kid, the wagons would come in from the country and take out our poop at night. This was very exciting for a three-year-old.
My mother called them the honey wagons. And they came to collect our night soil. And they would take it out to the farmers. And it would become the food that we would eat in the future. And so we just thought this was great. But there it is. Waste equals food.
I then moved to Hong Kong and lied with six million people in 42 square miles. And we had cholera, typhoid, typhus, ringworm, scarlet fever, yellow fever, dysentery, you name it, and people dying of starvation. And this is before the water pipeline came in from the mainland. So it was a world of limits, an astonishing world of limits.
And everybody was very careful with everything, especially water. During the dry season, we had four hours of water every fourth day. That's what we'd live with. And the relationship of people to the land was fundamentally different than here. This land has been continuously farmed for 5,000 years.
How do you farm the same piece of dirt for 50 centuries if you don't understand nutrient flow? In ancient China, it was impolite to leave someone's house in the country after a meal without leaving a deposit, because you were taking their nutrition. It's that tight an equation.
I spent my childhood Summers in the Puget Sound of Washington state, where my grandparents lived in a log cabin and raised oysters and caught salmon and kept the spring clear and traded flowers for vegetables with the neighbors, things like that. And here, we were in a world of abundance. But they were really careful with everything. They had lived through the Depression, and the Second World War, and so on.
And then I went to Westport, Connecticut to be a teenager when my dad became the president of Seagram overseas, the international wine and spirits business, in New York. We lived in Westport, Connecticut. 16-year-olds had Porsches. And the kids left the showers were running at the high school locker in the gym after working out. So they left the showers running with hot water, and I freaked out.
I didn't know what to make of this. The profligate consumption was quite astonishing to me and didn't make any sense. And so when I started my career as an architect, I built the first solar-heated house in Ireland in 1977 while I was a student at Yale, which give you a signal of my ambition, because there is no sun in Ireland.
But came back to New York, started my firm in 1981, as you heard. And then one of our early clients was the Environmental Defense Fund. And EDF hired us to design their national headquarters. And their head of EDF is a lawyer, said if anybody in their office got sick from indoor air quality, they were going to sue us. This is how we opened the discussion.
And so we went to our attorneys and said, what does this mean? And they said, well, it's called negligence. We said, OK, explain that. Well, negligence is when you know something is bad, and you do it anyway. That's negligence. And we said, well, that's fine. We're safe there. We don't know anything.
What else? Well, negligence is also you're measured against your peers. You will be measured against another 33-year-old architect in New York. What should you have known? And we said, well, we don't think they know anything either. Because we went out and interviewed consultants to help us with indoor air quality issues, and the only one we could find was funded by the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. And their primary scientific mission appeared to be to prove that there was no danger from secondhand smoke in the workplace. That was the state of the art in indoor air quality in 1984.
So we went on with the project. And we started asking manufacturers what were in their products. What were the off-gassing products of the glues, and the carpet, the paints? What was the quality of the light? Could the furniture go back into close cycles, so on and so forth? And the typical answer we got from manufacturers was it's proprietary. It's legal. Go away.
Well, we're still at it now. And we added up the aggregate revenue of our clients the other day. It's a little over $1.5 trillion. And we're still at it asking these questions.
And it's interesting to look at the way the world reacts to these kinds of things. This is 2000, an article about our work and some others. And notice the language being used-- killing, danger, sick. What we're looking at is not scaring people with all these things, but just simply getting about changing them. Get them fixed. It's not going to help us to become hysterical. What's important is that we change things.
And if we look at the way humans behave, it's really interesting that the first reaction is to regulate. This is a sign as you enter a building in California. Warning, the state of California requires that we warn you that the property contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. These chemicals may be contained in emissions, and fumes from building materials, products, materials used to maintain the property, and so on and so forth.
This is what we do. We warn you as you walk into the building that there's a problem. And yet, the products that made the building that have this sign in them are still being made and used every single day. Explain this.
What we find is that the way people focus on materials is they start by regulating and starting to restrict. But what's really exciting for us is that we do a full inventory of the materials used by human beings on the planet. And then we do an optimization based on some criteria that we need to have. And the criteria we use are cradle to cradle.
The first thing we do is we inventory. We assess, for example in this case, a textile seating fabric. In 1993, we assessed seating fabrics like you're sitting on for the Steelcase Corporation, our largest furniture manufacturer in the world. And we looked at 8,000 chemicals in the textile industry, and through the cradle to cradle intellectual filters, eliminated 7,962. We were left with 38 chemicals.
We did the entire fabric line with those 38 chemicals and made a fabric so clean, you can eat it, which is good news. Because it's going to be on the Airbus 380 now. And if you find yourself at 40,000 feet with a fiber deficiency, you can eat your chair.
The water coming out of the textile mill is now as clean as the water going in, which is Swiss drinking water. When a textile mill's effluent is as clean as its influent, which is Swiss drinking water, you've reached the next industrial revolution, because there's nothing to regulate. There's nothing dangerous.
The trimmings of the cloth had, before we arrived, had been declared hazardous waste by the Swiss government, couldn't be buried or burned in Switzerland, had to be shipped to Spain. And so you realize how strange and ironic this is, that your trimming is declared hazardous waste, but you can sell what's in the middle.
So we do assessments based on human health criteria. We need to do science here. And so priority criteria we have brought to cradle to cradle agenda are no more cancer, no more disruption of endocrine systems, genetic mutations, reproductive toxicities, or birth defects. We have sensitization issues, toxicity issues, that we care about as well for human health.
For environmental health, we want to worry about toxicity for vertebrates, for invertebrates, for plants, bioaccumulation, persistence, toxic heavy metals, things like that. And for a production process, we want to know exactly how something is made, where it's made, how far it travels, what kind of energy is used to make it, and how does it affect the climate, and so on.
Using these filters, we've now created a database of thousands of chemicals. There are 104,000 chemicals at last count being used by human beings to make stuff, 104,000. About 30% of them have been tested for ecological and human health. We now have a database of thousands of them that we have characterized as red, yellow, green, where we can work with our customers on the redesigning of their products and point out that formaldehyde, for example in this case, is carcinogenic, mutagenic, et cetera.
And then we can develop systems that allow you to use it as long as it's contained outside of ecological and human health criteria and concerns. But it can't be in a finished product that is exposed to people, and so on.
We then do optimizations. We have a supply chain tool that uses the internet and the web to communicate up and down giant supply chains to make products intelligent and healthy. So we can communicate with all the suppliers, because typically, they don't even know what they make. They just say that they get their dye from the dye manufacturer. And then you go to the dye manufacturer, and they just say, well, we get it from China. And then we go to China and find out where they get it, and so on.
You have to go up and down these supply chains in depth. And the first question we ask is, are all materials nutrients of one form or another? Can they be recycled? And do we have the ability to recycle them?
And then we have criteria for certification. Is it a biological or technical nutrient? Is it designed for revitalization or designed for environment? Does the energy come from renewable resources? Is the water clean enough to drink? And are you practicing social fairness?
And then we do the optimization. So we move from a product that might have a lot of reds to a product that is primarily greens and yellows. I'm going to show you some examples.
Here's biological nutrient products. These are the fabrics that will be in the Airbus 380. It's a mixture of wool and ramie, safe enough to eat, as I pointed out. This is the picture of the trimmings used to be hazardous waste. They now become mulch and compost for the local garden club.
This is a carpet we did for Warren Buffett's Shaw Industries, part of Berkshire Hathaway, a technical nutrient carpet, where the carpet is designed, not only appearance, but also the materials inside the carpet are designed to be continuously reused. The fiber, the face fiber, is nylon six that can be infinitely reused through caprolactam chemical recycling. The base is a thermoplastic polyolefin that can be continuously reused as base. They're separated by gravity, shredded, and then separated by gravity, and then can be made into carpet again forever.
Shaw has the 15th largest truck fleet in the United States. And I don't know if you realize this, but the United States produces four and a half billion pounds of carpet waste a year, four and a half billion pounds of carpet waste per year. So imagine if all of this material was put into close cycles for infinite reuse?
The furniture companies like Herman Miller, Steelcase, Haworth, have all certified their chairs based on cradle to cradle. They all come apart in a matter of minutes. And all the materials are assessed through the protocols to go back to industry forever. We have window shades.
We work with the US postal service. Now, all priority mail envelopes and boxes are all cradle to cradle certified. They're designed as biological or technical nutrients, including all the dyes, the inks, the adhesives, the papers, the plastics, all of it. And for the California Green Chemistry Initiative for Governor Schwarzenegger, we worked with them. And the fourth criteria of the new Green Chemistry Initiative for the state of California is to move toward a cradle to cradle economy to leverage market forces to produce products that are benign by design and develop registries of products that meet these criteria.
So that's in the product sector. Let me mention some buildings and show you them. And then we'll take questions. Some of the buildings that I'd like to show you-- this one is an experimental building we did for Oberlin College for Professor David Orr, the head of their environment studies program. And the building makes 13% more energy than it needs to operate on an annual basis. So the building is net energy exporter.
So imagine a project, including the roof here and its parking cover that export energy beyond what's needed by the building itself. So it's a generative building. And the wastewater is treated in a wastewater plant operated by the students in the building itself, so building like a tree.
This is our corporate campus for the Gap Corporation, now YouTube's headquarters. Here, we covered the building with a meadow of ancient grasses. We got permission from the federal government to collect native seeds from federal lands and had this grass roof planted. It blocks all the noise from the airport. It provides storm water retention, which is very critical on the site.
And the building has windows that open. Go figure. In the early '90s, this was so novel that it ended up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal market section, which said, latest office amenity-- windows that open. We told the reporter we're at a low point in Western civilization when a window that opens is news.
The building is designed to be converted to housing in the future if it ever needs to have another utility. And it's full of fresh air and daylight. We use the outdoor air all night long to cool the building down under the raised floors, so we can have that free cooling during the day. And it uses significantly less energy than even the most efficient buildings in that part of California.
Here's a building for Herman Miller, the furniture maker, in Zeeland, Michigan. It was built for $49 a square foot, which is 10% more than a Butler building, metal shed. By working together with the contractor and Herman Miller, we were able to optimize their budget around a building full of daylight and fresh air.
When the president of the company hired us, he said, listen, if my building was a car, it wouldn't be a Mercedes with tinted windows. It would be a 1964 and a half Mustang, probably pink. And he said, if it was a suit of clothes, it wouldn't be Brooks Brothers button-down. It would be an aloha shirt.
And we said, I see. You don't want to be in southern Michigan. You want to be in California. So we built California. The building is full of daylight and fresh air. The productivity of the workers doubled. 350 workers went from a dark factory, a completely dark factory, to a fully daylit factory with fresh air and went from making $250,000 million worth of furniture a year to $350 million worth of furniture a year. This paid for the building in four months.
This is a green roof that we did from Mayor Daley in Chicago, where he wanted to explore the idea of green roofs for the city of Chicago. And we agreed. Why not in a city have this kind of environment, which brings back habitat and species diversity?
For Nike, we did a project on this former harness racing track in Hilversum, Holland, their headquarters for Europe, where we worked with the local town planners to optimize the plan based on the idea that the buildings could be converted again to housing in the future. It's the largest geothermal installation in the Netherlands. It's heated and cooled from the ground. PVC was eliminated in the project. And the building is all designed to receive solar collectors and green roofs.
In 1999, we were hired by Ford Motor Company to redo the River Rouge, $2 billion project, 20 year schedule. And this is what we were starting with, famous River Rouge, Henry Ford's what Winston Churchill called the arsenal of democracy. And you can see how much asphalt we're dealing with here. This is a typical industrial facility in this country, dead surfaces.
So we decided that we would use different tools to solve the design problems of stormwater management and building creation. And so we chose the native species to work with. And we also worked with the EPA and the Michigan government to clean up the soil in situ using phytoremediation. We work with Michigan State to create a phytoremediation program to clean up the soils using plants instead of scraping and baking. So this is also the science of restoration. And then we did the factory with its million square feet and 10 and a half acre green roof. This is a roof.
Now, when I had to present this to the board for approval, they gave me a minute and a half. And so I went in. And we presented this. Ford had already designed a conventional stormwater management system to meet the Clean Water Act. It was $48 million. Our system of green engineering, instead of just using the conventional program, which they were ready to build and had already budgeted and put in their books, our system of green roof and habitat was $13 million. So Ford saved $35 million day one.
And we pointed out to the board with a Ford Taurus that had a 4% margin out of Chicago, this is the equivalent of an order for $900 million worth of cars. Approved. Next. It was approved in a minute and a half.
This is the roof. It's a very lightweight roof. It's sedum. It's a succulent plant sitting on lightweight gravel. It's only an inch and a half thick. And it's being inhabited by various species who arrived and started nesting relatively quickly.
This is an apartment building in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, solar powered, green roofs. A proposal for the new Museum of Science and Industry for the United Kingdom, a building that's six football fields large here, and solar powered with a transpired solar collector here so the building would heat and cool itself.
These are aircraft hangers, to give you an idea how big this is. We've proposed to have flocks of sheep on the roof, because a lot of people make jokes about our buildings. They're like, do you have goats or sheep? So the idea of actually having goats or sheep is just great. I think it would be great, great to be able to say, sure.
This is an airport we designed for a large US corporation as a study of what the future of airports might look like, solar powered. And we discovered all sorts of fascinating things about the way a solar powered airport would function. One of the things is that it would power all the batteries and the electric cars that were for rent and would use the batteries of the cars for storage for its solar power.
This is a project, experimental project, we're doing for NASA right now at Nasa Ames Research Facility at Moffett Field near San Francisco. And it's a building designed to not require artificial air conditioning. In a climate like that, we found that these things are quite possible. And the idea is it would be a solar generator. I call it mission to planet Earth, we come in peace.
And it's sort of like an Earth station for NASA. It would be an office and research facility.
This is a study for the waste handling system of San Francisco, where San Francisco wants to be a zero waste city. And so we're working with their waste handling facilities. This is a project for a major retailer in the UK, six million square feet, looking at distribution centers for distribution and redistribution of materials through a cradle to cradle system. So hidden in the landscape would be these distribution centers, where goods and services would be provided to the market and then materials taken back to be recycled.
I threw this in. This is a picture of a solar project in Germany to give you an idea of it. These solar farms could become our distribution centers for goods and services. This could be a roof instead of just solar collectors. But we could work within the landscape in a very compact way and get double duty out of facilities like this.
I'm also a venture capitalist. I'm a member of VantagePoint Venture Partners. I'm a venture partner. And we're investing in a company called BrightSource Energy, which has a large contract, 1.3 gigawatts, with San Diego, now to provide power out there.
And we're also doing a project called Better Place in Israel and Denmark, which is an electric car system for the country, because Israel has committed itself to get off of oil. And the way they want to do that is developing electric car infrastructure. So we're financing that.
I've also just finished up with a couple projects. This is one that we're doing with Brad Pitt, where we looked at the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. And after two years of the devastation, we realized that nothing was happening and that the community of Lower Ninth Ward was still sitting unbuilt and unrestored. And the people were desperate to come home. And they couldn't quite figure out how that was going to happen.
So we decided that rather than abandon this, because one of the questions, should we build there at all, that would be cynical that we should come in and help. So one of the first things we did was scatter 150 pink tents over the site where the houses were lost. We decided to do 150 houses. And it was a fundraising effort-- this was Brad's idea-- we put up these pink tents.
And as we got the donations to restoring the houses for the people back to their properties and build for them, we righted all the houses and got them organized. So you could organize to right one of the houses. These are the clients.
And the way we did it was to hire 13 architects, different architects from around the world, to design houses that people could choose from. And we're making them as cradle to cradle as possible. And so the people can select from among these designs by well-known architects. And we're studying modular construction, panelized construction, stick building, and so on, to get these things cost-effective. And you'll see that we've lifted the buildings up on piers so that they're flood buildings and not a place that would provide danger.
What we see when a lot of the people are coming home is that they're building slab-on-grade at the same place where this flooding occurred. And we presume that some someday in the future, flooding will occur again. So this is on the higher ground, this house. This was designed by Graft Architects in Berlin, Kieran Timberlake of Philadelphia.
They're solar-powered. The electric bills are coming in at about $20 a month. And we're working with this idea that we would move, in the next seven generations, toward cradle to cradle materials for all the facilities.
Just finished with two large projects-- this is a project we're doing for the Dutch city of Almere, which is here. This is Amsterdam. And we're looking at how Almere is to grow by 60,000 people in the future, which it's been mandated to do. The first thing that we did with them is create the Almere Principles, where the city got together to develop principles for its activity first.
So instead of starting with metrics and then working their way through tactics, and strategies, and goals, we actually start with principles. And then we move to the goals, strategies, tactics, and then metrics. So the city has developed its own set of principles for redevelopment.
And let me just finish with China. China will house hundreds of millions of people in the next 10 years. They will rehouse as many people in seven years as we have in this country altogether. That's how big this is. And we were asked by the city of Liuzhou show in the south to design a horizontal plan, the extension of the city, the horizontal master plan, which we did for a city of a million.
And you can see, they have flooding problems here in Liuzhou. This is the site we were given, which is sugarcane. And we basically looked at it and said, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could design a cradle to cradle city in the future? We did this on our own after we finished the horizontal plan.
And we thought about what it would mean to have a waste equals food city, where the fertilizer from the humans all went to fertilize their plants, to create a methane gas and a compost. And that could be returned to the city for its gardens and its parks. And the methane, turns out, would do about 21% of the city's cooking, which would be really a terrific addition.
We also realized that from studies in Berlin that cities can be more biodiverse than the surrounding countryside. You saw the monoculture of sugarcane. Cities with its parks and gardens can become highly diverse. And we can encourage that diversity.
And then we looked at how much energy it would take to power the city and how much of the bioregion and the biomass in various areas for solar power, and so on, would be required to power, heat, cool, and provide the electricity for the lighting, and so on. And then, finally, I think the thing that got the most attention was we decided, after the premier of China made a statement a year and a half ago, or no, two years ago now. It was May two years ago.
He said, if China continues its current urbanization at its current rates, it will lose 20% of its farmland by 2020, 20% of its farmland by 2020. So we said, what if we lifted all the soil up onto the roofs of the city and built the city basically underneath the soils and turn the roofs into farming? Basically, it be giant pot gardening. So we put this out just for the fun of it, just see what it might look like. And then somebody sent me this picture from China, just when we thought-- people are saying, you guys are loopy. Somebody just as loopy as we are went and planted rice on a terrace, sent us this picture.
So let me finish with what is our intention as a species? Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world of clean air, water, soil, and power, economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed. And the first question is, how do we love all the children of all species for all time? Thank you very much.
[? FRANK DISALVO: ?] Bill is willing to take a few questions if we have some. We have a microphone in each aisle, so if you have a question, put up your hand. And I'll call on you, get a microphone to you. And everybody can hear what you're asking. Any questions? One over here.
SPEAKER 1: Please comment on the fact that you've just taken a drink of water from a plastic bottle, and then one of your photographs, there was a plastic water bottle. Would you please comment?
WILLIAM MCDONOUGH: I'm happy to. This is polyethylene terephthalate. And it very likely contains a residue from a catalytic reaction of antimony, which is a heavy metal. And what we're looking at with polyesters are that, essentially, if you think about what we could do with petrochemicals, we could-- the last thing we should do with petrochemicals is burn them, that they present a great opportunity for us to be making technical nutrients.
So we see this bottle as a technical nutrient. And the idea would be that if we had our recycling protocols actually in place-- and we're working on this-- tomorrow, Whole Foods will announce a new water bottle with Nestle called Resource, where Whole Foods will take back the PET at the store and put it back into recycling. And the idea is to create an intelligent materials pool of polyester that is constantly being upgraded in its quality over time, so that the human species in the next generations develops polyester as a technical nutrient pool, so for continuous reuse.
FRANK DISALVO: Any questions on this side? Over here-- in the back, the very back. Yep.
SPEAKER 2: Thank you. Oh, good. Thank you very much. You mentioned it briefly at the beginning of your discussion that one of the-- first off, I want to thank you. That was a very excellent and inspirational talk. And one the things that you mentioned was that in order to realize a lot of these visions, one of the things that would be necessary would be a change in consciousness. And I was particularly struck by your discussion of [INAUDIBLE]. That seems to be one of the last frontiers of reclaiming waste.
And I am from San Diego myself. And I remember in the mid '90s, there was discussion of recycling toilet water for agricultural use. And a huge campaign started against it. There was talk in the newspaper of toilet-to-tap. They published a cartoon of a man with a drink of water. And there was a little guy in there. And the guy was saying, I'm the Ty-D-Bowl man. So I'm wondering if you can say a few words towards not just realizing some of these technologies, but perhaps realizing a change in attitude amongst the populace, which will then give a good psychological grounding towards realizing some of these dreams?
WILLIAM MCDONOUGH: Sure. I think your last statement there, the idea of a psychological grounding, is actually pretty interesting. Because if you look at the projects where we're seeing people talk about toilet-to-tap, for example, in the future-- because Sydney just went through the same debate that San Diego had and concluded not to do it, too. You know, there's a real serious concern on the part of people around this issue.
But as we see those kinds of things coming forward, what we're noticing is that the idea of actually returning the water to the ground and letting it percolate through the ground and then having the wells essentially work in the future, letting the ground become the filter, is where this stuff is going. Because we're already in that mode anyway.
When you think about it, it's truly amazing to imagine the whole Colorado River or a lot of other rivers in the world where communities are getting their water, and just imagining what's going on upstream and then worrying about a controlled system like the toilet-to-tap proposal for San Diego, which probably would have had so many bells and whistles that it would have been the cleanest thing going. And yet, you know, cities all over the country and all over the world are tapping into rivers that have other cities upstream.
Think about the Danube or even the Mississippi. I mean, it's quite astonishing. So I think that we'll get that change of consciousness over time as we develop the protocols that can show that this kind of work is possible. I think our main goal, and we have a humble approach to this, is that our job is simply to create the examples as fast as we can so that people can point to them and say, you know, it exists. Therefore, it is possible.
[? FRANK DISALVO: ?] We'll be having a reception outside in just a moment. So I'll ask for one more question, and then we can move outside. And you can ask Bill questions on the outside, as we are. So there's a question over here. Yes? It's not on.
SPEAKER 3: I was just wondering about the sustainability of the solar cells that are in use on many of your buildings.
WILLIAM MCDONOUGH: The question was sustainability of solar cells on major buildings, or on buildings. The interesting thing about the solar collector is, for us, is that it really should be seen as a product of service and that it really should be continuously owned by the manufacturer, especially some of the ones that used highly toxic materials, like cadmium telluride, things like that. They should be seen as technical nutrients.
And it's really important, because if you look at, say, the issue of cadmium, cadmium we get when we mine zinc. And it's a heavy metal. And it can be quite dangerous. And when you think about cadmium, for example, under cradle to cradle protocol, under any protocol, cadmium doesn't know if it's good or bad. It just knows that it's cadmium. And it's like a tool, a tool has no value except for the purpose to which it's put.
When you look at the cadmium, if you thought about it and said, what is the, like, the stupidest thing we could do with cadmium? Pick something. Well, why don't we make batteries that can be exposed to children that you throw away in the landfills? Now, that would be a real good one, right? So we got that one figured out.
Now, but on the other hand, if you put it on a solar collector, it could actually do somebody some good. And it could be sequestered in the solar collectors. And we know where it is. So cadmium in a solar collector isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it's a sequestered technical nutrient. And if the solar collecter is going to last 30 years, then we want the company that made it to know that 30 years hence, they could come get that solar collector, take it back, know what to do with the materials, and then provide that operation with a new solar collector.
So you develop a relationship with the customer. So the materials become your passport to a relationship with the material and the customer. So for solar collectors, we see them as technical nutrients that should belong continuously to their manufacturers, in effect.
[? FRANK DISALVO: ?] So let's thank Bill again, and we'll move this outside.
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Architect, designer, and author William McDonough speaks about the hopeful, positive, and inspiring possibilities of an environmentally and economically intelligent future by design—one which draws inspiration from the astonishing effectiveness of natural systems.
Cradle to Cradle design, as opposed to "cradle to grave," offers a new paradigm for human activity that creates a sustaining relationship with the natural world by emulating living systems that are effective, cyclical, synergetic, and regenerative.
Opening remarks by Cornell University President David J. Skorton.
The Iscol Lecture brings prominent scholars, newsmakers, scientists, and leaders to Cornell to address environmental issues of paramount importance to humankind.