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Verde Laguna: An eco-visionary visits Laguna

September 23, 2010|By Gustavo Grad

The night his firm was honored with the General Services Administration's 2010 Presidential Award for its NASA Sustainability project, William McDonough gave a presentation to a small audience for the Townhall Foundation at Laguna Art Museum.

McDonough and his partner chemist Michael Braungart are co-authors of the 2002 book "From Cradle to Cradle," about a new industrial revolution free of waste where goods generate ecological, social and economic value.

McDonough said he models his design work on a "cradle-to-cradle" cycle from the molecule to the building. Rather than seeing materials as a waste problem, as happens in a "cradle-to-grave" system, all material in his designs are part of a closed loop of nutrients that are part of the cycle of nature. As such, nature becomes a model, a mentor for the design process, where everything becomes something else and there is no waste.

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He used a cherry tree as reference. The tree, in his words, "makes thousands of blossoms just so another tree might germinate, take root and grow." Everything in this cycle is useful, every blossom becomes a nutrient, every particle contributes to an ecosystem where "waste equals food," a phrase repeated during the night.

The image of the cherry tree represents a symbolic example of efficiency. "Can anyone interpret this otherwise?," he asked. "Would anyone see cherry blossoms on the ground and think, how inefficient and wasteful this is?"

Humans on the other hand have been following a "cradle-to-grave" process, producing things that sooner or later are going to be discarded, and end in incinerators or landfills. Clearly not a very efficient model. The contraposition is clear: Unlike in nature, humans' waste is not food. This also symbolizes the failure of eco-efficient design to reshape products to be "less bad."

In his world, "design is the first of the human intentions," so he asked the audience, "What are our intentions? Destruction? If our strategy is tragedy we are doing great. But if the goal is not to destroy the world, what is?"

The failure of this model has a more personal meaning for McDonough, to turn this around and have instead a world of abundance and good design. He suggested designing for the 9 billion people we have in our planet today a "delightful diverse, safe, healthy world."

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