Sympathetic Stupid

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Sustainability Deity

Bleeding edge technology calls to every geek bone in my body, but when that new car smell has faded, it's all about finding clever, sustainable ways to use it. That's where savvy, conscientious people come in. Number one on the list: William McDonough. (Link through Gristmill.)

(Unfortunately, no relation to Blair McDonough from Big Brother and Neighbours. As far as I can tell.)

Trained as an architect, he's transcended that label to become so much more; look at his awards for Sustainable Development, Design and Green Chemistry. He started designing the first solar-heated house in the world, in Ireland. His famous book is Cradle To Cradle, written with chemist Michael Braungart, which apparently talks about eco-effectiveness - "designing from the ground up for both eco-safety and cost efficiency". I haven't read this, but the 'cradle to cradle' of the title is about a cycle whereby goods are created, recycled and used again without losing any material quality. As opposed to those which hit landfill in months. Sounds like an admirable aim, and an interesting tie in with nanotechnology.

He's got strong corporate credentials, which is the only way to get the message across. This article on the Triple Top Line talks about the Fractal Triangle (no shortage of catchphrases), relating any proposal under consideration to all of economics, equity and ecology. This mitigates against gravitating to the extremes - capitalism, socialism and ecologism - which by definition neglect the other two points of the triangle. As it mentions, he's worked this concept with companies like Ford, BASF and Nike; not sure with what sort of success, but that's cred right there.

Here's an interview from Newsweek, providing a good summary of the guy. The quote which grabs me the most is about a story I've seen somewhere before, from the Rohner textile plant in Switzerland. They designed a fabric safe enough to eat, they "screened 8,000 commonly used chemicals and ended up with 38. When inspectors measured the effluent water, they thought their instruments were broken". Who knew there were so many chemicals in fabric? Not me, certainly, but why use 8000 if you can do it with 5% of that number? Less inputs to the process must be a good thing, as he says, they reduced the cost of production by 20%. This is no niche product; it's the seat covers on the new Airbus A380.

Look, there's so many good ideas just in that article, this guy has really got his shit together. Read the article, then imagine what he could do with decent molecular manufacturing. Like, wow.