The McDonough Conversations: From Clinton to Gore and beyond

Excerpt from Joel Makower’s recent interview with William McDonough on

This is the latest in a periodic series of one-on-one interviews with William McDonough(@billmcdonough), renowned designer, architect, author and entrepreneur, looking into his rich, kaleidoscopic professional world. McDonough has been at the forefront of many of sustainability’s most important trends: green buildings, closed-loop systems and Cradle to Cradle design, among others. (You can read the first installment here.)

I’ll be checking in with McDonough periodically to hear what he’s working on and thinking about — an opportunity to get a glimpse into one of sustainability’s most creative and fertile minds.

Joel Makower: Bill, you had an amazing couple of weeks. It began at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, right?

Bill McDonough: Two weeks ago I went up to Rye, N.Y., for the Clinton Global Initiative goal-setting meetings. There are nine tracks for the CGI and one of them is the built environment. There are two counselors on each track, except for built environment and one other, which have three, and I’m one of the built environment advisors. So we had a chance to sit among all the different groups and talk about the goal-setting for the Clinton Global Initiative. It was quite amazing.

Makower: Give me a little context here. I didn’t know CGI had goal-setting sessions.

McDonough: They’re setting the Initiative’s goals for the next year, and taking stock of what has gone on. How are commitments best affected and described? How do we measure progress? What does success look like? Things like that. Because Bill Clinton essentially saw conferences that turned into talk shops and people came and talked and then left, and he didn’t see commitments to action. So that’s what the Clinton Global Initiative’s focus is — that people come together, talk about the important issues of the day, but make commitments to do something about it, publicly, and then are willing to be measured against their commitments.

Makower: What can you tell us about where you, at least, want CGI to go next year?

McDonough: There’s a real focus we’re about to put on healthy building materials, because it’s in a parallel with what’s going on at the U.S. Green Building Council with LEED. So understanding what that means, and how you would integrate it into your business, is an important idea. Also, supply chain — the notion that as we look at the commodities that we’re using to build with, whether it be infrastructure, buildings or objects. It’s going to be important for us to understand them and what we call reuse cycles. We’re talking about getting past the concept of end-of-life, because most of the things we’re dealing with here are not living things. We’re looking at endless reuse for these various commodities so that we can start to have abundance in the world.  Endless resourcefulness.

Read more of William McDonough’s Conversation: From Clinton to Gore and beyond.