William McDonough delivers masterclass on Cradle to Cradle and Circular Carbon Economy 

This month, William McDonough delivered a Circular Economy Masterclass as part of a national United Arab Emirates program enabling Federal Government leaders to be future-ready. Titled, “Cradle to Cradle in the Circular Economy: Designing for Safe and Shared Abundance,” the session focused on the critical role of the Circular Carbon Economy in driving triple-top-line growth. 

Beginning with the role of leadership, McDonough addressed the importance of educating government leaders on the circular economy and sustainable practices, emphasizing his iconic themes: “all sustainability is local,” “design is the first signal of human intention,” “waste equals food,” and “nature doesn’t have a design problem, people do.” 

McDonough encouraged leaders to use a values-first approach to sustainability, or what he likes to call “intergenerational stewardship,” before considering the value, or numerical data and results, of growth strategies. When considering values first, and how to make the world better through commerce by design, he called out the need to not only consider what “the right thing to do” is, but “how do we do it?” 

McDonough also shared his thoughts of the concept of net-zero. “It sounds good, but it’s about not doing things,” he said, before explaining that our goal is to be “more good” and “less bad” at the same time and to create a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world. McDonough then explained that we accomplish this by being eco-effective and net-positive to increase, engage and optimize for a regenerative and circular future. 

McDonough also spoke on the philosophy and impact of designing buildings like trees. Following Cradle to Cradle principles to inspire design–waste equals food, using clean energy and celebrating diversity–we can create buildings that sequester carbon, accrue solar energy and provide habitat. McDonough named the work of his architecture firm William McDonough + Partners as examples, most notably the Ford River Rouge. The revitalized project integrated a new form of stormwater management infrastructure that saved the company $35 million in capital costs over conventional systems. At the heart of the new system lies a 10.5-acre living roof–the world’s largest green roof installation at the time. 

McDonough detailed the Circular Carbon Economy framework as well, stating that carbon in the circular economy is both a material and a fuel. He also identified carbon’s three forms: living, durable and fugitive.

Looking ahead, McDonough said that he sees a future where hydrocarbons are turned to hydrogen as clean fuel, and carbon is used for durable goods. Lastly, he concluded that climate change is the result of a design failure and we must use nature as a model and tool in search of a regenerative biosphere and circular technosphere in the Circular Economy, now the Circular Carbon Economy.