Clean Machine (2014)

By William McDonough


Factory. Hold that word in mind for a moment and it is likely to evoke images of a gritty industrial landscape: smokestacks and foul air, railroad freight yards, steaming mills and roaring machinery — places no family would want in their neighborhood.

But a factory is not inherently a dirty, brutish, destructive neighbor. The whole point of a factory is to be fundamentally creative, and one designed to celebrate life can produce an abundance of ecological and social benefits. Consider Method’s new manufacturing facility on Chicago’s South Side. Using renewable energy and clean materials to make safe, healthy products, the factory is designed to be a generative, supportive neighbor that honors community history. Its location, the historic Pullman District, is famously associated with a model development in which industry and community worked side-by-side; it was designed that way. And by design, Method will continuously improve upon the relationship between the factory and its surroundings, offering a positive, hopeful future for the company and the neighborhood.

That’s nothing new for a company that rigorously assesses products and packaging to ensure they are clean and safe. Having long made Cradle to Cradle Certified products, Method sought out my design team to be sure its flagship factory is equally healthy and innovative. Working closely with Method, we designed a clean, simple, effective facility that operates in concert with natural systems, making use of the sun, the landscape, and natural flows of fresh air and water to create a productive and restorative workplace. A refurbished wind turbine and solar arrays will provide more than half the factory’s electricity needs while solar thermal panels will provide hot water for factory processes. Local food crops will flourish in a rooftop hydroponic greenhouse. Widespread plantings will restore stands of native oak and hickory. Bioswales and ponds will filter stormwater on site. Indoors, the building will be flush with daylight and fresh air, and a transparent south wall will offer a visual connection to the outdoors. The factory will render visible a positive relationship with the natural world.

Method has also chosen to energetically interact with the South Side community. The factory is an investment in the re-industrialization of Chicago, designed to improve the quality of life for working families. Built on the site of the Pullman railroad car company’s long-abandoned lumberyard, it will bring an estimated 100 manufacturing jobs to the neighborhood. Much of the site will be a public park, and its public reach will extend into the community through walkways to shopping, connections to transit, and the flow of fresh, quality food from the rooftop greenhouses. Method’s dedication to clean products and production — 75 percent of its product line is Cradle to Cradle Certified — guarantees a healthful work place for employees, a lovely public space for Pullman, and safe, delightful products for its customers. A good neighbor indeed.

Method’s new factory offers an inspiring model for 21st century industry. It manifests a commitment to ecological and social health that shifts what are frequently seen as marginal concerns to core business principles, a move that effectively supports sustainable economic growth. Method’s leaders know that community and company prosperity are closely entwined and that we all benefit when we support the natural world. That’s the kind of neighborliness that will re-invigorate our landscapes, our economies and our cities in the 21st century. And a factory in Chicago is helping to show the way.


Clean Machine ©2014 William McDonough
Huffington Post, Published September 10, 2014