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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Mr. William McDonough and Professor Michael Braungart

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Industry is in the midst of an evolution, from the primitive and short-sighted strategies of the industrial revolution to a system that embraces its potential to support the natural environment, human health and the needs and aspirations of generations to come. The success of this evolutionary process depends to a great deal upon technological innovation – the ability to apply our scientific knowledge in new ways – but even more it is about developing ways to harness our innovative capacities to realize our intentions. It is about designing industrial systems that do more than maximize the efficiency of their ability to destroy, but rather expand their ability to effectively support.

Central to our work, and key to evolving towards an industrial system that truly supports the world around it is the principle of Waste = Food. Just as nature successfully accomplished millions of years ago, this means designing a system in which the outputs of human activity become inputs for future human activity. While current strategies of eco-efficiency seek to reduce and minimize the unintended negative consequences of processes of production and consumption, the concept of eco-effectiveness presents a positive agenda based upon maximizing the ability of industry to truly support the world around it. What we learn from successfully interdependent natural systems is that it is not a matter of reducing our footprint on this planet, but transforming it into a source of replenishment for those systems that depend on it. When people begin thinking like ants, economic growth and rising population become assets rather than threats.

At the heart of this vision is the concept of Cradle-to-Cradle Design, which offers a framework for designing products and processes based upon cyclical material flows, or metabolisms. Materials that flow optimally through the biological metabolism are called biological nutrients. As defined for Cradle-to-Cradle products, biological nutrients are biodegradable materials posing no immediate or eventual hazard to living systems that can be used for human purposes and safely returned to the environment to feed ecological processes. Products conceived as biological nutrients are called products of consumption. A biological nutrient textile, for example, can be used as garden mulch after its useful life as an upholstery fabric. An ice cream wrapper can be designed to contain seeds and liquify at room temperature so that when thrown away, it not only dissolves safely into the ground, but supports the growth of plant-life. Waste = Food.

A technical nutrient, on the other hand, is a material, frequently synthetic or mineral, that remains safely in a closed-loop system of manufacture, recovery, and reuse (the technical metabolism), maintaining its highest value through many product life cycles. Ideally, technical nutrients are used in products of service, which are durable goods, such as televisions, automobiles or washing machines, that render a service to customers. When one buys a television, one is interested in obtaining an entertainment service, not an aggregation of materials. A car offers the service of mobility; a washing machine, clean clothes. Under the product of service concept, products are designed to be used by the consumer for a defined period and then afterwards returned to the company so that the materials can be recovered and used again in new products.

The concept of biological and technical metabolisms, rooted in the principle of Waste = Food, forms the basis of our work, and provides a framework for directing technological innovation towards the formation of an industry that truly and enduringly supports the world around it.

Brief Biography

William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart have been working together for more than ten years during which they have continuously developed, articulated, and applied a revolutionary new approach to sustainable industry, known as Cradle to Cradle Design. They began their collaboration in 1991, co-authoring The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability -- a seminal work in the field of sustainability, first outlining principles to guide the practice of sustainable design -- commissioned by the City of Hannover as their guidelines for hosting EXPO 2000. In 1995 McDonough and Braungart co-founded MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry), a product and process design consultancy dedicated to revolutionizing the design of products and services through the application of Cradle to Cradle Design. Since that time, MBDC and its founders have been working with some of the largest companies in the world -- including Ford Motor Company, BASF, Nike, Shaw, and BP -- to redesign industry to be not just sustainable, but healthy and sustaining.

Mr. McDonough is the founding principal of William McDonough + Partners, Architecture and Community Design, an internationally recognized design firm practicing ecologically, socially, and economically intelligent architecture and planning in the U.S. and abroad. Their design of the Environmental Defense Fund offices, completed in 1985, helped launch the 'green building' movement in the U.S. Their recent award-winning projects for Gap Inc., Nike, Herman Miller, and Oberlin College have set new standards for design quality, environmental sensitivity, and functional effectiveness.

From 1995-1999, Mr. McDonough served as the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia. He is currently the A. D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and Alumni Research Professor at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He also serves as the U.S. Chair of the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development, and Chair of the Centre for Eco-Intelligent Management at Madrid's Instituto de Impresa.

Mr. McDonough has written and lectured extensively on his design philosophy and practice. In 1999 Time magazine recognized him as a 'Hero for the Planet' (2/22/99), stating that "his utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that -- in demonstrable and practical ways -- is changing the design of the world." He was also honored when, in 1996, he received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, the nation's highest environmental honor.

Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart began the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) in Hamburg, Germany in 1987. EPEA is a scientific research institute and consultancy that partners with businesses, government, and other organizations to design products and processes that simultaneously address concerns of environmental performance, economic viability, and social acceptability. In line with this aim, Braungart and EPEA led in the development and application of the Intelligent Product System (IPS), which provides a methodology for the optimization of the life-cycle performance of a product through a classification of the flow paths of its constituent materials.

In 1989, Michael Braungart co-initiated the formation of the Hamburger Umweltinstitut e.V. (HUI). As a non-profit organization, the goal of HUI is to provide scientific research services in the development of environmental solutions. HUI produces the "Top 50 Study", which ranks environmental quality in production for companies in the chemical industry.

Since 1994, Dr. Braungart has been a professor of Process Engineering at the Technical University of Northeast Lower Saxony in Suderburg, Germany, where he is director of the master’s program in material flow management, and initiated development of the Institute for Applied Environmental Research. From 1993-1998, Dr. Braungart was visiting professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Green Design Initiative. Recently, he accepted a visiting professorship at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.