Resource Abundance by Design | William McDonough at World Economic Forum

Resource Abundance by Design | William McDonough at World Economic Forum


Hi everybody. I’d like to take a look at these words. Resource, abundance, and design. That’s what we’re here to talk about. I’ve had the opportunity to work with German
chemist, Dr. Michael Braungart, and we’ve written Cradle to Cradle and then The Upcycle
and what we’re looking at is a world of good and how to do that by design. Because I see design as the first signal of
human intention. If we intend to be less bad, perhaps we’ll
still be bad, just less so by definition. So what would it mean to be more good? Let’s start with a poem from the twelfth century. “Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of Earth’s greenings. Now, Think.” Glance. See. Gaze. Think. She goes on to say, “What a delight God gives
to humankind with all these things.” A delight. Beauty. Wonderment Then, “All nature is at the disposal of humankind.” This has been part of our thinking. “We are to work with it, for without it, we
cannot survive.” This turns into sustainability and the use
of the natural world. When you think about sustainability, if I
asked you what your relationship was with your loved ones and you said, “Sustainable,”
I would say, “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t sound that interesting. Now, I was born in Japan in a traditional
Japanese house. As a baby at three years old, I would lie
on a futon and I would listen to the oxcarts as the farmers collected our sewage. And they would take it to the farms. This is the Netherlands. And the cities and the farms were always one
organism, and I always thought, “Isn’t this great. Poop stories.” The farms and the cities are one thing. This is a city that I heard about as a five
year old, which is Hiroshima. And then I heard about this. Cities which took thousands of years to build,
took seconds to destroy. It takes thousands of years to build. It takes seconds to destroy. And I thought to myself, “Someday I’m going
to understand why people might do this to each other and how is it even possible to
do this.” When I was nineteen and I was in college,
I decided I wanted to study international relations, which I did, but then I wanted
to understand how this could even happen. So the professor in physics said, “You must
understand the special theory of relativity because the answer is there.” And when I realized that if c is a huge number
approaching infinity and square it, it’s gigantic, and if m is a one like in one hydrogen atom,
then the E is gigantic and that is the atom bomb. And a tool’s value is put there by the purpose
to which the human puts it. Design is the signal of intention. And then I stared at a fire burning and I
thought about entropy. And I said, “Is this all we have? This chaos of carbon and minerals and water
that never can re-aggregate? Is that what we’re learning?” And I said, “There must be negative entropy,”
because I’m from Asia. We must have the opposite. What would it be? I couldn’t find it in the physics library. I found extrogy, enthropy, I found lots of
things, but not negative entropy. Until I realized that what’s happening here
is that carbon is going into the atmosphere, the oxygen is coming down, and the reason
I couldn’t find negative entropy in physics is because from a design perspective, it’s
biology. That’s why. These are the are the aggregators of things
that have been dispersed. There’s the co2. Nature has found a way to take co2 out of
the atmosphere and put it in soil. And you realize that the only income of a
planet is actually solar energy, carbon, and some nitrogen, and that we release oxygen. Isn’t that amazing? And so you start to think that E and m … E
is physics, m is chemistry, and what about biology? So I studied Francis Crick. After discovering DNA, 9 years later, he wrote
an essay for the University of Washington called the Nature of Vitalism. He determined that in order to be a living
thing, you had to have three conditions. Growth, income, and an open system of chemicals
operating for the benefit of the organism and its reproduction. This is fascinating. This means that the m, the mass, is precious
and that its all we have, except for bits of income up here. So let’s treat the mass preciously. And that’s when I realized, if I ever became
an architect … For example, I was an art student, I will design buildings like trees. So I designed a daycare center in Germany
where the children would operate it, it would grows its own food, make its own energy, provide
community laundry. I was sitting with the daycare center teachers,
programming it, and I saw that the children were eating and building. So I thought, “Well, wait a minute, what are
they eating?” So I decided to find a chemist, which I did,
Micheal Braungart, and we stated to look at, “What about these chemicals” and “What’s going
on with this open system of chemicals?” And we realized if we could design materials
like Crick is talking about, the biosphere, when waste equals food, an open system of
chemicals operating for the benefit of the organisms and their reproduction. The humans in the last 5,000 years have developed
another metabolism, which the technical one since we started banging metal. And that both these metabolisms could operate
for the benefit of our species. And the reproduction of all species and biodiversity. So, we designed in these two metabolisms. Humility is required because for 5,000 years
we never figure out how to put two wheels on our luggage, so we’re not as smart as we
sometimes think. But then we started to think, “What if we
design materials that can go back to nature safely? The things we wear, the things we use in the
water, and then things as technical nutrition that go back to industry forever. The polymers, the aluminum.” Since 1850, 75% of the aluminum made by humans
is still in circulation. Technical nutrition. Think about this. Even solar collectors. Even if we use cadmium, can be seen as being
nutrition for technology the future, as long as they’re safe. My first product was a textile where we brought
the chemist in and we looked at the rivers with textile mills. This one in Indonesia. We said, “Wait a minute, the river is black. And its toxic. Really.” So we redesigned it. We looked at 8,000 chemicals in the textile
industry, reduced it down to 38 for wool and ramie, and made a fabric so safe, the water
coming out of the mill, which goes to Lake Constance in the Alps, is clean as Swiss drinking
water. Why not? Because we can do this by design. Isn’t that astonishing? The trimming, which used to be hazardous waste,
became mulch for the local garden club. The company no longer had to send it to Spain
for burial or burning. Imagine. So, we took a look at technical nutrition. This is carpet. Carpet in the United States, we have 1.4 billion
pounds of carpet waste in the United States every year. Some of it PVC, very hazardous material to
handle. So we started designing this for Berkshire
Hathaway, is now the largest carpet company in the world. Technical nutrients skins face shards back
to caprolactam, the back is a thermoplastic polyolefin. So the carpet becomes carpet again forever. You’re storing your materials on your customers’
floors and they can be used ad infinitum to make carpet over and over again. That’s it. We take these materials, we put them in a
materials bank, you have a relationship with the customer, which is perpetual. Right before the Earth Summit, a book came
out which struck me because I was writing The Hannover Principals and Design
for Sustainability and it was a book called Ecocide In The USSR. It pointed out that 16% of the former USSR
was uninhabitable. Toxification. This is what we’re looking at in terms of
arable land. 50% in peril. What does that take us to today, for example? If you’re in China, a couple months ago, this
was announced. China has about 12% of its land is arable. If that 12%, just now, this is government
statistic, 19.4% has been declared contaminated. Too toxic to grow food. 20%. Imagine that. And what is it. It’s cadmium, it’s lead, it’s the materials
that we use to make things like this. Are cadmium and lead bad? No, they’re materials. If we use them as solder, they’re
busy over there. If we sequester them in technical nutrition,
we can use them ad infinitum. But when they get in the biosphere they are
neurotoxins, mutagens, carcinogens. This is Hunan Province. This rice should not be eaten. What is a toxin? A toxin is a material in the wrong place. Lead in a computer is solder,
lead in a child’s brain is brain death. Okay. When did we decide that carbon was a toxin? Imagine. We are carbon. If you don’t like carbon, shoot yourself,
dry it up, and blow away, because you are carbon. When did we take carbon from an atmosphere
that’s been made into an asset over millennia and turn it into a liability? Well, we did it by sending all the ancient
carbon back into the atmosphere. Oops, backward, upside-down. And then all of a sudden we got the Greenhouse
Effect and now carbon has become a toxin. We did that. Did we do that on purpose? I don’t know. Was that our design? If it’s not our design, who’s got the plan? So, the question becomes, “Can I bring carbon
and nitrogen to the soil? Can we release oxygen by design?” So, I was asked by NASA to think about designing
the space station for Mars. And I said, “Before we go to Mars, what if
we come back to the blue planet first?” So we got the team that developed the design
of the space station, and we got together in Houston and started in the room where they
heard the words, “Houston, we have a problem.” So we started there. And this team … these are people who nuclear
powered a station with nuclear energy coming from a reactor 93 million miles away. A safe distance. 8 minutes in wireless, isn’t that interesting? So we took
that team and decided to build it, and here it is. It’s in Mountain View, California. This building can make 120% of the energy
it needs from renewable power and purify it’s own water down to the last molecule. We did it with a normal federal budget for
an office building, ahead of schedule. So let’s not just talk about more efficient
buildings. Let’s talk about buildings like trees. We want more of them. The problem is so many people today report
their environmental behaviors, etc., as, “Let’s be less bad. Reduce our carbon emissions by 20% by 2020.” If you’re telling us you want nothing, why
don’t we go and put it below the line, because wanting nothing is like saying if I run out
of here and jump in a taxi and say, “Quick! I’m not going to the airport.” Is this helpful? We’re not telling people where we’re going. So let’s start saying, “We got rid of the
bad stuff. Let’s start doing the good stuff.” What does the good stuff look like? It’s not just reduce your badness. So we do it. Inventory, if it’s materials, we do every
molecule. We don’t want it recrewing in mother’s milk. If it’s energy we want it clean and renewable. If its water we want it safe and healthy. So let’s take a look at all these conditions
that we have today over here and these various things, and let’s not just shrink their badness
and report that we’ve reduced our emissions. Let’s start to increase the goodness. Let’s start focusing here, too. We do both. Out with that stuff, in with this stuff. It’s about constant improvement. The idea of our upcycling is that things get
better every day, not just less bad. It doesn’t mean don’t do this reductivism,
it means also send a positive message to the children that we have an idea of what the
future might look like by design with good intention. So, just as we look at that, and close it,
I would like to think about what it means to have carbon for example, once again, become an
asset for humans instead of a liability. We’ll start with that, because so many people
are concerned on the carbon front. So, Mark, show us how you do that. Thank you. This product is now going through Cradle to
Cradle certification review, which is very exciting, because its the design for the circular
economy. We look at materials that are nutrients, we
look at materials that have reverse logistics, new business models, new ways of getting these
materials back into cycles. We look at essentially waste equals food,
and that everything is food for something else. Technology or biology. We take the old paradigm of take, make, waste
and we reverse it. At this point in history. God never sent a bill for the trees. So, what can we do in the future where we
can get materials cheaper than free? Think about it. So when we stop and look at … I call this
Either, Ore, and the “ore” is with an “e.” You can either get mining of the earth if
you’re looking for gold, and you make about $210 per ton on the gold. Or, we could mine circuit boards from old
telephones and we get about $7,500 per ton. So, what if we mine the cities. What if we mine the things we make now and
we start designing the things we make now for what’s next. So we design what’s next into what’s now and
we understand how they relate to ecosystems and organisms. This is a sewage treatment plant. That is sewage sludge. A mechanic working with that discovered the
pipes are all clogging up with minerals. So he sent them through an vortex, and guess
what happened? That happened. This is known as struvite. That is phosphate. It is a slow-release fertilizer than can be
sold at a 12% profit. So all of a sudden we realize that sewage
treatment is silly. We take these valuable nutrients in the biosphere,
add chlorine, and throw them in the water. What if we turned that into fertilizer for
farmers. Nitrogen, phosphates, we all need 3 to 4 grams
of phosphate per day. Where are we going? Kazakhstan? Morocco for this? When they’re right there in our cities. When you start to think about it, imagine
Paris with roofs covered with farming. Just for conceptual purposes. Imagine Washington DC being highly productive. Isn’t that interesting? So, we start to think about what would a city
… This is a one day sketch. Saying, “Well, wait a minute, what would buildings
be if a city grew its own food? How can we start to think about those things?” I did the project for the Ford Motor Company
to revitalize this thousand hectare site known as the River Rouge in Detroit. We ended up doing the world’s largest green
roof. When you stop and think about it, this building
is making oxygen, purifying water, and it’s saved Ford $35 million in cap ex day one over
conventional chemical systems, which means its the equivalent of walking into the board
to get permission for this and saying “I have the equivalent of an order for $900 million
worth of cars at a 4% margin.” Brad Pitt and I looked at New Orleans and
decided to see if we could help after Hurricane Katrina. 10 thousand people were displaced here. So we went and looked, met with the community,
started a foundation called Make It Right. Started working with the local residents to
see what it meant for them to come home. We decided to build a neighborhood of 150
houses, we’re at about 103 now. We hired architects from around the world,
local to international, and we gave the people choices of many designs and they could choose
their own. But what I love the most is that children
came back from the FEMA trailers with asthma because they had been surrounded by formaldehyde. These kids want to sing and dance, this is
New Orleans. The home of the first original American music. If these children can’t sing and dance, there’s
something wrong in the world. So these people have a $400 mortgage, they
get their power from the sun, they can afford to give the kids dance and singing lessons,
and the great thing is the children came back. They couldn’t breathe. Now they can breathe. This is project in the Netherlands designed
to make its own food, power itself. These are office buildings selling in a market
where office buildings could be bought for one year’s rent. It’s because people want to be in places like
this and the buildings, they’re seen as material banks. They’re storing materials for future generations
after design for disassembly. It’s worth about 1.4% of the financing pro
forma. This project here … As we built them this,
we’d just been given this near Schiphol if you can imagine the scale we’re
dealing with here. What we’re looking at is this massive project
where logistics are here, biology is here, and in a way, the conceptual framework is
technical nutrition, biological nutrition. This will be a Cradle to Cradle hub for the
circular economy. Companies and people can come here. I wanted to look at Pakistan and Haiti when
these disasters occurred because we wanted to help. It occurred to me after hearing from [inaudible
00:17:09] and some friends, they said, “Bill, you’ve got to take on the housing issue for
the super poor.” So I started to think, “Well, if we’re going
to have the first industrial revolution using natural resources, what are we using in the
next one where we can afford the materials?” I realized, this is materials. These are sachets and packaging we say, “Oh,
we’re giving the poor these little packages, isn’t that wonderful.” And yet, this is it. Wait a minute. Is that all we’ve got? So I thought, “Well, let me do some conceptual
work. What if these relief situations actually produce
capital formation of things that people could use again and start to create communities
that are actually viable in the short term but could also be disassembled and used as
resources over the long term, and could adapt to local cultures depending on what you want
to do with the building systems.” We started to look at, if you think about
a resource, like plastics from New York, where the films are the bulk of it and they’re paying
$80 a ton to get rid of it. I decided my design team would be 6th graders. So, we brought together the children to start
to think about designing towns, and I got to tell you, I’d rather live in this than
most of these little barracks-like refugee camps, frankly. So we started to think conceptually, what
if we could take these materials and people could build a house in one day with their
children without tools. We started to think about what the systems
could be like that would allow that kind of thing to occur. This house, this has a dignified court, 10
feet tall. You could add wings to this and surround it
and it could become 8 bedrooms, if you want. So we have the children laying out streets
and groups for housing. This is just the bulk version of it. IT’s very refined now. But even things like that window are just
flipping out on a spring so they don’t require complex mechanisms. We started looking at using these polymers
to make various kinds of plastics, parts the kids could could put together to build houses. We have 8 joints coming together in a flat
space. They just put a rivet and away we go. We have unfolding roofs for smaller buildings. And mushroom insulation believe it or not
as we experiment different ways to do things in biosphere and technosphere. The style of the houses will be up to the
people. This is building systems. In the United States, we use 2x4s and plywood. What if we had different sized parts. The commercial model is based on an inspiration
by this astonishing person, Dr. Venkataswamy in Madurai, India. He was a cataracts surgeon that realized if
we went to mass production, that he could reduce the cost of it all. Instead of $300 lenses, they’d be $2. Instead of $1,900 for cataracts surgery, it
could be $20, which is turned out to be. Because of that, he could give it for free
to the people who couldn’t afford it, and the people who could afford anything would
pay $50, $60, $80. That’s it. In his legacy of this hospital system, he
has given eyesight to 2 million people for free. This is astonishing. What it does is change the question of commerce
itself, from how much can I get for how little I give … A world of limits, to one of generosity
and abundance. How much can we give, for all that we get? A world of generosity, of fairness. As we look at the entropic activity of the
burning of the world, those light bulbs you see are fires. They are fires. Mark is right. We can look at alternate systems, of course
we can. We can think about what more good looks like. At the same time, as we celebrate we should
remember all of these things here are chemicals. And they’ll all come back to the ground. And as we think about rising into the sky,
we also have to remember what it means to come down to the ground. When you’re grounded in fundamental principles
that drive our design, and as we think about the world, let us re-see the world. Let us glance. Let us see. Let us gaze. Let us think about this beauty. But let’s remember what we need to do now
is start with our children to think again about the future. So let us think. After we think, let us do. Because it’s time for action and I think with
these kinds of protocols, we can now get to work once again. Thank you very much.

7 thoughts on “Resource Abundance by Design | William McDonough at World Economic Forum

  1. You might have mentioned Henry Ford when he (Ford) made the point against petrol in favor of hemp, that the living hemp, unlike the dead plant (petrol), is sustainable by design (with other words, but he made that point). There is resource abundance, but we design waste by lack of imagination, and … special minority profits. The root of the problem is in ourselves.

  2. Brilliant. Intuitive inspired design that works and benefits at every level, enhances our wellbeing and joyously broadens design possibilities exponentially. Thank you!

  3. Isn't the internet brilliant? I can actually send you a message. I've been following your talks since TED in 2007. You are one of my life heroes. You are a truly brilliant man. Thank you.

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