William McDonough at World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2014

William McDonough at World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2014


If we look at the world and we watch the systems
that are at work we realize that the earth is in decline in so many ways and that we
are now the dominant species. So what is our design, what is our plan, what if we say,
“Oh the world is going to hell and its not our plan.” well its our defect-o plan then
because we don’t appear to have another one. And so, who’s got the plan? Lets get going.
Now I come from design, and so I can’t help it. And people say pessimist think the glass
is half empty and optimists think the glass is half full, I think the glass is always
full, of water and air. Also, don’t think its big enough. And I think the water should
be clean and the air should too. So instead of shrinking from our responsibilities, what
if we rise to our occasions. And that’s what I want to talk about and if we come away from
this talk with one thing, being less bad is really a good idea. But its insufficient to
the task at hand. It might get us halfway to the destructive pace but if we increase
our consumption if we have growth its not sufficient we do it and we do it joyfully
but we can add to it some exciting things. So I’ve entitled my talk “Beyond Sustainability
From Limits… To Growth” and for those of us in the sustainability movement you’ll probably
notice two funny things here, one is I’m using the word sustainability which I sometimes
don’t do, and the reason I often don’t use the word sustainable, is if I asked you what
your relationship is to your spouse and you said sustainable I’d say I’m sorry. That really
sounds boring. So lets get past that so that’s why I said beyond sustainability and then
limits to growth is a very important document published for the club of Rome 1972 out of
MIT and limits to growth was a bell whether that got a lot of attention and it was about
how our growth was limited because you cannot as Kenneth Building pointed out have exponential
growth and demand with declining resources, it just doesn’t work. If we look at it we
can go back in history and start to think about how we see the world. And so I want
to start with “Then” and then we will look at “Now” and then we will go to “Next” where
we will spend most of our time. But if we go back to “Then” this is the 12th century.
This is Hildegard Von Bigham a poet and doctor and look at her set of poetry “Glance at the
sun.. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now. Think.”
She went on to say that God gives us these things to delight in and then she said, they
are here at our disposal. They are here for our use, for without them we cannot survive.
Disposal, use, survive, I think we should focus today on that delight part ok? Let’s
talk about how we can celebrate that and actually be part of nature and enhance it instead of
destroy it. So limits to growth used an interesting metaphor on this idea of exponential growth.
They used a lily pond, and said when you have a lily pond with lilies doubling every year
then pretty soon you watch the lily pads come in and you still think you have a lily pond
and its really interesting because at a certain point, like there where your at sixteenths
and all of a sudden you’re a quarter you still think you have a lily pond. And then the pan
ultimate day and then, there it is. So all of a sudden, boom, see. So is that our plan?
Now if you go to the Rio, earth’s summit in 1992 what came out of eco-efficiency? A very
important idea, but the statements of the business councils of state development became
the world business council really important and it said we can reduce our impact, as if
we are supposed to be having, what kind of an impact? Is it positive? Negative? If we’re
going to reduce it, why? Because it’s not good. And so we can reduce pollution, and
waste and we can make money doing it and that’s marvelously true. And businesses can do this
and it’s been shown, its incredibly economic. But one has to ask the question if you were
to reduce the uses of energy and water and save one hundred million dollars in a year
and call it your eco-program one would have to ask, what were your managers doing throwing
away a million dollars of water and energy last year? What does that have to do with
the environment? You just stopped releasing so much problem into the world you haven’t
done anything for the environment, you’ve just done less against it. And so that was
really a management problem, people were throwing away money last year. What does that have
to do with the environment? That’s an economic questions. And so at the earth’s summit we
also see with rolling commissions we start to see the idea of economy, equity and ecology
all become

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