As you will have heard, the Industrial Revolution was hard on nature. That was the one that started with the dark, satanic mills and left the world with smoke-belching, sewage-spilling plants and dwindling precincts of greenery. So when William McDonough and Michael Braungart looked over the sheer size of its legacy, they knew what was needed. Another revolution. As McDonough once said: "Our culture has adopted a design stratagem that says: If brute force or massive amounts of energy don't work, you're not using enough of it." His answer? Find a completely different way of "taking, making, using and consuming in the world."
Five years ago, McDonough and Braungart gave that next industrial revolution its working manual. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is a book so green it was manufactured out of fully recyclable plastic resins. Its central and ever more influential premise is what you might call "planned nonobsolescence." All things manufactured should be designed from the outset with the intention that they will eventually be recycled, either back to the soil, harmlessly, or into some other product. A snappy McDonough/Braungart slogan puts it this way: WASTE EQUALS FOOD. Not necessarily the kind you eat, but the kind that feeds something useful.
McDonough is an American architect who was born in Tokyo and grew up in Hong Kong, Canada and the U.S. Braungart is a German chemist who was a founding member of Germany's Green Party. Twelve years ago they combined to form McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, a firm that works with businesses and governments to find "cradle-to-cradle" solutions to their problems. With their help, companies like Ford and Gap have built greener headquarters. Now the duo are bringing their visionary expertise to China, where they are designing development plans for seven cities. That means devising new building materials, so China doesn't deplete its soil to make bricks. It means rooftop farming, so buildings don't simply displace arable land. With a population of 1.3 billion, China will either be the proving ground of new thinking or the graveyard of all hopes. We know two guys who are ready to rock the cradle.
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