Inhabitat's Andrew Michler Interviews Bill McDonough


Image credit: Inhabitat

When I met Andrew Michler at Greenbuild in Chicago I wanted his camera; now I want his voice recorder too. He caught a great interview with architect and writer William McDonough, co-author of the seminal 2002 book Cradle to Cradle and the founder of the not uncontroversial Cradle to Cradle certification system. I liked his answer to Andrew's question "Is it true that sustainability not an adequate word? Are we looking for that next terminology or is sustainability still viable?" (although he recycled one of his oldest jokes)

Sure, I think it's a nice word because so many people can use it. But, nobody knows how to define it. That's part of the issue, and that's why we never use it. But, from our perspective, we're not putting it down, we're just saying it's insufficient. For example, if I say what's your relationship to your wife? Do you say just say sustainable? Don't you want more than that? Don't you want creativity and fun and all these things?

If we just sustain what we are doing now, then we're all dead. This is carbon based silliness, a lot of this stuff, I mean we can't sustain it. Even if you reduce your carbon, we're still in trouble. We don't have an energy problem - what a lot of people don't realize is that we have a materials problem. The carbon in the air is in the wrong place, it belongs in the soil. You need a defined system and sustainability is not that.

Andrew also asks a great question about recycling vs upcycling:

In your work you talk about recycling, which I think a lot of people - including myself - have been confused about, particularly as it compares to upcycling. Looking towards the industry, a lot of products have recycled content, and with the way that recycling is "marketed" so to speak, many people still think 100 percent recycled has got to be the best you can get. What is the distinction between recycling and upcycling?

William McDonough: We coined the term "upcycling", to explain the idea that using a lot of energy to shred up and melt a material in order to reuse it (recycling), is inferior in most circumstances to simply reusing a material in the state that it is currently in (upcycling), and a good example of this concept would be polyester. You can take a polyester water bottle made at food grade, and the fact is that polyester is probably the highest quality of polyester in the world, right there in that bottle. The bottle will have some contaminants from the catalytic process, which leaves a bit of antimony- that's not a good thing because it is a catalyst. But putting the contaminants aside, the bottle is a spectacular piece of human-engineered material. If we recycle that polyester into a fleece jacket, there are people who would say "Oh, you've upcycled it from a lonely water bottle into a hybrid fleece jacket."

Read the whole thing at Inhabitat

More McDonough:
William McDonough on Nuclear Power
Quote of the Day: William McDonough on the Triple Top Line
Quote of the Day: Bill McDonough on Green Renovation
Book: Cradle to Cradle

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