Bill McDonough Gets Trashed in Fast Company

mcdonough montage image

TreeHugger loves Bill McDonough; We have probably written more posts about him and his cradle-to-cradle certification than any other individual. He is the king of the green one-liner, a brilliant and entertaining speaker, and a pretty good architect. He is a successful green entrepreneur and gets to hang out with Richard Branson, Larry Page, Daryl Hannah and Elon Musk. He speaks at TED and at the Democratic Convention.

Which is why my jaw dropped to the floor when I read Danielle Sacks' demolition job in Fast Company.


why is this man smiling? He hasn't read the article yet.

McDonough has always impressed with his speaking. "Much of the challenge in the environmental movement is to tell compelling stories in a way that is accessible to a broad public," says Maurice Cox, an architecture professor at the University of Virginia that hired McDonough in 1994. "We were struck by his ability to tell a story, to make environmental issues seem to matter. I think there was also an incredible urgency that he communicated."

We are told that he learned "his hypnotic oratory by studying "the Art of Memory" which chronicles how Roman senators gave gripping three hour speeches that brought audiences to their knees. "

By 2002, the book Cradle to Cradle was out and he became known as the "Prophet of Bloom" and by 2008 was getting seven page profiles in Vanity Fair, which includes quotes like " "When it comes to new ways of shifting our sustainability paradigms, Bill is the granddaddy of this way of thinking. He's the visionary inventor, there before anyone. And now he's actually building the factories that make clean water, working on the concept cars that make clean air, doing the big thinking that is moving things forward."

Danielle Sacks is not so sure. She finds evidence that Cradle to Cradle is not particularly original to McDonough, and then describes how McDonough tries to own the rights to everything. Hunter Lovins describes trying to work with him at Interface Carpets: "Bill was trying to gain the reputation as the thought leader in this field, going around trademarking terms." (like "triple top line" and "ride the wind") He eventually fell out with the company, which went on to become the face of green industry. (TreeHugger has covered how Shaw Industries got cradle to cradle certification).

He fell out with Nike (again, over proprietary claims), and appears to have offended a whole lot of people; environmental consultant John Picard says "I was with a group at MIT [in May] with influential billionaires in the room. One person said, 'Why aren't we working with Bill?" Three people out of the eight had dealings with Bill, and they were not favourable, says Picard. "They were adamant that they did not want to work with him."

mcdonough china photo

Sacks points out how his architecture projects are not working out quite as planned (like Huangbaiyu in China, which is mostly abandoned).

But most troubling for me is the section on Cradle to Cradle certification, which is not taking off as quickly has one might have hoped.

mcdonough c2c image

Not only is the take-up a lot slower than expected, but criticism of it is getting louder. It is well known that there is concern that the system is proprietary, but also that it is "a black box. You can see what is going in and what is going out but you're not privy to exactly what's going on inside the process." It is not transparent or consensus based, and there is the appearance of conflict. Not only that, companies are jumping ship for" an open, transparent certification called SMaRT, a nonprofit coalition of government, companies and environmental groups."

It is a shocker that sometimes goes over the top: Sacks asserts that people are keeping quiet and are shielding McDonough because "if word gets out that he may not be all that he appears, the overall cause of sustainability could suffer." That's a bit much, no one is completely without sin.

But the article paints a picture of a vain, litigious and greedy self-promoter that is hard to put down or ignore. In the November issue of Fast Company; Online at Fast Company Here

Some Bill McDonough Posts in TreeHugger:

William McDonough on Nuclear Power
Quote of the Day: William McDonough on the Triple Top Line
Musings from Verdopolis: Bill McDonough
Quote of the Day: Bill McDonough on Green Renovation
Bill McDonough in China:
Designing Sustainable Cities For China

Cradle to Cradle:

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart
Cradle To Cradle In Practice— A Workshop With Dr. Michael ...
Book: Cradle to Cradle

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