Musings from Verdopolis: Bill McDonough

What should have been the highlight of the conference yesterday—an address by cradle-to-cradle inventor and emporer Bill McDonough—was disappointingly delivered via DVD. But no matter, we won't let that get us down. Though there was obviously no q+a, his message still took full effect: It took us 5,000 years to put wheels on luggage.

Well, that was sort of the point, in terms of humankind being a bit slow, adapting when we could sometimes evolve, and being a bit foggy-minded and unfocused. Still, and more importantly, McDonough discussed his "strategy of hope," and his goal for the human race, which, we think you'll agree, is quite noble and honest: a delightfully diverse and healthy world with clean air and clean water, to be enjoyed elegantly by the children of all species for all time...

According to McDonough, our current culture does not have an end game, and without that plan, "We're just moving chess pieces around." He suggested (and has indeed done so to the governments of many a nation) that we get one. Pronto. If our end game is climate change, well, gosh darn it then, we're doing pretty well. But the true of humanity, rationalizes McDonough (insert Socratic word games here) is the pursuit of happiness and liberty. So how do we get it? Via Design, of course.

After more longwinded, twisted, interesting, and, yes, believable, talk, here's the conclusion: If what we celebrate in both cities and nature is diversity—and in a city that includes color, music, lights, fashion, change—and the forms we create follow that celebration, then indeed, what we form can lead to the path of righteousness and happiness. Form follows function and form follows celebration--it may adapt, evolve, and change, but it also creates diversity, which in turn, leads to the path of happiness. Then he unsurprisingly called for a necessary and high-speed change to the way we are living, designing, and thinking.

The idea of a Verdopolis, says he, is thousands of years old, but along the way, we've encountered many design failures. Pollution, for example, is a design failure. And we are trying to design it out at many different levels—at the molecular level, at the finished-product level and at an environmental level—but we haven't quite gotten yet. But really, we--as citizens, designers, consumers, and corporations--have no right to pollute. McDonough likened the idea to the Bill of Rights: We may have the right to bear arms, but we don't have the right to shoot and kill people. In the same way, we have the right to design, but we don't have the right to pollute. An interesting way of looking at it.

McDonough is a funny man, and a compelling speaker, which, surely, is one of the reasons why he's at the head of this revolution. He's also a hopeful man, and ended his video speech with a strange, but intriguing point. Paraphrasing an OPEC member who was asked what would happen when the world reached the end of the oil age (hey, that's now!), he said, "The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones." That is to say, man is inventive, and McDonough is hopeful that humanity will figure out the next step. We just need to figure out what that means a little faster than we thought of putting wheels on luggage. ::Verdopolis ::Cradle to Cradle [by MO]