During a lecture at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the environmental architect and designer William McDonough asked, “How do we love all children of all species for all time?”
“You’d be amazed what happens to design when that question is asked,” McDonough said. “Conventional eco-efficiency measures—such as recycling or emissions reduction—are inadequate for protecting the long-term health of the planet. “Humans are capable of much more elegant environmental solutions than the ones we’ve settled for in the last half-century.”
McDonough spoke to an NJIT audience of 250 people on Oct. 26, 2005. The lecture was part of the university’s Technology and Society Forum, which explores the connections between technology and issues that affect the quality of human life.
In terms of improving our environmental solutions, McDonough endorses what is known as eco-effectiveness—designing from the ground up for both eco-safety and cost efficiency. “Design is the first signal of human intention,” he said. His Cradle to Cradle design concept is a redefinition of what constitutes good design. In such systems, materials are built for effective resource recovery and they either return to industry or to the soil. In the “cradle to grave” system, materials would be deposited in landfills or toxic dumps. In his ideal world, nothing used in building will be wasted. Rather, everything should biodegrade or, when the building becomes obsolete, be recycled into materials for new structures.
“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power to be economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed,” said McDonough.
He noted that his book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (North Point Press, April 2002), in which he called for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design, is printed not on paper but on polymer—to save trees. Efficiency is not going to save us, said McDonough, in that it won’t be sufficient to the task. “Eco-efficiency leads to degenerative technologies,” he said. “We’re efficient in making the wrong stuff.”
His eco-effective strategy instead insists that all parts of products to be reused - either returned to the soil as nontoxic “biological nutrients” that will biodegrade safely, or returned to industry as “technical nutrients” that can be infinitely recycled. “Survival of the fittest,” he said, “is really about survival of the fittingest because in nature, growth is good and part of the natural system.”
Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental activist group, will deliver the next lecture on Nov. 9, 3-4:30 p.m., in the second floor ballroom of the NJIT campus center. His talk will focus on developing an urban infrastructure that balances ecological concerns with economic growth. The campus center is near the intersection of Summit Street and Central Avenue. The lecture is free, open to the public and parking is available.