William McDonough: A Celebrity for Sustainability

June 19, 2014

Most celebrities are entertainers: actors, musicians or professional athletes. William McDonough on the other hand, is a celebrity for sustainability. Though not quite a pop-culture icon, McDonough is respected in his field as a pioneer who has pushed sustainable design to new heights.
BillyMcD2In 1999, Time Magazine recognized William McDonough as a ‘Hero for the Planet.’

After growing up in Hong Kong and attending Dartmouth, McDonough designed the first solar-heated house in Ireland while still at Yale. In 1981 McDonough founded William McDonough Architects, which later became William McDonough + Partners. He also co-founded McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) with Michael Braungart, another influential figure in sustainability.

The clients of McDonough’s consulting, architectural and community design firms include the City of Amsterdam, Nike, General Electric and the University of Michigan.

His firms have headed such notable projects as the restoration of the Ford Motors truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, which has a ten acre green roof that also serves as a storm water management system.

Another McDonough project is Park 20/20 in the Netherlands, a dynamic system of sustainable office buildings and green space. The community also has two ‘Biological Pavilions,’ one of which serves food made with vegetables and herbs collected from greenhouses connecting the two.

All of McDonough’s work incorporates his “Cradle to Cradle” ideology, based on a vision of the future McDonough describes in his TED Talk as “a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world—with clean air, clean water, soil and power—economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed.”

This idea is expanded upon in his book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” which is made of a polymer, rather than a tree. The book is available on Amazon.com. Beyond the books he’s authored, McDonough shares the sustainable principles that have led him to success via speeches and panels at such organizations as the United Nations and UC Berkely and via written work for The Guardian and The Huffington Post.

Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and GreenBlue, both non-profit organizations that verify sustainable products, were also co-founded by McDonough and Braungart.

McDonough received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development in 1996, the EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2003 and won the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Award for his work in the field of environmental design in 2004.


Previously Dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, McDonough remains a visiting professor at UVA’s Darden School of Business. He is still orating, writing and designing a more sustainable world for us to live in.

-Aidan Kelly

Photo Credit: Flickr/OnInnovation and Zach Taylor

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