McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) LLC, a firm that leads clients beyond sustainability to positive growth through Cradle to Cradle science, innovation and leadership, has announced that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has incorporated the Cradle to Cradle Certified Program in the latest version of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Version 4 rating system (it will take effect in November). The endorsement of Cradle to Cradle Certified products marks the USGBC’s deepening commitment to material health and improving the impacts of buildings on the well-being of humans and the environment.
“We salute the USGBC’s courageous leadership in making material health a priority in the face of immense challenge from industry,” says William McDonough. “The stand they have taken will help continue their meaningful input as an agent of market transformation.”
Last year, at the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild Conference, McDonough delivered the closing keynote address, focusing on material health and a future of abundance for all. He brought clients and partners to the stage with him to make this case, and it happened at a Greenbuild where the USGBC announced a major grant from Google to focus on human health. In February of this year, MBDC and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute participated in the USGBC’s Building and Human Health Summit, where the USGBC brought together industry leaders on healthy materials. The USGBC’s CEO, Rick Fedrizzi, has commended McDonough for his 20-plus years of pioneering leadership in the green and healthy-building movement, as he acknowledged that the Cradle to Cradle material health considerations are now coming to the forefront for the organization and the industry.
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of USGBC. We convened this group as one of our first big initiatives of this milestone anniversary year, not because we didn’t care about this critical subject earlier, but because at this moment in time we are ready for this discussion,” Fedrizzi says. “Protecting and enhancing human health and well-being have been a big part of LEED from the beginning. It’s been embedded into LEED in different credits, but it’s not been in the front seat of this vehicle we are driving. And it needs to be in the front seat in a big way.”
This is also milestone for McDonough and Braungart, the Cradle to Cradle community they helped create over the past few decades, and their enterprises, especially MBDC. This represents a capstone of 25 years of work. “After I’d been working as an architect since the early 1980s, Michael Braungart and I began our collaboration in 1991,” McDonough says,” before the USGBC had begun to form. Our work helped inspire many who created the council, and I was honored to host the first meeting to formulate what would become LEED while I was Dean at the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia. My firm was a charter member of the U.S. Green Building Council, and I have been supportive since LEED’s inception.” Many of McDonough’s pioneering architectural projects predate LEED, including the Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College—a building that harvests more energy than it uses, cleanses its own water and even produces food.
MBDC was launched in 1995, two years after the founding of USGBC, with the design and creation of the William McDonough Portfolio Collection for the Designtex brand of Steelcase. The compostable textile—Climatex Lifecycle by Rohner Textile AG—later became one of the first Cradle to Cradle Certified products. The innovative product design and safe process chemicals resulted in highly profitable production with manufacturing trimmings that could be safely used as mulch in local food gardens and with the water leaving the factory that meets the high standards of Swiss drinking water.
The demand for healthy building materials and interest in Cradle to Cradle Certified products is growing beyond the scale of individually LEED-certified buildings and into larger developments and communities. Jones Lang LaSalle (a global real estate firm with some 1.6 billion square feet of property under its management), Delta Development (owner of Park 20|20, a Cradle to Cradle inspired development in the Netherlands), and Make It Right (a post-Katrina nonprofit launched by McDonough with Brad Pitt to bring safe and healthy Cradle to Cradle-inspired homes to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans) have all explicitly stated that they prefer Cradle to Cradle Certified products for their buildings.
The concept is going global. At last month’s Schmidt-MacArthur summit in London, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said: “Goodness will have a brand … something that looks like a lot like Cradle to Cradle Certified.”
Many others are taking note and taking up the Cradle to Cradle concept. In his foreword to McDonough and Braungart’s latest book, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance (North Point Press, 2013), President Bill Clinton wrote: “The ideas that Bill and Michael put forward … come from an honest sensibility that transcends the daily finger-pointing of left, right, or even reverse. They just point forward.”