First in a Series: In Building and Product Design, We Must Think Green; the Notion That Buildings Can Benefit Both People and the Environment Is Gaining Influence

By McDonough, William | Sunset, November 2004 | Go to article overview

First in a Series: In Building and Product Design, We Must Think Green; the Notion That Buildings Can Benefit Both People and the Environment Is Gaining Influence


McDonough, William, Sunset


There's an old saying in the environmental movement: Think globally, act locally. That is, keep the planet's needs and processes in mind, and take action in your own community to help those processes continue and thrive. But what if we thought galactically and acted molecularly?

On the road ahead, we can go beyond simply maintaining minimal resources or recycling a few materials. We can focus on fecundity and joy and a celebration of the biology of life, on tying the place of our planet in space--its beneficial relation to the sun--with the chemistry of the places we inhabit and the design of the products we use.

The part of this movement that draws my firms' attention is the design of cities, buildings and products. When we designed America's first so-called "green" office building in New York two decades ago, we felt very alone. But today, thousands of people come to green building conferences, and the idea that buildings can be good for people and the environment will be increasingly influential in years to come.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Back in 1984 we discovered that most manufactured products weren't designed for indoor use. The "energy-efficient" sealed commercial buildings constructed after the 1970s energy crists revealed indoor air quality problems caused by materials such as paint, insulation, wall covering and carpet. So for 20 years, we've been focusing on these materials down to the molecules, looking for ways to make them safe for people and the planet.

Home builders can now use materials--such as paints that release significantly reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds--that don't destroy the quality of the air, water, or soil. Ultimately, however, our cradle-to-cradle design strategy is focused not simply on being "less bad" but on creating completely healthful materials that can be either safely returned to the soil or reused by industry again and again. In fact, Shaw Industries, the world's largest carpet manufacturer, has already developed a carpet that is fully and safely recyclable.

Look at it this way: No one starts out to create a building that destroys the planet. But our current industrial systems are inherently causing these conditions, whether we like it or not. So instead of simply trying to reduce the damage, we are taking a positive approach. …

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