• 02.03.09

William McDonough: Yet Another Green Certification

Green design missionary William McDonough is now offering a new certification. Is this just another savvy marketing ploy, or possibly the road to large scale design transformation?

Back in November, I chronicled green “cradle to cradle” missionary William McDonough and his not so expedient plight to design us out of our waste addiction. Through the course of my reporting I discovered that several of his high-profile architecture projects didn’t  translate to the ecological utopias he presented and that he was getting more traction from Hollywood, than the business world, where he was supposedly to be upending industry after industry. While McDonough told me he has aggressive plans to “cradle to cradle” certify 30,000 products by 2012, the shocking reality is he’s only certified 160 products over the past few years.


In the latest development, McDonough has now added yet another way for companies to achieve radical design transformation. Last week his materials consultancy, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, announced that in addition to certifying products “cradle to cradle”–his toxin-free, closed-loop (and patented) design vision–now product ingredients too can be certified. Said a PhD quoted in MBDC’s press release: “MBDC’s new Cradle to Cradle ingredient designation adds a layer of transparency to the process.”

“Transparency” is clearly a calculated message by McDonough’s outfit, considering it’s the biggest criticism its brand of eco-certification has been battered with by environmental critics (see “black box” criticism). This latest news is a mixed bag. On one hand, going straight to suppliers to certify chemicals and materials is certainly a more efficient way for McDonough to achieve scale and impact, and boy does he need it. However, McDonough’s track record always tends to tilt towards what is most lucrative for him: now, instead of charging companies just to certify a single product, he can charge them to certify every ingredient in that product! Is this just another savvy marketing ploy, or possibly the road to large-scale design transformation?

About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton.