The Power to Redefine Our Local Environment

At the next Powers of 10 of product development are issues that affect regions. one aspect of regional issues focuses on limited resources and our ability to seek ways to save resources or develop alternatives. William McDonough and Michael Braungart address energy loss and pollution reduction through economically viable approaches. They are creating manufacturing facilities and buildings that eliminate the need for waste inspection. When water coming out of a plant is cleaner than the water going in, the plant is beyond the standards. The environment improves, and the costs of inspection and rectification decrease. The point McDonough and Braungart are making is not to shoot for a world of compliance but to design around the issue altogether. Rather than decide to meet a government – assigned number on pollutants that equates to “not too much dam­age,” they think out of the box and create positive architectural struc­tures that actually participate in the environment they are built in. By focusing on the larger picture, their approach actually saves the com­pany money in the end. To do this means starting with a new way of planning that takes into account more Powers of 10 in the design process.

Two problems with modern buildings are that they often create interior cubicles that block people from getting sunlight, and they use artificial climate control. McDonough designs buildings that allow everyone to have access to direct sunlight with windows that can open to let in outside air. Natural airflow and sunlight help people stay healthier and make for more positive work environments. In addition, the materials most buildings use leach toxins into the air as they age, a major problem for allergies and respiratory issues in general. McDonough and his partners have generated a list of acceptable building materials and developed new ones of their own. Their roof concepts contribute to the environment by becoming natural exten­sions of the location they are in. The roofs breathe and return oxygen to the environment, they become a home for wildlife and restore the natural balance of the ecosystem, and they insulate sound and tem­perature for their interiors. Besides better work conditions, healthier employees mean fewer illnesses and lower insurance costs.

Ford Motor company hired McDonough to redesign its River Rouge plant in Detroit. Originally built in 1917 by Henry Ford to turn raw iron into Model-A cars, the site became an environmental disaster. Beginning in 1999, McDonough led the $2 billion redesign of the complex, making the land prairie again with plants on living roofs. Not only is the environmental impact reversed, but Ford believes the investment will make economic sense as well.

McDonough’s next big regional challenge is no surprise. He is part of a U. S. and Chinese team designing new cities in China. The issues that most people have seen as problems, McDonough and Braungart have turned into opportunity. Their approach can be achieved only through innovation and a passion for finding the best possible answers for complex problems. Just ask Nike, Ford, and Herman Miller.