In 2008, FastCompany published this article on William McDonough that is well rounded and a great example of good reporting. It exposed some gaps between the talk and the walk. However, is the issue really McDonough’s personal-professional challenges or society having the capacity to recognize the larger value he produced and runnng with it, with or without him?
Here was my post after finishing the article: Bill’s personal failings, challenges, call them what you may, his only too-human foibles, are unfortunate (but we all have some variety of them do we not?). They do interfere with his potential to be the personal champion for the next industrial revolution. However, it is important to separate the person, even project performance, from his ideas.
The awesome potential of William McDonough as a force for the sustainable/regenerative economic transformation we so urgently need does not lie in his person, but in his ideas. His ideas are conceputally accessible to anyone with logical capacity and ecological education. He has conceputally illuminated the DNA of an economy that not only would have restorative environmental impacts, but which could be a wildly more productive economy to boot, thereby laying the material foundation for a sustainable global society in the biosphere. Given the impoverishment of two-fifths or more of the 7 billion of us on the planet now, and the 2-4 billion more that are arriving daily between now and 2050, a radical increase in economic productivity is absolutely necessary but insufficent for success. Doing it in a way that is net-positive, that is environmentally restorative and enhancing of the biosphere’s regnerative capacity is the essential quality, the necessary and sufficient condition for humanity’s regenerative success in the universe.
However, getting there will take more than the persuasive power of one charismatic designer, with or without foibles! We must embrace his concepts, develop the implications in all areas from design to science to economics to policy, and collaboratively execute at lightening speed and globally. Designing the vehicle for that insitutional collaboration should be the next challenge we address. As is true of most human challenges, they illuminate issues that need to be understood differently, executed differently, if we are to be successful. We all have our own agendas for personal/professional development, but let’s certainly not wait for Mr. McDonough to work out his. There’s a much larger drama in play and it needs our attention now.