William McDonough

Founder & Chief Executive, McDonough Innovation
Charlottesville, VA, United States

About William


William McDonough, FAIA, Int. FRIBA, is a widely recognized designer, sustainable growth pioneer, and business strategist. For more than four decades, he has defined the principles of the sustainability movement (through his companies: McDonough Innovation, William McDonough + Partners, and MBDC), creating its seminal buildings, products, and writings. He is currently serving as Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on the Circular Economy. McDonough is co-creator of the Cradle to Cradle® design framework. William McDonough is author of The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability (1992)—commissioned in 1991 for the City of Hannover’s EXPO 2000 and still recognized more than 20 years later as a touchstone of the sustainable design movement—and co-author, with Dr. Michael Braungart, of the seminal Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002) and The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance (2013). In 2009, William McDonough led the founding of the nonprofit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to donate the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Products Program to the public realm. In 2012, he began a collaboration with Stanford University Libraries on a “living archive” of his
work and communications.

Time magazine recognized him in 1999 as a “Hero for the Planet,” stating that “his utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that—in demonstrable and practical ways—is changing the design of the world.” In 1996, McDonough received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, the nation's highest environmental honor, and in 2003 he earned the first U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for his work with Shaw Industries, the carpet division of Berkshire Hathaway. In 2004, he received the National Design Award for exemplary achievement in the field of environmental design. McDonough is the architect of many of the recognized flagships of sustainable design, including the Ford Rouge truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan; the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College; and NASA’s new “space station on Earth,” Sustainability Base, completed in 2011.

McDonough works with major enterprises including commercial and governmental leaders worldwide through McDonough Innovations. He also is active with William McDonough + Partners, his architecture practice with offices in Charlottesville, Virginia, and San Francisco, as well as MBDC, the Cradle to Cradle consulting firm co-founded with Braungart. He has co-founded, with Braungart, not for profit organizations to allow public accessibility to Cradle to Cradle thinking. These include GreenBlue (2000), to convene industry groups around Cradle to Cradle issues, and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (2009), founded at the invitation of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to create a global standard for the development of safe and healthy products. He and Braungart contributed the Cradle to Cradle certification program to the Institute. McDonough also co-founded Make It Right (2006) with Brad Pitt to bring affordable, Cradle to Cradle-inspired homes to the New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina.


English, French

TED Conferences

TED2016, TED2015, TED2013, TED2012, TED2011, TED2010, TED2008, TED2007, TED2006, TEDGlobal 2005, TED2005, TED2004

Areas of Expertise

Sustainable Design at all scales, Architecture, renewable energy, Sustainable Business, Product Design, Urban Strategy, Cradle to Cradle Design, Product Quality Assessments, CEO Advisor - Cradle to Cradle, Senior Government Executive Advisor

An idea worth spreading

The Hannover Principles, 1992 - I wrote these twenty years ago with Michael Braungart. They evolved into Cradle to Cradle, 2002.
THE HANNOVER PRINCIPLES - Titles of the principles:
1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist.
2. Recognize interdependence. Expand design to recognizing even distant effects.
3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter.
4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being..
5. Create safe objects of long-term value. 6. Eliminate the concept of waste.
7. Rely on natural energy flows.
8. Understand the limitations of design.
9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. (sounds like TED)

I'm passionate about

Loving all the children of all species for all time by articulating and practicing Cradle to Cradle principled design in the world of diverse affairs.

Talk to me about

Cradle to Cradle thinking and design. Design for beneficial human footprint. Why I have been going to Iceland for forty years.

People don't know I'm good at

Photography. I did large format black and white photography and became friends and shared pictures with Walker Evans near the end of his life in the early seventies. I still draw and make pictures.

My TED story

I had been curious about TED forever and when I was invited I prepared and prepared. The day came and I flew out of SFO toward Monterey and the plane smashed into the runway sideways in a horrific wind and rainstorm and had to bounce back in the air and limp to San Jose. This was 8 am and I had to be on stage at 10 sharp. At San Jose there were no rental cars or taxis because of the weather so I took a public bus back to Monterey. I dropped my bags with a stranger at the bus depot and ran up the hill to the conference center soaking wet. I came through the doors and was greeted with: "Oh good, you're here...you go on right now." I was soaking wet and out of breath and never stopped moving until they had to put on the microphone and push me past the curtain. Then the universe expanded and friends and wise ones abound.