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Is Bill McDonough The Next Adam Smith? His Cradle-to-Cradle Paradigm May Be The Next Phase of Capitalism.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 5, 2007

Bill McDonough has opened a San Francisco office because he is getting so much architectural work from the likes of Google, VM Ware and other Silicon Valley companies who are into green design. He’s also working on a huge sustainable cities project in China that he recently talked about in Davos.

But McDonough’s most important work goes beyond his architecture to his philosophy. Simply put, if we change the chemical base of production from toxic to benign/organic chemicals, we can sustain our planet while maintaining a high level of economic growth.

Let me quote from his website about Cradle-to-Cradle, his book:

“William McDonough’s new book, written with his colleague, the German chemist Michael Braungart, is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Through historical sketches on the roots of the industrial revolution; commentary on science, nature and society; descriptions of key design principles; and compelling examples of innovative products and business strategies already reshaping the marketplace, McDonough and Braungart make the case that an industrial system that “takes, makes and wastes” can become a creator of goods and services that generate ecological, social and economic value.”

Adam Smith is well-known for his “invisible hand” theory of markets, which has been the key paradigm of capitalism for the past several centuries. It deal with the key constraint of that era—stultifying statism/feudalism/communism. Cradle-to-cradle has to potential to be the next great capitalist paradigm because it addresses the key issue of our day—how to grow and prosper in a world on fire.

It’s time we looked at cradle-to-cradle an economic system, not a “green” or “sustainable” solution.

Reader Comments

RD (parsons)

April 6, 2007 5:57 PM

his ideas are great, a paradigm shift reconciling shifting social values. But let's look at the cultural context, as design historians are oft time required to do. His ideas are moreover a real time observation.

Ben Arent

April 6, 2007 7:53 PM

Dose a cradle to cradle approach really work in a democratic capitalist economy? Or can you even really use a cradle to cradle system with money. wouldn't a cradle to cradle economic system be communism? Taking such values as Historical materialism.


April 7, 2007 12:14 PM

The fact that CtoC can work within our current economic framework is exactly what's so powerful about the concept, nothing communist about it.
It would however, require a change in what we consider value. Because as long as there's profit to be made from unsustainable products, we have a problem.

N. P.

April 12, 2007 2:37 AM

I think that Bob is headed in the right direction with his comment about values. The only way that people will ever change their habits and adopt use of the products described in Nussbaum's blog is with a change in their values. Saying that this is not an easy thing to do is an extreme understatement. For these changes to occur quickly in a capitalist society, companies that sell these products must prove that they add greater value to individual's lives than the products that consumers used to use. Proving that a new and more expensive (likely) product is better for you is one tough sell.


February 4, 2008 7:28 PM

Cradle to Cradle is the only feasible solution towards a future on earth "at all". Is breathing of value to you? Is health of value to you? Toxicity? This teaching of what is value should be of the utmost importance within the school system. Children ultimately "get it", after all - they are the future.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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