McDonough: “Green Guru Gone Wrong”

In the cover story of November’s Fast Company, author Danielle Sacks argues that Bill McDonough is the biggest obstacle to his own success, and he’s pulling the sustainability movement down with him. The Charlottesville architect is the world’s most celebrated eco-architect, and many people (including me) regard him as a visionary. His trouble is that he’s been repeatedly presented with the choice between making a difference and making money, gone for the latter, and wound up with neither. Most recently he’s butted heads with Charlottesville non-profit industrial eco-designers GreenBlue, an organization that he founded, but now he wants them to license the use of the term “cradle to cradle,” though he didn’t even coin the phrase. As Sacks presents it, McDonough is great at the vision thing, but not so great at the doing stuff thing.

6 thoughts on “McDonough: “Green Guru Gone Wrong””

  1. While I think he is quite bright, the amount of money he took to make Monticello High school “green” has also bothered me. I believe it was about $250k and made the high school delay other things that cost more to build later.

    I don’t oppose green buildings, it’s just that I didn’t see the value for the money. If someone remembers the details better please correct me.

  2. The fact is GreenBlue was never asked to pay anything for the use of trademarked terms. From the outset GreenBlue was offered a royalty free license to use the terms which it chose to decline.

  3. I was about to reply to your comment, Ken, and say that I was only repeating what I’d read in the article, but reading through the article, I see that there’s actually no mention of payment for that license:

    Indeed, some have argued that the coalition is succeeding despite McDonough: Earlier this year, his materials firm, MBDC, told GreenBlue it would have to license the term cradle to cradle if the nonprofit wanted to use it. “Our respective lawyers went back and forth at substantial cost to GreenBlue,” says Pearson, now GreenBlue’s executive director, “[but] I don’t have the financial resources, nor the strong motivation, to stop them.” By 2010, the very nonprofit that McDonough founded will be obliged to use terms such as “green chemistry,” “closed-loop material systems,” and “industrial ecology” to describe its work. Thanks to McDonough and his lawyers, Pearson says, “we will eliminate the phrase cradle to cradle from any of our materials.”

    I’ve got no special knowledge here, and since it’s usually best to assume good faith, I’ve excised the words “to pay” from before “to license” in my brief write-up. Thanks for the clarification!

  4. Visionary? What visions did he have when he designed the village in China? Who would design a village for rural China that has houses with garages for people with no cars and then puts the houses on lots that are so small that they can’t keep livestock or grow produce even though the people depend on their gardens and sheep for their livelihoods? Do a web search for Huangbaiyu if you want to see the real impact of McDonough’s “vision.” His real “green” vision is of supplicating sycophants surrendering stacks of green for his bank account. A lot of people have been misled by this man and the truth should be told. A good cause has been used and abused by an incompetent self promoter.

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