77 North Washington Street

McDonough and Braungart

WILLIAM McDonough and Michael Braungart, the authors of "The Next Industrial Revolution," in this month's issue, have mounted a crusade to reinvent the way we run our industries and manufacture our products. They are not visionary amateurs. Both men have long records of real-world experience designing products and systems that are environmentally effective and also thrive in a profit-making world. And while both continue to pursue independent careers, since 1995 they have been principals in a joint enterprise called McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry.

Michael Braungart is a native of Germany and a trained chemist whose early career involved examining the effects of industrial chemicals, under the auspices of Greenpeace International. Braungart was the kind of activist who would chain himself to smokestacks to protest pollution. He eventually came to rely more on his scientific skills. In 1984 Braungart devised a method of bleaching paper with oxygen rather than chlorine -- a process that produces no carcinogenic dioxins. Initially greeted with skepticism by paper-mill operators, this process is now commonly employed in the United States and Europe. In 1987 Braungart helped to develop the first refrigerator to run without chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). That same year he established a scientific consulting firm, the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency.

Braungart met William McDonough, an architect, at the opening reception of the EPEA's New York office, in 1991. McDonough's firm, William McDonough + Partners, had already earned a reputation for innovative ecological design. His 1985 headquarters for the Environmental Defense Fund, in New York City, features a tree-lined interior boulevard and interior offices illuminated by daylight. His 1997 office complex for Gap, Inc., in San Bruno, California, includes an insulating roof made of grass and a raised floor that allows the building to be flushed and cooled with air at night.

In McDonough and Braungart's view, eco-effectiveness is a task for everyone -- corporate executives, politicians, ordinary workers -- but above all, perhaps, for designers. To them falls the job of interpreting what McDonough has called "the first signals of human intention." And they must be "mindful rather than mindless about the way the world works" -- in both its industrial and its natural state.


Photograph by Nicole Domenici

The Atlantic Monthly; October 1998; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 282, No. 14; page 4.