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Renowned green-minded architect sparks ideas

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One of the world's pioneering figures in promoting the circular economy and sustainable development has visited Bermuda.

William McDonough's trip was connected with the island's hosting of a Hub Culture Innovation Campus and Beach Club at Ariel Sands.

The South Shore campus is attracting innovators and influencers through the summer, and has a number of themed weeks, with sustainability being one of the topics.

Mr McDonough is a world-known proponent of sustainability and the circular economy, and he has shared thoughts on directions Bermuda might consider exploring.

He received the US Presidential Award for Sustainable Development in 1996, and cofounded the Make it Right programme with Brad Pitt to create sustainable housing for families in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

An architect, designer, and writer, he has been involved in projects including Nasa's Sustainability Base, and designing a “green roof” for Ford's truck production plant at Rouge River, in Michigan.

The 10-acre roof is covered in low-growing sedum flowering plants that retain and cleanse rainwater. The covering also moderates the internal temperature of the building, saving energy, and provides a habitat for birds such as killdeer.

The roof is part of a rainwater treatment system and saved Ford from having to build a $50 million mechanical treatment facility.

Mr McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart co-authored the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things, which is highly regarded within the sustainability movement.

It described a preferred approach to designing products and systems, ensuring they can be constantly reused, reformatted, or are biodegradable.

Many companies and governments around the world embraced the concept, and there is a Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute that administers a certification programme for manufacturers.

Fittingly, Hub Culture's pop-up innovation campus at Ariel Sands adheres to the cradle to cradle ideal. It is made from repurposed shipping containers and materials.

Mr McDonough's association with the online social network goes back a number of years.

He is chairman of the meta-council for the circular economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and met Hub Culture founder Stan Stalnaker at the network's meeting and coworking space in Davos.

Mr McDonough designed the ICEhouse, a reusable, temporary building that has given Hub Culture a larger presence at the entrance to the World Economic Forum. It was created from technical materials, polymers, aluminium and aerogel, that can be recycled and repurposed when the building reaches the end of its life. The building can be assembled with a set of wrenches, and when deconstructed it is stored in a small container and can be taken to a new location.

The ICEhouse has twice been used at Davos, and was erected at last year's Circular Expo in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is committed to having a circular economy by 2050. The country's government described it as “a future-proof, sustainable economy for us and for future generations”.

That means raw materials being used and reused efficiently without harmful emissions into the environment, with products and materials designed in a way that means they can be reused with “minimum loss of value and without harmful emissions entering the environment”.

Where new raw materials are needed they will be obtained only in a sustainable manner.

Mr McDonough said the blossoming of cradle to cradle has come with wider understanding of the all-encompassing circular economy concept.

He is also a believer in mankind and nature being mutually supportive. That can take many forms, and one that has caught the imagination of many is an idea to help revive the collapsing population of monarch butterflies in the US by actively growing milkweed, their preferred food source, along roadsides, railway tracks, and other out-of-mind locations.

“It adds another dimension of grace and dignity to the world,” he said.

Mr McDonough is familiar with Bermuda; he honeymooned here more than 20 years ago. His current visit with his family was to reconnect with the island and visit Hub Culture's first pop-up campus in Bermuda.

However, he has given some thought to the way the island works, and how it might move towards a more circular economy.

He mentioned the island's abundant sunshine and winds that present options for renewable energy, and the potential benefits of enhancing local food production, which could create jobs.

“There is an immense amount of light here. You already collect rainwater, so keep doing that. You have a lot of winds, you could capture that.”

As with other places in the world, Bermuda utilises a lot of plastic packaging. By 2050 it is estimated the amount of plastic detritus in the oceans will weigh the same as all the world's fish.

“Why would Bermuda want to be part of that?” asked Mr McDonough. He is helping to design compostable packaging solutions.

“The power is in human innovation. That's the harbinger. That's what Hub Culture, virtual reality and cradle to cradle are about.”

He has seen many of the ideas and concepts of cradle to cradle and circular economy evolve organically as others have been inspired to design sustainable products and systems.

And he believes that is how it should be for Bermuda, where the sharing of ideas will be a starting point for government, businesses, organisations and individuals.

“Bermuda is going to dream up its future. If we spark a few ideas — that's how this works.”

Mr McDonough has a website at

Economically sensible: the 'green roof' at Ford's Rouge River plant, designed by Bill McDonough
Vision for the future: award-winning architect, designer and writer William McDonough, pictured in 2011, who co-authored the book Cradle to Cradle, has visited Bermuda (Photograph by Lynn Brubaker via Wikipedia)

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Published July 06, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated July 05, 2017 at 10:04 pm)

Renowned green-minded architect sparks ideas

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