William McDonough has been a mover and shaker in the construction world ever since he designed the headquarters for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in 1984, just three years after opening his architecture practice.
It was the EDF's requirement for good indoor air quality in the building that got McDonough thinking seriously about sustainable development.
He has since published two books, including Cradle to Cradle, in 2002.
In the book, he outlines the idea that has been central to all his work since: that we should build an economy in which designers and manufacturers create products that are friendly to the environment, so they can be used and reused in continuous cycles, or biologically based products that can be composted back into the earth — the cradle from which they came.
He has been dean of architecture at the University of Virginia, and is now a professor of business administration and alumni research professor at the same school.
He was also instrumental in the formation of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.
That institute recently named four Innovation Challenge winners, who have designed building products that, in the estimation of the judges, “have the potential to revolutionize the affordable housing industry, redefine product beauty, and embrace the highest standards of environmental and human safety.”
The challenge drew 144 entries.
The four winners shared a $250,000 cash prize.
First prize went to BioMason, which has designed a brick that is “grown” instead of fired.
Bacteria are used to cement sand particles together to form a durable matrix that can be shaped into bricks, which are strong enough to be used building houses.
The process was devised by Ginger Krieg Dosier, an American architect teaching at a university in the United Arab Emirates. Self-taught as a chemist, she fills a form with a layer of sand topped by a solution containing urea, calcium chloride and a bacterium named Sporosarcina pasteurii. A chain of chemical reactions results, in a few days, in a mineral growth that is absorbed between the grains of sand, cementing them into a brick.
There is no kiln involved in the process, which means no fuel is burned in the manufacturing process.
Dosier is now tweaking her process to control specific properties of her bricks.
She said the objective is to produce bricks that can be as soft as sandstone or as hard as marble, with structural and performance properties similar to standard clay brick.
The second prize went to Ecovative, a start-up that “grows” a product called Myco Foam, which combines naturally grown mycelium and agricultural waste.
Mycelium is a wispy vegetative component of a fungus that is grown in dark cartons for a few days, then heated to prevent it from sprouting the reproductive spores that would yield mushrooms. It can be grown into structural boards, which is why I wrote about the company in October. Now, besides winning a prize, the company has signed a deal with Fortifiber Building Systems Group to develop and sell insulating sheathing boards of Myco Foam.
Two companies tied for third place: ECOR, which produces construction panels made from waste farm or forest fibres pressed into composite panels.
They are nontoxic, and are both recycled and recyclable
The other third-place finisher was Roma Paints, which are derived from natural materials — either mineral or biological. They are washable, free of toxic chemicals and contain no antigens that can cause asthma or other respiratory problems. They contain bacteria that block the growth of moulds and they absorb carbon dioxide.
Of all the things McDonough has done, his hand in nurturing a generation of people like those who created these winning products might turn out to be his greatest contribution. Since he’s just approaching his 63rd birthday, there might be more ideas to come.
Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.