Editors Note: William McDonough and Michael
Braungart recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of their groundbreaking
manifesto, The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability with
the publication of a new, updated edition. This essay is adapted
from the new edition, which is available from William McDonough
+ Partners and McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry.
over a decade ago, when the city of Hannover, Germany, asked us
to develop a set of design principles for the 2000 Worlds
Fair, design for sustainability was in its infancy. While the desire
to move toward a solar-powered world had gained significant momentum
among the environmentally conscious by 1992, and the ideas that
inform ecological design had begun to manifest themselves in encouraging
innovations in green architecture and technology, a
coherent framework for applying sustainable design to all sectors
of society had yet to emerge. Imagining designs that celebrated
nature and technology, human health and vibrant commerce was even
further off the map.
The Hannover Principles (see sidebar) were conceived to lay the
foundation for this hopeful, new paradigm. We knew at the time that
our efforts were just a first step. Though we were striving to identify
universal principles based on the enduring laws of nature, we also
understood that our knowledge of the world was incomplete. So, too,
was our ability to predict all the many ways in which the creativity
of the worlds designers, architects, business leaders and
NGOs would push design for sustainability beyond the limits we could
imagine in 1992. Thus, we saw the Principles as a living documenta
set of enduring ideals and an open system of thought that would
evolve as it was put into practice.
And evolve it has. Our firms, and many others, continue to use the
Principles in their original form. Yet, as the Principles are applied
in the design process or used to guide everyday decision-making,
new ideas and practices emerge. The language we use is a good example.
Whereas some of the Principles were originally expressed with urgent
shoulds and musts, today we use a more celebratory
language that reflects our evolving goals. Rather than aspire to
a respectful co-existence with nature, we aim to celebrate human
creativity and the abundance of the living earth with designs that
create mutually beneficial relationships between people and the
natural world. The Principles basic tenets, however, continue
to be the standard for our designs. The result: the Principles remain
an enduring touchstone, their rigor drives innovation, and our sustaining
design paradigm continues to mature.
familiar with the Principles, they have become common sense; to
those just discovering them, it might be useful to see how their
application begets enormous creativity. The generative power of
Principle Six provides a good example. Principle Six says: Eliminate
the concept of waste. In 1992 this was a radical new concept. Designers
and engineers were typically focused on reducing waste, on trying
to be less bad. The conventional wisdom held that using
less energy and fewer materials and limiting the amount of toxic
chemicals released into the air, water and soil would guarantee
a sustainable world. But Principle Six demands something entirely
different. Rather than attempting to mitigate the destructive effects
of architecture and industry, eliminating the concept of waste demands
that we begin to see our designs in a wholly positive light.
Pursuing that goal over the past decade has driven the evolution
of an entirely new approach to design. When one takes seriously
the idea that the concept of waste can be eliminated in the worlds
of architecture, commerce, manufacturing and transportationindeed,
in every sector of societythe purview of design shifts radically.
Not only are we obliged to include the entire material world in
our design considerations, we are asked to imagine materials in
a whole new way. In todays world of trying to be less
bad, materials typically follow a one-way path to the landfill
or incinerator, and waste managers intervene here and there to slow
down the trip from cradle to grave. But when we are no longer content
with simply managing waste more efficiently, we can begin to create
and use materials effectively within cradle-to-cradle systems, in
which there is no waste at all.
Rather than seeing materials as a waste management problem, cradle-to-cradle
thinking sees materials as nutrients that cycle through either the
biological metabolism or the technical metabolism. In the biological
metabolism, the nutrients that support life on Earthwater,
oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxideflow perpetually through biological
cycles of growth, decay and rebirth. There are no waste-management
problems. Instead, waste equals food. The technical metabolism is
designed to mirror natural nutrient cycles; its a closed-loop
system in which valuable, high-tech synthetics and mineral resources
circulate in an endless cycle of production, recovery and reuse.
By specifying safe, healthful ingredients, designers and architects
can create and use materials within these cradle-to-cradle cycles.
Materials designed as biological nutrients, such as textiles for
draperies, wall coverings and upholstery fabrics, can be designed
to biodegrade safely and restore the soil after use, providing more
positive effects, not fewer negative ones. Materials designed as
technical nutrients, such as infinitely recyclable nylon carpet
fiber, can provide high-quality, high-tech ingredients for generation
after generation of synthetic productsagain, a harvest of
value. And buildings constructed with these nutritious materials
and designed to fit within local energy flows articulate
and enhance the connection between people and nature. Already well
established through the work of our firms and our clients, cradle-to-cradle
thinking represents an ongoing revolution in design. Its source
and sustenance: The laws of nature adapted to human design in the
When the Principles become practices, when industrial and architectural
systems are modeled on the earths flows of energy and nutrients,
the notion that humanity must limit its ecological footprint is
turned on its head. Indeed, as cradle-to-cradle thinking continues
to be enriched by the inspired work of our colleagues, we are increasingly
able to design products and places that support life, that create
footprints to delight in rather than lament. This changes the entire
context of the design process. Instead of asking, How do I
meet todays environmental standards? designers are asking
How might I create more habitat, more health, more clean water,
more prosperity and more delight?
Questions such as these, emerging from the daily application of
the Hannover Principles, are stimulating the worldwide evolution
of cradle-to-cradle design. They are driving a growing movement
of principled designers who are deeply engaged in developing safe
materials, products, supply chains and manufacturing processes that
allow us to celebrate human creativity and the worlds natural
abundance. In fact, just one year after the publication of the original
edition of The Hannover Principles, we had the opportunity to develop
a cradle-to-cradle upholstery fabric, Climatex® Lifecycle,
which is produced with completely safe ingredients and biodegrades
after use. The design and production of Climatex Lifecycle transformed
a factory burdened with toxic wastes into one with only positive
emissions, signaling the real-world efficacy of waste equals
Just so, The Hannover Principles and cradle-to-cradle thinking are
moving nations as vast and influential as China to begin to apply
the intelligence of natural systems to their development plans.
They are guiding the design of community plans that connect people
to nature and to each other. They are inspiring the design of buildings
like trees, which harvest the energy of the sun, sequester carbon,
make oxygen, distill water and provide habitat for thousands of
And more. Imagine everything we do or make as a gesture that supports
life, inspires delight and expresses intelligence in harmony with
nature. Imagine buildings with on-site wetlands and botanical gardens
recovering nutrients from circulating water. Fresh air, flowering
plants and daylight everywhere. Beauty and comfort for every inhabitant.
Rooftops covered in soil and plants nourished by falling rain. Birds
nesting and feeding in the buildings verdant footprint. Imagine,
in short, buildings as life-support systems in harmony with energy
flows, human souls and other living things.
Inspired by the Hannover Principles, architects at William McDonough
+ Partners have already designed buildings such as these. From an
environmental studies center on the campus of Oberlin College to
the corporate offices of Gap Inc.; from the Herman Miller GreenHouse,
a factory where you feel youve spent your day outdoors, to
the Museum of Life and the Environment, which explores the deep
connections between natural and cultural history both in the Appalachian
Piedmont and beyondtodays cradle-to-cradle designs are
testaments to the lively relationship between principles and practices.
And we are now seeing the Principles influence the work of a host
of influential companies. Ford Motor Co. has launched the cradle-to-cradle
renovation of its famous Rouge River industrial site with a new
manufacturing facility, a factory with a living roof and a landscape
of wetlands and swales that naturally purifies storm water runoff.
Ford also introduced in 2003 the Model U, the worlds first
automobile designed to embrace the cradle-to-cradle vision.
Other business leaders are following suit. Shaw Industries, the
largest producer of commercial carpet in the world, has begun to
apply the Hannover Principles and cradle-to-cradle thinking to the
companys product development process. Working with MBDC, Shaw
is doing a scientific assessment of the material chemistry of its
carpet fiber and backing to ensure that every ingredient is safe.
The result: an infinitely recyclable, completely healthful carpet
tile made from true technical nutrients that eliminate the concept
cradle-to-cradle design makes good sense economically and socially.
This is especially visible in the workplace. When designs for large-scale
factories and offices are modeled on natures effectiveness,
they generate delightful, productive places for people to work.
This not only encourages a strong sense of community and cooperation,
it also spurs enormous leaps in productivity and allows efficiency
and cost-effectiveness to serve a larger purpose.
Consider: Fords living roof and constructed wetlands revitalize
the landscape while filtering stormwater runoff for $35 million
less than conventional technical controls. Herman Millers
GreenHouse generated increased worker satisfaction and productivity
gains of 24 percent, which paid for the $15 million building in
a single year. The Gap, Inc. building, maximizing local energy flows,
exceeds Californias strict energy requirements by 30 percent.
By aiming to maximize positive effects, these designs outperformed
buildings that set efficiency as their highest goal.
The principles of cradle-to-cradle design can be applied to entire
cities and regional plans. Working with the City of Chicago, WM+P
drew upon the example of the Hannover Principles to serve Mayor
Richard Daleys quest to make Chicago the greenest city
in America. The Chicago Principles, which will be announced
later this year, will provide a reference point as the city develops
community plans and cradle-to-cradle systems that will make it a
national model of how industry and ecology, nature and the city
can flourish side by side.
Looking ahead, we see Chicago becoming a hub of green manufacturing
and transit, energy effectiveness and cradle- to-cradle material
flows. A place in which every material moves in regenerative cycles,
from city to country, country to city, all the polymers, metals,
synthetic fibers and communications software flowing safely in the
technical metabolism, all the photosynthetic nutrients flowing in
the biological metabolism. All of which adds up to flourishing human
communities, places that generate and enjoy an abundance of ecological,
economic and cultural wealth.
There is really no end in sightand thats the point.
As we seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge, as
our understanding of the world evolves, the Hannover Principles
will continue to be our touchstone and inspiration for new designs.
This process, merely a decade old, has already created hopeful changes
in the world and is transforming the making of things into a regenerative
force. Ultimately, we believe the principled practice of design
will lead to ever more places and ever more products that honor
not just human ingenuity, but harmony with the exquisite intelligence
of nature. And when that becomes the hallmark of good design, we
will have entered a moment in human history when we can truly celebrate
our kinship with all life.
|THE HANOVER PRINCIPLES
|1. Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist
in a healthy,
supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.
2. Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design interact
with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse
implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to
recognize even distant effects.
3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider
all aspects of human settlement, including community, dwelling,
industry and trade, in terms of existing and evolving connections
between spiritual and
4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions
upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and
their right to co-exist.
5. Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future
requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential
dangers due to the careless creation of products, processes
6. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the
full life cycle of products and processes to approach the state
of natural systems, in which there is no waste.
7. Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like
the living world, derive their
creative force from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this
energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.
8. Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts
forever, and design does not solve all problems. Those who create
and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat
nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be
evaded or controlled.
9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage
direct and open
communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and
users to link long-term sustainable considerations with ethical
responsibility and to reestablish the integral
relationship between natural processes and human activity.
The Hannover Principles should be seen as a living document
committed to transformation and growth in the understanding
of our interdependence with nature so that they may be adapted
as our knowledge of the world evolves.
William A. McDonough, FAIA, and Michael Braungart are founders of
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, a consultancy that works with
a wide variety of companies to implement eco-effective design and
commerce strategies. For more information, visit www.mbdc.com.