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Georgetown Engages Renowned Sustainability Expert to Help Set Goals

August 20, 2015 – William McDonough, architect and sustainable development pioneer, led a workshop at Georgetown Aug. 17-18, urging community members to embrace creative sustainability efforts in keeping with the university’s Catholic and Jesuit traditions.

McDonough, who won a United States Presidential Award for Sustainable Development in 1996 and served as advisor to President Clinton, is the co-author of the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, as well as the follow-up book, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability- Designing for Abundance, which came out in 2013.

Cradle to Cradle is widely acknowledged as a seminal text of the sustainability movement. The book urged the creation of a circular economy that includes making things that return to the ecosystem or are endlessly upcycled in industrial cycles, and which utilizes clean, renewable energy and celebrates diversity – all with theaim of nurturing the planet.

Moral Authority

Leading workshops with national and international companies for decades, this was the first time McDonough provided his insights at a university.

“The great thing about an institution like Georgetown is that you have explicit values that are stated, that are talked about every day,” said McDonough to about 100 university leaders, faculty, students and staff at the workshop.  “We don’t have to have that argument we sometimes have with companies – ‘Why should I have to do this?’ There’s no argument here. You’ve got moral authority.”

Georgetown, which is committed to addressing sustainability challenges, met its 2020 goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent in 2014 and recently pulled out of direct investments in companies whose principal business is mining coal for use in energy production.

“What we recognize is that on the foundation of many, many years of work, we’re now in the position to take the next step forward,” said President John J. DeGioia. 

Inspired by Pope Francis 

DeGioia began talking with the author before Pope Francis issued his June encyclical on the environment and climate change.

“With the release of the encyclical and seeing so much alignment between the philosophy, the logic that guides Cradle to Cradle, and what Pope Francis is challenging us to be as an institution, we found this was a particularly special moment for us to try and make this come alive in our community,” the president said.

From Take to Retake

McDonough is the architect of many revolutionary sustainable designs, such as Michigan’s Ford Rouge truck plant, which includes a 10-acre vegetative roof that restores native habitat, provides effective thermal and acoustic insulation and improved air and water quality.

“What is the circular economy?” he asked workshop attendees. “It is one that is resourceful and it’s an economic and innovation engine that provides society with benefits in the present and the future … so we go from take, make waste to take, remake, retake, remake, restore, which I think has a lot to do with the encyclical.”

Attendees were broken up into 12 groups, each of which tackled issues such as climate change, research, transportation and water, and suggested new ways of making the university more sustainable.

Bring it Forward

The ideas included creating more links among sustainability and climate change researchers and reclaiming natural habitat through green roofs.

DeGioia said Georgetown would continue to work with McDonough on some of the ideas raised in the workshop.

‘For us, coming to terms with the issues that we’ve been discussing these last two days is a crucial part of what it means for us to be authentic in this moment,” DeGioia said after the workshop, “to ensure that when in this moment, when we are responsible for this tradition, we’re doing everything we can to bring it forward so that those who will follow us will know that in our moment we understood our responsibilities and accepted them.”