“Brave Green World”
[American Prospect]: Architect Bill McDonough is an environmental innovator, but his politics are a lot less thoughtful than his buildings.
The authors seem to have the most trouble with McDonough and Company’s approach to regulation:
The company’s larger vision, he says, is to help the EPA drive the transition away “from a command-and-control culture to one that encourages positive creative activity.”
Part of the authors’ concern — McDonough’s emphasis on design vs regulation (“ultimately regulation is a signal of design failure”) — is misplaced, imho. Market drivers and business advantage can be far more powerful innovation forces than regulation — at least for some companies. We see evidence of that in industry after industry after industry, and the adversarial refleces of some environmentalists would do well to relax a bit, and focus on the bad actors.
On the other hand, part of their concern is well placed. The timing of all this matters a great deal. At a moment when environmental nongovernmental organizations are working overtime to defend basic protections such as the Clean Air and Clean Water acts from President Bush and a Republican Congress, America’s most famous green architect is in the media dissing regulation as a mostly unnecessary relic.
As with so many contemporary issues, the simple “either/or” answers are not sufficient to the problem. Regulation as we know it is a relic. Unfortunately, it is also not unnecessary.
The alternative? For companies, it’s what we call “regulatory insulation” — design products so good, and processes so efficient, that you don’t care what the regulators want, because you’re years ahead of their wildest dreams; let your competitors spend money on lawyers and lobbysists, while you invest in design and marketing. For governments, it’s “regulatory re-engineering” — redesigning the regulations, and regulatory process itself, with an eye toward the cybernetics of change and a commitment to the underlying driving needs of all the stakeholders.
The payoff is substantial, and not just in reduced operating expenses and legal fees; there’s even greater payoff in impact on market share and time to market.
[More to come]


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