TIME has named Dr. William McDonough, distinguished research professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), as one of the 100 most influential climate leaders in business in 2023. The inaugural list recognizes people who have made bold business decisions and mobilized the capital to transform those decisions into effective, scalable actions.
Dr. McDonough was recognized for his "cradle-to-cradle" design approach, in which a product is manufactured with complete recycling as its endpoint. With this philosophy, manufacturing is circular and even regenerative. As a testament to this vision, his company completed in 2022 Apex Plaza, the largest mass timber building on the east coast of the U.S. and, more importantly for this list, net-zero.
Dr. McDonough is of the opinion carbon has been unfairly maligned and that a circular carbon economy is possible. "Carbon has been demonized, but carbon is not the enemy. The current problem is one of mismanaged carbon resulting from design failures," he said in a prior interview.
Accordingly, he has been a major player in the KAUST Circular Carbon Initiative, where he has contributed to new research, innovations and startups.
From an activist perspective, he believes everyone can contribute to sustainability by acting locally, while business should begin shifting from a net-zero approach to a net-positive one. Part of this change will come from government policies that provide proper incentives.
"Like politics, all sustainability is local. I believe we can pass legislation to encourage local energy production such as hybrid renewables, wind, and solar with battery backup. This will bring jobs and clean power," he wrote.