The gorilla in the room of many a sustainability conversation is how to make the math work financially. Who'll pay? What's the return on the investment in construction processes and outcomes--sheltered spaces--that are smarter and better performing ecologically? How can the value--in cost of total ownership, or saved energy bills, or measurable reduction of carbon production--justify the expense somebody has to go to to move the needle in the right direction?

Each of these questions may cause a different level of pursuit, discovery, and inquiry, when you supply for each a two-word answer: "the children."

If every process, product, material, and design made were made with that answer fully in mind would the debate of cost and value around intending and achieving more sustainable practice and results in home building change?

This, architect, planner, and Cradle to Cradle co-developer and Hive dean William McDonough asserts, can happen if we start business modeling and strategy from a different launching ground--values vs. value.

McDonough's crusade centers around classic examples of simple things to know and say and very difficult things to do. His dialectic spans multiple eras of economic philosophy, the natural sciences, psychology, semantics, and social systems, not to mention architecture, engineering, and construction.

His intent is astonishingly plain: that the molecules we assemble into materials we shelter ourselves with be safe and healthy to inhale, digest, absorb, hear, see, and inhabit, even as they flow--backwards and forwards, into and out of current states of use and purpose--across a values chain that continues without end.

The McDonough vision is to make all the stuff we make not just to get people to pay the maximum amount of currency, but to give people the maximum of what they value so that they in turn want the company to profit.

McDonough's Cradle to Cradle journey bores into the molecular level of all a home's materials, its innards, its envelope, its systems, and its furnishings. The journey goes on forever but each time there's a breakthrough in molecular biology or chemistry, new product categories, materials, and designs can come to market that achieve McDonough's endgame notion of a circular economy that produces value in any number of uses.