Few would argue that the green movement's challenge to reduce, reuse, recycle is a step in the wrong direction. But one aspect of the mantra -- the reduction part -- falls short as a long-term solution for sustainability, according to acclaimed green architect and eco-evangelist William McDonough. Simply reducing waste and fossil fuel consumption may postpone the planet's demise, he said -- but will not ultimately prevent it.

"Being less bad is not being good, it's just being less bad," McDonough told home builders during a keynote address this morning, a day designated as "Green Day" at the International Builders' Show in Orlando. "It's like leaving Orlando and heading toward Cuba at 100 miles per hour when your destination is supposed to be New York. It's not going to help if you to slow down to 20 miles per hour. You're still going in the wrong direction."

Advocating a fundamental shift away from the cradle-to-grave continuum of the industrial age, McDonough's "Cradle to Cradle" proposition (see www.mbdc.com) urges civilization to look to nature, with its regenerative efficiency, as a model for sustainable buildings and products. (His own experimental track record includes prototypes for, among other things, 100-percent recyclable carpet for Shaw Industries, a 10 1/2-acre green roof habitat capping a Ford Motor Co. plant, and a city of the future in which stretches of tillable "farmland" are perched on the tops of skyscrapers.)

"We used to throw things away. Well, where is away?" he asked, contending that the ultimate goal should not be to reduce waste, but rather to completely eliminate it by designing infinitely renewable products, parts, and processes that can finish their first life and then reenter the pipeline as biological or technical "nutrients" for regenerative growth.

"Growth is not bad," McDonough said, acknowledging that the term has taken on negative connotations when equated with sprawl development. "The question isn't growth or no growth, but instead, what do we want to grow?" To this point, he further asserted that large-footprint homes are not inherently wasteful if their architecture and systems are designed to produce a zero or net energy gain.

"Being efficient with the wrong things is not as important as being effective with the right things," said McDonough, whom TIME magazine named "Hero for the Planet" in 1999. "If a house is completely solar powered and water is purified, then it applies a positive benefit instead a giant sucking sound." Square footage becomes less of an issue if "the humans who live there are taking responsibility for their use of these resources."