I’m not really a big fan of “certification”. I understand the reasons for it and I know that many who offer it are morally ethical with only the highest intentions but it is also based on distrust and buying integrity with dollars. Still, I really like the Cradle to Cradle Products Institute video I’ve shared above. Certainly, I do believe that product designers, architects and ordinary consumers should take such considerations into account, when creating a new product, conceptualizing a new structure or purchasing a product. And I believe it is both important for NOW and for our future generations, already alive and growing up on this planet.
The thing is that “certification” has been recognized as a definite revenue generator, so that now there are so many possible systems to validate one’s self with, that it would cost a small fortune to sign on with all of them. This is not an expensive or difficult thing to do, if one is a multi-national, global corporation flush with cash that they have been squirreling away, while keep monies off shore to avoid taxes, sending production into cheaper countries with lax regulations and needing to reassure an awakening populace that they have their best interests at heart, and not the bottom line profit that their stockholders insist upon. And it cuts the small, innovative companies that are often eeking along, cash starved from participation.
The cradle to cradle concept requires a shift of perspective, when thinking about how a product is designed, what it will contain, how it is to be made, and where it will go after it is no longer wanted. Some important considerations are whether the materials are safe for human beings and the environment, whether the product ingredients can be reused safely by nature or another industry, will they be assembled and/or manufactured using a renewable, non-polluting energy source, are water supplies protected or even enriched by the processes and does the existence and production of the product contribute to social and/or environmental justice.
The concept of such a considered product design approach was promoted in a 2002 book by the German chemist, Michael Braungart, and the U.S. architect, William McDonough, in their book – Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. The book discourages downcycling (a cradle-to-grave strategy), but rather encourages the manufacture of products with the goal of upcycling in mind. This vision of upcycling is based on a system of “lifecycle development” initiated by Braungart and colleagues at the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency in the 1990s: after products have reached the end of their useful life, they become either “biological nutrients” or “technical nutrients”. Biological nutrients are materials that can re-enter the environment. Technical nutrients are materials that remain within closed-loop industrial cycles.
Caring human beings worry that our consumption driven world is out-stripping the natural resources of the planet and at the same time leaving too much toxicity in its wake. Yet, most of us are dependent on a growth model of economics for a good quality of life. William McDonough in a blog at McDonough Innovation’s website envisions this – “Imagine a world in which all the things we make, use, and consume provide nutrition for nature and industry—a world in which growth is good and human activity generates a delightful, restorative ecological footprint.” Few of us would find fault with such a reality.
Mr McDonough believes that “the destructive qualities of today’s cradle-to-grave industrial system can be seen as the result of a fundamental design problem, not the inevitable outcome of consumption and economic activity. Indeed, good design—principled design based on the laws of nature—can transform the making and consumption of things into a regenerative force.” There is something in my own nature-loving, environmentalist’s heart that says “Right On !” to such thinking.
McDonough describes Cradle-to-Cradle as offering “a framework in which the effective, regenerative cycles of nature provide models for wholly positive human designs. Within this framework we can create economies that purify air, land, and water, that rely on current solar income and generate no toxic waste, that use safe, healthful materials that replenish the earth or can be perpetually recycled, and that yield benefits that enhance all life.” He goes on further to say – “Just as in the natural world, in which one organism’s ‘waste’ cycles through an ecosystem to provide nourishment for other living things, cradle-to-cradle materials circulate in closed-loop cycles, providing nutrients for nature or industry. This model recognizes two metabolisms within which materials flow as healthy nutrients.”
In a cradle-to-cradle system even “valuable, high-tech synthetics and mineral resources—technical nutrients—circulate in a perpetual cycle of production, recovery, and remanufacture.” And of course, “all the human systems that make up the technical metabolism are powered by the renewable energy of the sun.”
An example of a common, everyday product that most people could identify with, is provided by McDonough – “In the commercial carpet industry, material recovery systems are providing a model for the development of technical metabolisms. Shaw Industries, for example, has developed a technical nutrient carpet tile for its commercial customers. The company guarantees that all of its nylon 6 carpet fiber will be taken back and returned to nylon 6 carpet fiber, and its safe polyolefin backing returned to safe polyolefin backing. Raw material to raw material. A cradle-to-cradle cycle. Shaw’s technical nutrient carpet tile is conceived to be a product of service, a key element of the cradle-to-cradle strategy. Products of service are durable goods, such as carpets and washing machines, designed by their manufacturer to be taken back and used again. The product provides a service to the customer while the manufacturer maintains ownership of the product’s material assets.”
McDonough even applies his thinking both our cities and the rural countryside, as well as to the economic necessities that support us all. “In a cradle-to-cradle economy, cities are the principal home and source of technical nutrition—the place where metals are forged, polymers synthesized, and tractors, computers, and windmills designed and manufactured. Cities send these materials forth into the world and receive them back as they move through closed-loop cycles. The countryside, meanwhile, can be seen as the home of the biological metabolism. Materials generated there—food, wood, fibers—are created through interactions of solar energy, soil, and water and are the source of biological nutrition for rural communities and nearby cities. One of the city’s fundamental roles in this metabolism is to return biological nutrition in a safe, healthy form, say as clean fertilizer, back to the rural soil. These flows of nutrients and energy are the twin metabolisms of the living city, the engines of the vibrant economies of the future.”
Below is a chart illustrating Cradle to Cradle for Forest Wood Products (courtesy of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation) –
Coming FULL CYCLE back to where I started, I do note that on William McDonough’s Innovation website, he does list the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute as a nonprofit steward of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Program. That is a highly trusted recommendation in my opinion.
~ Information Resources
Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute – http://www.c2ccertified.org/
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart and William McDonough – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_to_Cradle:_Remaking_the_Way_We_Make_Things
The Cradle-to-Cradle Alternative – http://www.mcdonough.com/speaking-writing/the-cradle-to-cradle-alternative/#.U7l7-bdOXL8
The Circular Economy – http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer