Cradle to cradle (DDG)

From WikID

What Is Cradle to Cradle?

Cradle-to-Cradle is positioned by the authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart as a manifesto for a new approach towards sustainable design: one which is based on the intelligence of natural systems. For McDonough and Braungart, this means we should stop drawing power from non-renewable fossil fuels, and turn towards the sun and other renewable energy sources for our energy supplies. And we should make all ‘materials of consumption’ become part of either the biological nutrient cycle or the technological nutrient cycle, meaning that materials should either be biodegradable, to be taken up in a natural cycle at the end of a product’s life, or be ‘upcyclable’, and be reused indefinitely in a technological closed loop system. Their manifesto is written in a clear and optimistic style and offers for many an alternative vision to the ‘eco-efficiency’ approach that has been dominant for years.

The basis for the Cradle-to-Cradle approach involves three guiding principles:

  1. Use current solar income.
  2. Waste equals Food.
  3. Celebrate diversity.

The Cradle-to-Cradle framework, like many others, acknowledges the need to address the entire life cycle of production, transportation, use, and disposal, as well as the need to foster diversity in the environment.

When Can You Use Cradle to Cradle?

Cradle to Cradle can be applied in the strategic phase of the design process, to give direction to the product development process, possibly with a general product idea in mind.

How to Use the Cradle-to-Cradle Framework

McDonough and Braungart give a five-step approach to eco-effectiveness. Following these steps will lead to a product that is optimised according to the second principle: ‘Waste equals Food’. The steps are presented here with quotes from the book Cradle to Cradle:

Possible Procedure

  1. Get free of known culprits (X-substances, for instance PVC, cadmium, lead, mercury).
  2. Follow informed personal preferences.
    • We must begin somewhere. Many real-life decisions come down to comparing two things that are both less than ideal. Prefer ecological intelligence. Be as sure as you can that a product or substance does not contain or support substances and practices that are blatantly harmful to human and environmental health.
    • In general: opt for products that can be taken back to the manufacturer and disassembled for reuse (or at the very least, for downcycling). Opt for chemical products with fewer additives, especially stabilisers, antioxidants, antibacterial substances. Prefer respect, delight, celebration and fun.
  3. Create a ‘passive positive’ list, going beyond existing, readily available information as to the contents of a product. Conduct a detailed inventory of the entire palette of materials used and substances it may give off in the course of its manufacture and use. Are there problematic or potentially problematic characteristics? Are they toxic? Carcinogenic? How is the product used and what is its end state? What are the effects and possible effects on the local and global communities?
    Make lists:
    • X list: highest priority for a complete phase-out
    • Grey list: problematic substances, not quite so urgently in need of phase-out (this includes problematic substances essential for manufacture, and for which we currently have no viable alternatives)
    • P list: positive list. Substances actively defined as healthy and safe for use.
  4. Activate the P list.
    • Here is where the redesign begins in earnest, where we stop trying to be less bad and start figuring out how to be good. Now you set out with eco-effective principles, so that the product is designed from beginning to end to become food for either biological or technical metabolisms.
  5. Reinvent.
    • Recast the design assignment. Not ‘design a car’, but ‘design a nutrivehicle’ (cars designed to release positive emissions and generate other nutritious effects on the environment). Push the assignment further: ‘design a new transportation infrastructure’. ‘Design transportation’.

Tips and Concerns

  • Cradle to Cradle is often criticised for its lack of attention to energy (energy consumption of products in the use phase).

References and Further Reading

  • Braungart, M. and McDonough, W. (2002) Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things, New York: North Point Press.


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