Cradle-to-Cradle Design

Cradle-to-cradle is a term used in life-cycle analysis to describe a material or product that is recycled into a new product at the end of its life, so that ultimately there is no waste. Zero waste. Zero trash. Zero litter. Zero garbage. Nothing to throw away.

Can you picture it? (If not, try to find the film The Next Industrial Revolution to watch.) I think that children and teens will "get" cradle-to-cradle product design and be able to picture it as soon as they hear about it. It's really just doing things the way Nature always has! Perhaps your students (or children at home) could apply cradle-to-cradle design to their favourite Christmas or other gift. Let's plant this seed while they're still young so that the next generation of product designers does what ought to come naturally — the whole Earth will benefit.

Cradle to cradle design refocuses product development from a process aimed at limiting end-of-pipe liabilities to one geared to creating safe, healthful, high-quality products right from the start.
— William McDonough and Michael Braungart

The quotes on the rest of this page are from William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

The Cradle to Cradle Paradigm

In the world of industry it is creating a new conception of materials and material flows. Rather than seeing materials as a waste management problem in which interventions here and there slow their trip from cradle to grave, cradle-to-cradle thinking sees
materials as nutrients and recognizes two
safe metabolisms in which they flow.

In the biological metabolism, the nutrients
that support life on Earth — water, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide — flow perpetually through regenerative cycles of growth, decay and rebirth. Rather than generating material liabilities, the biological metabolism accrues natural fecundity. Waste equals food. The technical metabolism can be designed to mirror natural nutrient cycles; it's a closed-loop system in which valuable, high-tech synthetics and mineral resources circulate in an endless cycle of production, recovery and remanufacture. Ideally, the human systems that make up the technical metabolism are powered by the energy of the sun.

The Practice of C2C Design

The Cradle-to-Cradle Design Framework incorporates nature's cyclical material model into all product and system design efforts through a process called Life Cycle Development (LCD). While product development within this framework is not the same as life cycle assessment (LCA), "life cycle thinking" serves as an important structure for scientific inquiry and informs the process of cradle-to-cradle product design.

Toward a C2C World

Designs that celebrate this diverse range of concerns bring about a process of industrial re-evolution. Our products and processes can be most deeply effective when they resonate with the living world. Inventive machines that use the mechanisms of nature instead of harsh chemicals, concrete, or steel are a step in the right direction, but they are still machines — still a way of using technology to harness nature to human purpose. New technologies do not themselves create industrial revolutions. Unless we change their context, they are simply hyper-efficient engines driving the steamship of the first Industrial Revolution to new extremes.

Natural systems take from the environment but they also give something back. The cherry tree drops its blossoms and leaves while it cycles water and makes oxygen; the ant community redistributes nutrients through the soil. We can follow their cue to create a more inspiring engagement — a partnership — with nature.

We can create fabrics that feed the soil, giving us pleasure as garments and as sources of nourishment for our gardens.

We can build factories that inspire their inhabitants with sunlit spaces, fresh air, views of the outdoors, and cultural delights; factories which also create habitat and produce goods and services that re-circulate technical materials instead of dumping, burning, or burying them.

We can tap into natural flows of energy and nutrients, designing astonishingly productive systems that create oxygen, accrue energy, filter water, and provide healthy habitats for people and other living things.

As we have seen, designs such as these are generators of economic value too. When the cradle-to-cradle principles that guide them are widely applied, at every level of industry, productivity and profits will no longer be at odds with the concerns of the commons. We will be celebrating the fecundity of the earth, instead of perpetuating a way of thinking and making that eliminates it. We will be creating a world of abundance, equity and health and well on our way to an era of sustaining prosperity.

— William McDonough and Michael Braungart

William McDonough's TED Talk: Cradle to Cradle Design

Return from Cradle-to-Cradle to Greening the Holidays at School

Visit Greening Chemistry

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