Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is the definitive guide on how we can save the planet. But be warned, this book is not the usual ‘ten things to do’ nor ‘1000 solutions’ that offers us chatty insights into how we should do less laundry or give up bottled water. Instead authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart, take the familiar reduce, reuse and recycle adage and turn it completely on its head. They ask us to consider that we are so accustomed to thinking about eco-efficiency that we have not allowed much room for discourse around eco-effectiveness.
McDonough and Braungart ask us to contemplate not just minimizing the damage, but rather taking a revolutionarily approach to the problem and imagine how contemporary waste need no longer exist. The authors posit that we can make waste that is nourishment for something new. This seemingly simple maxim guides their principals of product design from cradle to cradle as opposed to cradle to grave.
Cradle to cradle, the philosophy, refers to products that have a continued life, whereas cradle to grave products have only one life and usually end up as toxic landfill, in an incinerator or ‘downcycled’ into something else like plastic bottles to ‘plastic’ fleeces, then to the landfill. McDonough and Braungart estimate that more than 90% of materials extracted to make durable goods in the USA become waste almost immediately. Products are designed with ‘built in obsolescence’ —to last only a limited time and encourage the consumer to buy a new version.
McDonough and Braungart suggest that each and every product can be designed from the outset so that after its lifetime is over, the product will then continue to live while providing nourishment for something new – what the authors dub the ‘next technical revolution’. A rather mind-blowing manifesto for the environmental movement and it is not just ideal chatter or philosophical debate; these two revolutionaries are putting their design principles into practice.
Cradle to Cradle is a must read for anyone who is involved in production, design, owns a business or is part of the environment movement. Perhaps it should simply be required reading for everyone.
Cradle to Cradle (the book), is one of their ideas actualized. Printed on synthetic paper, made from plastic resins, inorganic fibers and the material is recyclable. The book is also considered to be a technical nutrient, in that it can be reused indefinitely and remade into other books or ‘plastic’ paper.
Other design ideas that have been put into practice include living roofs that provide cooling in hot weather and insulation in cold weather, in addition to attracting birds and wildlife. Or using rice husks for packaging and then reusing the packaging for making bricks and fabric that safely decompose when the owner is finished with the product. This allows products to be upcycled into something else instead of being downcycled or recycled into another toxic product. Cradle to Cradle points out that ‘air, water and soil do not safely absorb our wastes unless the waste themselves are completely healthy and biodegradable’. McDonough and Braungart encourage us to consider creating a stryofoam that nurtures the land as opposed to filling landfills, or soaps and detergents that support waterways rather than destroying them and ‘nutrivehicles’ that release positive emissions instead of little or no emissions.
Time for a paradigm shift from trying to be less bad to start figuring out how to be good. Cradle to Cradle is a must read for anyone who is involved in production, design, owns a business or is part of the environment movement. Perhaps it should simply be required reading for everyone.
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Publisher: North Point Press