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Apr 10

Cradle to Cradle: Rethinking Sustainability

Posted in Energy Industry | Energy Inventions | Environment and Sustainability | Future Technology

Cradle to CradleIt is time for our civilization to rethink the way we live, work, travel, design, build and consume. To think that we are doing our part simply by driving a hybrid car and recycling our paper, bottles, and cans is a dangerous illusion. For years, environmentalists have been telling us to do more with less in order to make change happen. This is simply not enough. We are going to have to fundamentally change the way we design our products, industries and cities. Our current recycling methods are inefficient and only serve to perpetuate the “cradle-to-grave” manufacturing model that we’ve been using for hundreds of years.

Order the book:

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Architect William McDonough and Chemist Michael Braungart have published a revolutionary new book in which we adopt a cradle-to-cradle way of manufacturing that is as effective as nature itself in maintaining sustainability. The focus of their vision is for us to use nature itself as a model for manufacturing.

To prove their theory, Cradle to Cradle is itself printed on synthetic paper and bound into an innovative book format developed by Charles Melcher of Melcher Media. The synthetic material is made from plastic resins and organic fillers that are waterproof and extremely durable. Not only is the book recyclable by conventional means, it can also be called a ‘technical nutrient’, which is an infinitely recyclable product.

McDonough and Braungart explain why industry and environment do not need to be at odds with each other. There is no need to limit production and growth to the point where we are forced to live a more primitive organic lifestyle in order to be sustainable. Environmentalists often characterize business and growth as a destructive force, and corporations see the environmental movement as an obstacle to production and growth.

The environmental message that consumers take from all of this can be strident and depressing: stop being so bad, so materialistic, so greedy. Do whatever you can, no matter how inconvenient, to limit your consumption. By less, spend less, drive less, have fewer children — or none. Aren’t the major environmental problems today — global warming, deforestation, pollution, waste — products of your decadent Western way of life? If you are going to help save the planet, you will have to make some sacrifices, share some resources, perhaps you can go without. And fairly soon, you must face a world of limits. There is only so much the Earth can take.

On the contrary, McDonough and Braungart believe that we can still have all of our comforts and maintain a modern lifestyle. They use nature as an metaphor for how we can redesign our world to be more eco-efficient:

Consider the cherry tree: thousands of blossoms create fruit for birds, humans, and other animals, in order that one pit might eventually fall onto the ground, take root, and grow. Who would look at the ground littered with cherry blossoms and complain, How inefficient and wasteful! The tree makes copious blossoms and fruit without depleting its environment. Once they fall on the ground, their materials decompose and break down into nutrients that nourish microorganisms, insects, plants, animals, and soil. Although the tree actually makes more of its product than it needs for its own success in an ecosystem, this abundance has evolved (through millions of years of success and failure or, in business terms, R&D), to serve rich and varied purposes. In fact, the tree’s fecundity nourishes just about everything around it. What might the human built world look like if the cherry tree had produced?

This book is full of useful and inspiring thoughts about encouraging diversity and utilizing efficient energy sources. The five guiding principles encourage commitment to new paradigms, good growth instead of economic growth, continuous innovation and perfection, understanding in preparation for learning, and implementation of intergenerational responsibility. “We must ask ourselves, How can we support and perpetuate the rights of all living things to share in a world of abundance? How can we love the children of all species — not just our own — for all time?”

Sources: Cradle to Cradle

  • albert kaffka

    Great ideas and I am much inspired. I happen to be in the position that I am selling my properties and plan to move away from the big city to the (almost) untouched African countryside. Where can I find info on building a c2c type of housing ( private ) with regard to structural design and soil/vegetation protection as well as c2c building materials to use inside the structure? Since I am starting “new” I would really consider doing it the good way. I would really appreciate some guidance as I can’t find any info locally in South Africa besides “the cradle of mankind”. Regards, Albert Kaffka, Pretoria, South Africa.

  • iobs

    For everybody who is interested, I keep a Cradle To Cradle Chronology here:

    It is a very comprehensive list of sources, publications, articles, videos, podcasts, interviews, events and milestones on the Cradle To Cradle subject. All nicely ordered in a chronological manner.


  • alan

    this competition was done with inspiration on this paradigm recently….a self sustaining home energized with spinach:

  • greengo

    This book is a really good read. What’s most amazing about all of this though, is that it has taken until now for someone (William McDonough and Michael Braungart) to come up with and voice this idea..!? It is so simple, so completely intuitive and obvious, that we have not been doing this as a standard for some time now is shocking.

  • Jessie

    “have fewer children — or none” So who are we saving the earth for?

  • Seth

    Although I find the message that we must recreate the way we design things in a fundamental way quite obvious, I quit reading Cradle to Cradle when I realized that McDonough and Braungart believe that we can have the same lifestyles as we have now just with better designed things. The simple truth is that it is our lifestyle that is unsustainable, not just the way we make products. It sounds nice a fuzzy for all those that are attached to their tech to hear that they can keep all that and save the world but its simply not true. For the simple reason that we do not have the means to produce the energy cheaply enough to sustain our lifestyles (thats the biggest hurdle, the other’s are the reliance on extremely limited resources i.e. metals and such that would be required for renewable energy to be successful). Unless we retool the whole system to run on R.E. then it will still take fossil fuels to extract the resources for the R.E. and I don’t see that happening quickly enough to offset GW. Not to mention the damage that mining causes. There are so many other hurdles that it isn’t worth going in to.

    Sacrifice sounds horrible to those that fulfill they’re need for connection and meaning with things, but consumer products are just a shoddy substitute for the connection and meaning gained from participating in a healthy community.

    Simple living is the best way to assure a future that is not characterized by worsening conditions for the coming generations, it will take cradle to cradle design but it will also require forgoing the ridiculous levels of consumption that are the standard of Western culture. The world cannot support 9 billion Americans, no matter how well we design our products.

    It may sound horribly callous, but the Earth will likely need to see a large die off of humanity if it will ever be able to support any humans. Western culture is not sustainable and will never willingly become sustainable as long as it is dominated by corporations and the perpetuation of violence. As long as people worship the alter of money instead of building strong and vibrant communities, we will be locked in a death spiral that will not have a pretty ending. Just my two cents….

  • Barry

    Simply put, Seth is correct. Our consumption is the problem. We simply consume too much. We need to recognize that a growth-based economy means more is the only measure of success. So, if you make $5 million dollars profit one year, you must make more than that the next year, or its considered a failure. By focusing solely on profit gains, we create the need for more spending, which tends to equal more purchasing, which requires more material and thus more energy to acquire, transfer, and produce the materials into products. It is a tough thing to realize, but corporations are not the problem. We are. We choose to consume and are convinced, not forced, to buy more and more things. The world ran fine without cell phones, but now – to stay competitive – most business people will spout the many uses and intrinsic values of owning a cell phone in today’s ever-increasingly competitive market. That is our choices, because no one is marketing alternative business strategies to mass communication. It’s known that communities are an extremely energy conserving in their existence. Working locally allows the cost of travel and energy to be reduced drastically. Take food, for example. If you go into a grocery store you’ll notice the labels on the produce you buy comes from all over the world; however, many local markets offer more than adequate amounts and diversity of produce through greenhouses, organic farming, or just regular crop farms to provide all the nutrients we need. The energy it takes for ship all those foods from around the world to your local supermarket is incredibly high, in comparison to the energy used to bring local foods from the farm to the market. Leaving the problem of Global Warming, or the problem of the cost of living something that is in our hands.

    Bringing this back to the Cradle to Cradle idea. While I agree with Seth, that it is our consumption that is the problem, I must also point out that people who are not living in desperate situations tend not to initiate many lifestyle changes. Such projects as Cradle to Cradle helps. If it takes baby steps to get people to move in a smarter direction of living, so be it. Such projects as C2C not only provides ideas to help motivate and inspire people towards more eco-friendly living, it gives alternatives to their current lifestyle options, while also providing forums of discussions on our lifestyles and the alternatives that are available to us.

    I often think of what Noam Chomsky said about change – that it is not a matter of money, or ideas/intelligence; it is a matter of will. I agree, but people don’t just pick-up and change on a dime. They need ideas, they need to see alternatives to the current paradigm. People don’t just take a leap of faith when it comes to fundamentals like their home, or how they get their food and clothes. They will, however, try new things, experiment with alternatives, and through such experiences also discover new ideas and alternatives on their own.

    While I don’t think C2C is going to save us, it is a step in the right direction. And any step is an improvement.

  • cecile

    Current sustainability concept faces too much unsolved and thorny challenges. “Cradle-to-cradle” really provides the solution for many of these problems. As the book mentioned? This is not only the opportunity of environment, also, of this society. (New manufacturing brings more employment) I am expecting this fresh and applicable point of view to spread to all over the world, especially Asia. Asia is a progressing economy and hundred million of people are craving to improve their lifestyle, just like buying cars, eating more, fancy clothes, etc. It does become a huge crisis of earth.

    There is one thing I don’t get it. The amount of ants is four times the amount of humans. However, I think one ant consuming less than one fourth of human. Besides, ants eat rotten things and humans eat almost everything.

    Can C2C settle the tough food problem?

  • cradle to cradle

    More on cradle to cradle can be found here:

  • Max K

    Though C2C is an excellent idea I find it hypocritical in that they do not disclose the make-up of the book, it’s not printed on paper. Do as I say not as I do ultimately doesn’t work.

  • nate

    Cradle-To-Cradle is a good model for humanity to follow especially since all the other animals in the kingdom embraces it. However, the cherry tree that over produces fruit, give its abundance that all may enjoy. We do not. If we practice cradle to cradle without any limits to consumption and growth, at some point in time we will have lions and elephants on our roof tops. C2C like the cherry tree means that we allow our children to go outside and play even though they might become prey to the wildlife on our roof tops.

    India and China have passed their limits of a healthy population size, the United States has passed its limits on consumption. Only 5 percent of the worlds population resides in the U.S. but yet it consumes 80 percent of the resources. Look at the millions of people dying from starvation and disease in Africa, and with countries like India who promotes population and will soon become the most populated country in the world, there will be no end to the worlds problems. Cradle to Cradle model does not and will not fix this.

    Our species is designed to fail. We are naturally greedy, selfish, destructive and we operate in manners that are against nature unlike any other species in this world. Science says we are the most sophisticated creature but I doubt that this word is needed describes us-how about stupid. I endorse the C2C model but I am inclined to believe that unless this super intelligent energy that has created all life comes back and redesign us, we will self-destruct.

  • Judy

    Cradle to Cradle is a great idea to acheive sustainability. However, many companies todays focusing on sustainability mistaken the meaning of C2C. More waste even created in order to acheive C2C. That sounds stupid, but so as human-being. C2C provides a good approach, but humans can’t understand its brilliant concept well.

  • Xiangdian

    Found the video “from cradle to cradle” presented by the writer William Mcdonough here: It really deserves a good watching.


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