cradle to cradle

Waste can be used to add nutrients to the earth. Ever since engineers discovered the efficiency of piping sludge/sewege waste into water streams, we have been discarding that waste (and usually polluting the waters).


It could be used in a different way, but there are some problems with the waste stream. One being the liquid chemicals that might also be flushed down the drain, making our waste notably less than 100% organic.


Again, in order for our waste streams to truly work, products must be designed for an eventual reincarnation, rather than being sent “away”. If we can develop products that make people feel unique without that implying ‘no one else can use it when I’m done’, we can replenish more of the nutrients we take from the earth, more often, and in a safer way.


                   “There is no need for shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes, yogurt and ice-cream cartons, juice containers, and other packaging to last decades (or even centuries) longer than what came inside them…Worry free packaging could safely decompose, or be gathered and used as fertilizer, bringing nutrients back to the soil.”


When looking at creating environmentally sensitive products, the Cradle to Cradle team makes sure they


                  “look carefully at the potential long term design legacy”


And that is something that all green manufacturers should do when designing a new product or redesigning an old one.


This chapter starts into the mildly confusing rant about what is good and what is just “less bad”. They use the example of the book that is made the old way and the new one made from recycled material and soy based ink. Then the question is posed: is the new way really “good” or better?The problem they see is that the new book used a chemical covering, which “isnt’ recyclable with the rest of the book” and that the paper has about “reached the limits of further use” since the paper has been recycled again. It’s inherently not that great since it used trees to begin with.

They revisit this idea in later chapters when discussing, is being a vegetarian really that “good” if you eat vegetables that use chemicals and are transported long distances. It’s really just “less bad”.

At any rate, we then are introduced to book three, “the book of the future”, one that is durable enough to last for generations and the whole book can be recycled (and no tress were harmed in the making of it).

Their main point is that things should be “upcycled” it should be continually used and biodegrade if neccesary (or reused for a differant purpose). We have to consider that the stuff must either be used forever or be able to return back to the earth.

Further, the products themselves can use reworking but the factories and systems, which deliver them to consumers should also work together with the environment to provide a pleasurable experience for employees, who will then do more valuable work and the surviving eco system will not be harmed.

It’s hard to sum up this chapter completely, the authors cover so much and give so many great examples but all I can say is this:

Ants “represent a larger biomass than humans on earth”. Yet, they use the earth contribute to it, make it better, while at the same time thriving off of it. Ants live everywhere. We are no ants, but this chapter makes me think we should adopt the principles of the ants. The principles of contributing to the well-being of the earth while thriving off it.

Cradle to Cradle: Chapter 2 starts with the bleak visions of population growth made by Thomas Malthus at the end of the 18th century, where he predicted that humans wouldn’t have enough resources to sustain ourselves. They track environmental writings by authors like Marsh, Thoureau, Leopold, and the creation of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. Then Silent Spring by Rachel Carson marked the true beginning of environmntal protection going mainstream.

As our machines have grown bigger in order to feed the needs of a rapidly growing population, some have tried to get across the point that we should use less stuff. The authors make the point that a commodity as scarce as oil should be saved only for emergencies. Solar energy should be able to sustain us if we use it in the right way.

Eco-efficiency is the key. A respect for natural ecosystems integrated with efficient manufacturing processes that suit the needs of everyone. And that includes everyone. “Reduce Reuse Recycle…and Regulate” is the next term the bring up. Regulation carries with it the fear of slowing down economic progress.

This quote about money, commerce and regulation rounds up a disappointing theme in manufacturing. It also may be a theme that can be changed through green initiatives, however.

“Money, the tool of commerce will corrupt the guardian. Regulation, the tool of the guardian, will slow down commerce. An example: a manufacturer might spend more money to provide an improved product under regulations, but its commercial customers, who want products quickly and cheaply, may be unwilling to absorb the extra costs. They may then find what they need elsewhere, perhaps offshore, where regulations are less stringent. In an unfortunate turnaround, the unregulated and potentially dangerous product is given a competitive edge.”

The beginning of Cradle to Cradle introduces us to the authors, William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Bill, the visionary and architect and Mike the Chemist and Activist, make a good team for illuminating the idea that we can have what we need and leave a planet for children forever.

I’m glad I have decided to read this book and it should be required reading for green manufacturers. It reads fast, does not baffle readers with complex systems. It lays out what is happening as far as harmful chemicals in everyday products, the negative ways that we dispose of old products, and much more.

Many companies are taking into consideration the needs of the planet. They have awoken to the fact that the ecosystem is changing, in part by the need to affordably produce goods for a large amount of people. If you’re reading this, or have read Cradle to Cradle, you already have some of understanding of how the movement towards sustinability is becoming the norm.

The opening chapter of the book takes us from the sinking of the Titanic (man losing to nature) and the Model T to, more recently, oil spills and mcmansion development designs. They don’t call anyone out per se but they do leave it up to the reader to grasp how our idea of progress is skewed.

The chapter ends by suggesting that we are already stepping in the right direction and will go on to describe the movements within the green economy . So tomorrow I, like the book, will take a look at them.

(Side note: as the green individual that I am, I requested the book from the library instead of buying a new one (I had to wait for it to be returned by someone else), I rode my bike to get it from the library, and I now read it while riding the bus to work everyday. Hopefully, Bill and Mike would be impressed by my efforts and I hope that we can all seek out ways to reduce our ecological footprints while we grow wealth)