Cradle to Cradle® Will it Make Money for You?

IMAGE CAPTION: The Change Sustainability Framework, a diagram illustrating the difference between the current situation, the typical solution and the C to C approach, by Zhiying.lim – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Basis of Cradle to Cradle® 

Designing a product usually starts with an intent. This could be to engineer-out as much cost as possible, make the object safer, or maybe even make it recyclable. Cradle to Cradle® is a design focus just like any other, but with a much broader scope. It strives to bring the end-point of a product’s life back to its origin. That is, make the new stuff from the old used-up stuff. A classic example is the glass bottle. Provided you can get the used bottle back to the factory, it can be melted down and re-formed into a new bottle.

A further step in this progression is to design in such a way that the least possible amount of energy is required for getting the object back into the lifecycle again. The phrase “Cradle to Cradle” is a trademarked term of the originators — designer William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart, from their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. (Also available on audio CD: Cradle to Cradle, 5-CD set, year 2009.)

The Main Points of Cradle to Cradle:

  1. Move focus from designing products that are “less bad” (i.e. shrink the negative footprint, more recycled content for example) to products which are “more good” (i.e. a product whose materials are a “nutrient” for safe continuous cycling.)
  2. Design as the shepherd of business continuity; for achieving market advantage, reducing liability, and securing feedstocks for continued production.
  3. Inclusion of the following design goals / principles: Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy, Water Stewardship, and Social Fairness.

McDonough and Braungart formed a consulting company to help others move in this direction: MBDC, Their website is a wealth of resources for those who want to get started.

Three Notable Examples:

Can a company really make any money doing business this way?

Method – This consumer cleaning products company has more than 60 products certified on the Cradle to Cradle rating system. The company’s distinctive packaging includes plastic harvested from the mid-Pacific Ocean gyre of waste plastic –  Named the 7th fastest growing private company in the United States in 2006, by Ins. Magazine, it was acquired by Belgian “green” cleaning giant Ecover in 2012. The group has annual revenues in excess of $200 million U.S.

Shaw Flooring Solutions – Shaw has applied C to C design to create a PVC-free commercial carpet tile that can be separated into components for carpet-to-carpet recycling. A toll-free phone number is on the back of the EcoWorx carpet tiles, which customers can call to have used tiles picked up. Sixty percent of the company’s $4 billion in total sales come from C to C products.

Herman Miller  – Has reinvented itself and its design process through C to C. Their office furniture has 20 certified C to C products, which use a minimum number of material types and completely disassemble for re-use / recycling. All HM facilities are powered by 100% renewable energy. Not bad for a $1.8 Billion company.

What could you design using Cradle to Cradle®?

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