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Inspiring....Should be Required Reading for All Members of Humanity
on April 24, 2013
If you are already familiar with the work of Bill McDonough ("BM") and Michael Braungart ("MB", together "BMMB"), then my glowing praise should come as no surprise and you can probably stop reading my review and go get your copy now. As a bioentrepreneur running a company, I am well read on current thinking involving sustainability, biomimicry, biology, and futurism. All the same I just checked out and devoured this book in a day. My high expectations were not disappointed, and the marathon read spurred my creativity not just in business but all the way through the cycle down to my family life, which was the intention.
In 1992 BMMB publicly presented the "Hannover Principles", a sustainability manifesto which advocates transcending basic design principles by also considering the impact on health and the environment, how the design impacts things on the periphery and identifying those relationships, eliminating waste and optimizing efficiency, and striving to holistically improve the end product. Together they identified and analyzed thousands of industrial materials and produced a ranking system that delineated their qualities along the lines of toxicity and true recyclable sustainability (as opposed to "downcycling", or reusing the materials of a primary product to produce something else with less and less quality/utility in the future). This work led to a major series of high level consultations producing a "butterfly effect" that is positively impacting us all, and will continue to do so ad infinium.
Ten years later they wrote "Cradle to Cradle", which looked at how products could be made better by applying the Hannover Principles, and that doing so would make companies more profitable. I still count Cradle to Cradle as one of the best and most fascinating business books I have read, and this was largely due to the outstanding examples of how major corporations like Ford and Interface were able to make strategic changes that resulted in superior products, less harmful materials, less waste, etc. I refer to it as a business book in part because BMMB do not blame capitalism for all our troubles. Quite the opposite, they profoundly advocate it as an essential engine of progress and correctly illustrate through example (in both books) how an intention or lack of one will dictate a positive or negative outcome.
Rather than rewrite Cradle to Cradle, the authors set out to explain why it exists, which they richly describe as follows, "The goal of The Upcycle is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world with clean air, water, soil, and power - economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed". Ambitious? BMMB suggest that if Cradle to Cradle principles are widely adopted then this would be the result and that the process would be endless through constant improvement; a true "Virtuous Cycle".
In the 10-years following Cradle to Cradle, BMMB have had continuous forward momentum putting these principles into practice not just with major global corporations, but even with governments like China (who desperately need this help, for the sake of our entire biosphere). As such, BMMB have enjoyed a unique position working with and influencing powerful global forces and driving them towards positive progress. "The Upcycle" reflects this refined experience. It is a call to action for all of society to become conscious not just of what they design and produce, but also of how their decisions on consumption affect waste or produce toxicity, and that our choices thus affect future generations and indeed our planet. It asks us to consider not just how we can do a little here or there producing a "less bad" impact, but instead to analyze and discover how we can improve our habits and become a true force of positive impact. A simple example of putting this into practice is to begin zero consumption of products made by companies that fail to adopt these practices, thus depriving them of any economic reward (I haven't given fast food a single penny since 1989, nor do I patronize certain airlines or banks). When we empower ourselves and hold them accountable they are forced to change or they will disappear, and either outcome is a positive result.
There are many ideas present that will inspire business managers and leaders to consider how they can optimize their processes and designs, and thus is arguably the best $15 you could spend on unleashing your creativity by challenging how you do things from the bottom to the top. As it is intended, it is no less valuable for everyone else as it teaches us to have higher expectations of industry, society, and ourselves. The Forward is by Bill Clinton who says the Optimist's glass is half full, the Pessimist's is half empty, while BMMB's glass is always full of half water and half air. Classic.
Just as Cradle to Cradle was printed according to the best available practices of the time, The Upcycle's concepts were employed in printing this non-toxic biodegradable book to the highest standards of today; once again very cool. I'm looking forward to reading it again, which is rare.