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Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
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341 of 367 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
This doesn't feel like a book - literally. It's a different size and shape, the pages are thick, the thing feels significantly heavier than it looks, and it's waterproof.
The design of the book is making a point also made in the text of the book: the current state of recycling generally turns higher quality products into lower quality ones useful only for purposes other than the original product, and then eventually discards them. This is not recycling; it's slow motion waste.
"Cradle to Cradle," the object, is intended to be easily and completely recyclable into a new book of the same quality.
"Cradle to cradle," the phrase, is contrasted to "cradle to grave."
"Cradle to Cradle," the text, argues in favor of making all human productions either recyclable in the way this book is or completely biodegradable so that they can be used as fertilizer.
In the future envisioned and partially created and described by this pair of authors, packaging will be tossed on the ground in response to signs reading "Please litter!" Appliances will be leased and returned to manufacturers to be completely recycled. Objects that must contain both biodegradable and inorganic recyclable elements will be easily separable into those respective parts: you'll toss the soles of your shoes into the garden and give the uppers back to the shoemaker. And the water coming out of factories will be cleaner than what came in, motivating the factory owners to reuse it and eliminating the need for the government to test its toxicity.
These authors teemed up on the 1991 Hannover Principles to guide the design of the 2000 World's Fair. McDonough has an architecture firm in Charlottesville, Va., and from 1994 to 1999 was dean of the University of Virginia's School of Architecture. Braungart is a German chemist who for several years headed the chemistry section of Greenpeace.
This book is superb and should be read by those familiar with the issues of environmental design and those completely new to the topic. It draws on themes common in a long list of books ranging from "Ishmael," by Daniel Quinn to "Natural Capitalism," by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. But McDonough and Braungart make no acknowledgements of any such influences and present themselves (just as these other authors have) as the vanguard of a change as radical as the industrial revolution.
Their idea is incredibly important and well stated, but it's not the clear break from current environmental (or for that matter industrial or "Third Way") thinking that they maintain - and for students of evolution why should it need to be, what's wrong with evolving our thinking a helpful bit further, as they have done? What McD and B propose as revolutionary is -- instead of reducing pollution and consumption and having fewer children -- making increased economic activity actually beneficial to the planet.
Three comments. First, this book does not suggest any radical change in behavior for the typical reader. (Have lots of kids, drive lots of cars, buy lots of stuff - what a break through!) This book is, rather, advice for architects, corporations, and municipalities. It is intended to free the typical reader of guilt. I think it should do something else as well, namely urge us to political action, to demanding of our democratically elected representatives that the earth-saving innovations described in the book be taken advantage of. All the descriptions in this book of common household objects, such as sofas, "off-gasing" toxic particles makes me want to take action to change things or at least buy a mask, not go shopping.
Second, the examples of new materials and building and product designs described in the book all build on the environmental thinking that McD and B so loudly reject. Reducing pollution to zero is not a "new paradigm" from reducing pollution to a teeny bit - it's just better.
Third, the vision of rendering mad self-indulgence completely beneficial to all other species is far from a reality, and even the dream described by McD and B would not, in any way that I can imagine, make it possible to place an unlimited number of humans on the planet without hurting anything - more humans than under current practices, yes -- an infinite number, no. But let's remember that most of the people now on the planet do not do nearly as much damage as we do in this country. How many billion Americans the Earth can hold has not been answered.
There is also a disturbing thread of anti-government corporatism in the book. Ford and Nike and other corporations for which the authors have worked are described as heroes for their positive efforts, while their destructive practices are passed over. The authors repeat a distinction (citing Jane Jacobs' "Systems of Survival") between Guardians and Commerce, i.e. paternalistic government and noble corporate heroes:
"Commerce is quick, highly creative, inventive, constantly seeking short- and long-term advantage, and inherently honest: you can't do business with people if they aren't trustworthy."
Is this a joke? Do these guys believe press releases they read from, say, Enron? (Apparently so, because later in the book they write: "...the summer of 2001, when unusually high energy demand in California led to rolling blackouts, skyrocketing prices, even accusations of profiteering...." Accusations! High demand or restrained supply? What rock have these intelligent authors been naturally cooling themselves under? Well, at least they recognize the concept of profiteering, even though it fits poorly with the inherent honesty of commerce.)
Immediately following the "inherently honest" comment (page 60) Mc D and B go on to equate regulation with partial pollution reduction, and to conclude that because complete pollution reduction is desirable and possible, regulation is bad. Instead they should conclude that rather than allowing limited pollution, regulators should ban it entirely (through whatever stages of phasing in that policy prove feasible).
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102 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
Proof that our technologically advanced, high-consumption industrial system can make environmentally sound and sustainable products. We can manufacture a whole range of goods that are ecologically efficient in that they reduce waste and yet are less expensive to make than traditionally manufactured items. Pick up CRADLE TO CRADLE and the proof is right there in your hands. "This book is not a tree" the authors tell us. Its slightly heavier than your average paperback, the pages are whiter and they're also waterproof (I took the authors word on that one and am happy to say I was able to read on). The pages are made from plastic resins and fillers and in keeping with the message of "eliminating waste", the book is 100% recyclable.
McDonough and Braungart's vision of "Remaking the Way We Make Things" goes way beyond books. Why not buildings that produce more energy than they consume? Or "green" roofs that give off oxygen while cooling the occupants? How about factories that produce drinkable effluent? or products that when their useful life is over can be used as nutrients for soil? What sounds like science fiction is convincingly shown to be quite feasible by the authors. They offer numerous examples to prove it.
"We see a world of abundance, not limits" they say. As an architect (McDonough) and chemist (Braungart) they don't have any special qualifications for this re-thinking and re-doing. What they simply have done is re-imagine the whole manufacturing process beginning with the design elements. Sometimes it's simply a matter of asking the right questions and looking at things differently. They are not talking about smaller-scale industry or limiting themselves to the "four R's" of traditional environmentalism - reuse, recycle, reduce, and regulate. With their intelligent designs, "bigger and better" is possible "in a way that replenishes, restores, and nourishes the rest of the world."
McDonough and Braungart cover topics such as the history of the industrial revolution, new business strategies that emphasize eco-efficiency, the relationship between man, nature, and science, and the importance of design and planning. Hopeful, well written, thoroughly researched, and packed with practical examples, this refreshing book offers an alternative to our current industrial system that "takes, makes and wastes". We have the talent, technology, and with the enthusiasm of these authors, we have the capability to achieve economic and ecological sustainability.
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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I can't think of another book that so obviously practices what it preaches as _Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things_ (North Point Press) by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Books are usually printed on a fairly high grade of paper (compared to, say, that used in newspapers), paper which everyone knows comes from cutting down pretty and naturally useful trees. The paper is printed with inks that have heavy metals and other chemicals in them. You can recycle a book, but those chemicals get to be part of the mess, and are expensive to remove. Anyway, you don't really recycle it, you _down_cycle it (the authors' term), because the paper in it can only be bleached and chemically treated to turn it into a lower grade of paper, such as for newspapers. And newspapers can be turned into toilet paper, in further downcycling. _Cradle to Cradle_ is about breaking out of such "cycles" and into real cycles. It has smooth, bright white pages that are heavy, like the paper in the best books. They are not, however, paper in the usual sense, although you probably wouldn't notice the difference unless your attention was called to it. They are made of plastic resins and inorganic fillers. Although the pages are designed to last as long as any paper book, these pages can be recycled by conventional means to make more paper of equal quality. They might even be _up_cycled into resins of greater complexity and utility. The ink on them can be easily removed by a safe solvent bath, or washing with extremely hot water, and does not contain dangerous chemicals.
The authors, one an architect and one a chemist, created McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry in 1995, to consult with companies about designing sustaining products and factories. They have the ear of such companies as Ford and Nike, and their book is a primer on how they would like to see manufacturing work in the future to take part in natural cycles having little effect on the overall ecology of the earth. It is a rather thrilling little manifesto, by two obviously bright guys who don't let their optimism get in the way of bringing in real results. The idea is for products and processes not to be "less bad," but like ants or trees, to be positively good for the environment. "Waste is food" is the principle. Making products that can be composted, or can be used again without degrading them or the environment can be done, and it is no dream. Much of the book shows how the authors, as consultants, have put such principles into action.
It can be done. The words of the authors, clearly concerned about the future of the planet, are enthusiastic and convincing, and given the examples in this surprising book, it is clear that we will be seeing more design of products and processes that are incorporated into natural cycles. Given the example of the book itself, a good looking product on its own, the advantages are clear. And if that isn't enough, the book can be read without risk in the bathtub, as it is entirely waterproof.
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99 of 111 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
McDonough & Braungart are obviously very talented guys. This book is harshly honest as they don't spare the rod in respect to either full-out industrial capitalists or eco-efficiency proponents.
However, I had three issues with this book:
1) It could have been a lot more throught-provoking if the authors had organized the book better. Seriously, it takes 80 or so pages before you get a handle on the author's true point of view. They spend every single word until that point debunking all other approaches in the field. I wish they had interspersed it with their ideas. But they keep their hand hidden until that point. I found it frustrating.
2) There's a big deal made of the book itself, and its 'upcycle potential.' All well and good, but can I point out a rather annoying side-effect? This is a difficult book to read...I mean from an ergonomic perspective. You just can't keep the thing open. And as far as reading it on a bookholder when you're working out: forget it. It will not lie flat. I realize this is an insipid criticism, but this technology is not yet ready for prime-time, in my opinion.
3) The book needs to be more quantitative. Only in the last chapter do we get any hint of realism, when the authors tell you about their work with Ford's River Rouge plant. Up until that point, there were some hints dropped here and there, most notably about the Herman Miller office the duo built. I'm sure they've got reams of quantitative evidence to support their theories. For some reason, they made a decision not to present it, and I think it hurts the book.
Still, depsite these comments, I think 'Cradle to Cradle' is worth your time.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"Cradle to Crade" is a fabulous book. Regardless of whether you agree with the authors' views, you will find excellent arguments, good research, and clear explanations from philosophical, historical, scientific, and business perspectives.
The upshot of the book is that humanity's whole philosophy of designing technology is destructive to the planet. What we need to do is realize that since the Earth is a closed system, we need to use industrial processes that both avoid toxifying the environment and produce finished products whose raw materials can be endlessly reused. We're not talking convential recycling programs, where various kinds of plastic get melted together to produce a big mass of low-quality material. The authors provide several examples of products that meet their conditions. They're well-equipped to do so, since for a decade they've run a design firm that helps companies do exactly what they preach.
There's more to this book than just a "2nd industrial revolution". When the authors apply the same basic ideas to urban planning, economic "efficiency", or health issues, it really gives us some great points to ponder. Hopefully some of us will even be inspired to action. It's really a very important book.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I would like to split this book review into 2 sections:
1. Content
2. Binding as it relates to #1

1. Content
This book is an excellent "manifesto" about re-use, and defining it as "real" re-use -- meaning the material stays as close to its highest possible use as long as possible. It seems the terms "Reduce, reuse and recycle" have stuck in the authors' craw - since as they point out, most reuse and recycling involves taking 2L soda pop bottles and changing them into mattress fill essentially delaying the inevitable landfill destination, but not preventing it (they call this "downcycling"). And "reducing" brings us to the Carter 1970's where conservation involved great personal sacrifice to which modern eco-movement says "balderdash." These folks most certainly are in that new Ecology camp. (The new branch of the Ecological movement claims proper conservation and efficient use of resources makes living *better* than before, since the movement has shown that efficient use of resources is the key to living well, and in fact *better* than before in terms of personal comfort, more profits for companies, etc.)

The authors contend in well written words, that paying serious attention to same-level reuse during a manufacturing process can help to eliminate waste later. This brings us to the second part of this review -- the binding.

2. The binding

The binding is a durabook -- esentially a plastic book with a waterproof binding. The authors and publisher claim that the book is 100% waterproof, and others have claimed to have put it through a wash cycle with no ill effects. At $25 retail, $17.50 Amazon, I am not likely to try this, but it is "cool." Additionally, the authors claim infinite recyclability of the binding and pages into other books - giving great weight to their thesis, but can also bring up some issues.

Issue 1: You can't compost their book.

The authors are likely to point out, that their point was not FLEXIBILITY of use, just that this book can and should be disassembled to make other books, and they are quick to point out that it is not made of trees. I hope they are correct, since this book won't decompose if I lose it in the forest or on the beach - and if I throw it away mistakenly, will sit in a landfill with all those other non decomposible wastes. Paper, while not part of their thesis, does not have to be made of wood pulp - there is a lot of agricultural waste that could be made into paper for books such as this one that would be an example of "upcycling" - and last time I checked, paper could be reused several generations, then decomposed back into the life cycle -- the ultimate in upcycling, I think.

Issue 2: The inks.

I tried to look into the "durabook" on the web - and found nothing much about the ink. Durabook aside, printing on plastic involves inks that tend to be rather toxic. If the Durabook is no exception, the authors may have illustared how difficult it may be to achieve painless, true, same-level recycling, since somehow the inks would have to be removed from the pages and the toxicity neutralized before reprinting or reforming a page (some sort of plastic friendly soy ink might be good to use?). Current paper recycling has to deal with this issue and generates a lot of toxic sludge per year unless the paper uses soy inks, which naturally decompose and are not toxic.


While the thesis is interesting, the binding tells the real story of how far we've gotten in the new definition of recycling. Thinking about the uses beyond the immediate was shown by the authors to be important, but their choice of binding shows that there needs to be a great attention to detail and rigor to avoid unintended consequences.

5/5 for their thesis, 3/5 for the binding, 4/5 overall!
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
At 1-1/4 lbs, "Cradle to Cradle" is more than twice as heavy as a same-size paperback edition of John Steinbeck's "The Winter of Our Discontent" and the fact is more than incidental.
"Remaking the Way We Make Things", the book's subtitle, is the social agenda of its authors, architect Bill McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. They take issue with the three R's of environmentalism, "reduce, reuse and recycle." The process by which plastic bottles are recycled into carpet, for example, also produces considerable waste and the carpet itself "is still on its way to a landfill; it's just stopping off in your house en route."
The authors advocate designing products so that after their useful lives, either the product components provide biological nutrients for new products or circulate in a closed industrial loop.
The Yanomamo of Brazil whose banana soup dish may contain the ashes of their dearly departed was one source of inspiration for Braungart and McDonough was moved by the simple, natural and effective technology of the Bedouin whose goat hair tents ventilate hot air up and out and, when it rains, swell with absorbed moisture and provide protection.
The authors are walking the talk with the physical design of this new book. It is made of a waterproof polymer developed by Melcher Media so it can be read in the bath or at the beach, provided you have sufficient wrist strength to hoist it to viewing level. And the book can be "upcycled", made into a high quality polymer, at least theoretically. Until such time, place this book on the shelf above your hot tub next to Aqua Erotica, a collection of stories dealing with water and sex, another book of "Durabook" construction.
Undoubtedly, an electronic edition of the book would be most eco-effective. Also, a digital version would be searchable and might compensate for lack of an index. Despite its flaws as a model, it offers a vision of the future in which people and their stuff can co-exist.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
It seems that we have created a very hostile environment for ourselves. The house that we live in is filled with materials - carpet, paint, wood finishes - that fill the air with mutagenic materials and toxic gases. The cars that we drive emit noxious fumes and require non-renewable resources for their operation, and even the computer you are reading this on is made with materials that are harmful to the people who manufacture them and use them - not to mention the harm that is done to the environment once it is disposed of.

Many of the things that we take for granted are really quite silly when you look at them closely. We plop down houses, designed and built with no regard for their orientation to the sun, on land that has been stripped of trees that may have shaded the houses, or bodies of water that could be used to guide water runoff. Those houses are then surrounded by a foreign grass species that is forced to grow with dangerous chemicals, and then cut down with polluting machinery.

Many of the ways we impact the environment are more apparent, and attempts to alleviate them have gained in acceptance, but "Cradle to Cradle" argues that many of our "solutions" are simply patches for poorly-designed systems. They argue that recycling is actually "downcycling" - a process that results in a lower quality product with each cycle, that sometimes requires just as many resources as manufacturing a new product. The fact that soda cans are made with two different grades of aluminum, and are coated with paint, are a good example of unconsidered life-cycle.

William McDonough and Michael Braungart uncover many frightening side-effects of the way we live our lives and design our products. Most of the solutions they present for these problems are not currently feasible, but they present steps to take to work towards environmental utopia. The book itself is an example - its not quite the dream book they describe, with inks that wash off in a hot water bath and glues made of materials that can be recycled with the pages of the book, but "Cradle to Cradle" is printed on a very durable, heavy, and waterproof polymer-based paper that can be "upcycled."

There do appear to be some conflicts of interest in this book, however. McDonough and Braungart speak of clients of theirs - companies such as Monsanto, Dow, and Ford - as if they were environmental saints even though these companies have committed atrocious harm to the environment. But, where else do we expect them to provide anecdotes from? Also, it is true that the very power that enables those companies to do harm can enable them to do good.

"Cradle to Cradle" is a thorough survey of the environmental dynamics of the things and practices that make up our everyday lives. It is wrapped around a the framework of a fresh pattern of thinking that will hopefully bring us closer to living in harmony with our environment without abandoning our lives as we know them.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
I am surprised that this book is so popular. I found it to be full of criticisms, criticisms and more criticisms of our current practices but with few solutions other than broad, nonspecific suggestions. I had hoped for insights into positive things that can be done to be more ecoconscious but found almost none.
They sugggest
1-redesigning products so they can be recycled into good quality materials that can be used again
2-redesigning packaging so it can be biodegradable
To disagree with these motherhood-types of suggestions would be like disagreeing that childen should be fed or we should't pollute rivers until all life is dead in them. I would love to have heard how their suggestions could be implemented or followed, and what products or practices we can use would support these solutions. I see simple things being done all around me that are ecoconscious and would love to have learned from their experiences and insights about things I could do more ecoconscious. What's new, what can we do, which of our ideas need rethinking, what little things can we do that would make a difference...
They suggest we make books out of materials that are recyclable (but acknowledge this technology doesn't exsit yet), plant green roofs to reduce the deluge of runoff that often overwhlems storm sewers (and in our area this sends untreated sewage into the ocean), plant plants for bioremediation, make a carpet where the backing detaches from a recyclable top, consider toxic chemicals in clothes and materials consumer products are made form.... Great ideas, but I don't know how I can do these things. Maybe websites or references could have been given with information on how to implement ecoconscious practices?
I've never written a book reveiw, but this book actually made me mad enough to do it because the authors write from such a smugly superior and holier-than-thou position. There are many people who want to bring about positive change and would love to make choices to be more eco-conscious, but the book doesn't suggest any real actions we can take in our every day living to do this. How disappointing because they are clearly committed to and involved in their field. This book was highly disappointing to me. (PS- they even criticize ecoconscious as a term; ecoeffectiveness is better they say.:-)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Warning. This is a plastic book (recycled something other than paper, waterproof). A pen smears, so plan to use a pencil if you are a normal person who reads serious books with an annotating hand. It is a fast light read, and in some ways I think the authors do not do their pioneering work full justice.

It was very helpful to me to have first read Paul Hawken's books (with his co-authors--see my reviews for a fast overview), namely Seven Tomorrows, The Ecology of Commerce, and Natural Capitalism. With that background, and of course having read Limits to Growth and related works in the 1970's, I found these authors to be impressive, coherent, and on target. HOWEVER, someone without that broader background could possibly find this book facile and unpersuasive if not somewhat opaque, which would be unfair to the authors. They are brilliant and merit our attention.

The book opens with a review of the industrial era which is characterized by cradle to grave design, meaning all things are designed for eventual disposal, generally at the taxpayers' expense and without regard to the natural capital cost of what was produced. This era, as the authors describe it, has been characterized by one size fits all planning (which wastes enormously on diverse points along the spectrum of actual need); by design for worst case conditions (more waste when they do not materialize 80% of the time); by the application of brute force to the land (with all that implies in energy consumption); by a monoculture concept (lawns with pesticide instead of natural gardens as eco-systems), and relatively crude products.

The authors' bottom lines here are that being less bad is not good enough, because in a closed system you can only go so far in relegating stuff to a grave, eventually the whole Earth will be one massive grave.

The four R's, and they give credit throughout the book to others, are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Regulate.

They are very specific in stating that downcycling is not true recycling, and most often leads to a cumulative increase of toxins with each reuse.

They are conscious of and discuss conflicting views of growth, but like Paul Hawken, they are clearly pro-business and articulate in pointing out that if Henry Ford can see the value of going green, then all businesses should take this general message seriously: sustainable profit is ONLY possible if you go green.

They distinguish between biological recycling and technical recycling. Although many more examples could have been provided of both processes being successfully implemented, they go far enough to be understood on this point.

"Clean" water is not so clean after all. Just as fish are absorbing and passing on to human very high levels of mercury, so also is even the cleanest of water being found to be contaminated in alarming ways.

The authors conclude that it is possible to design cradle to cradle products if one commits to converting the products into leased services, with the "producer" being responsible for taking any given product back for proper and full recycling. This gives the producer every incentive for designing products that can be easily broken down, re-used, and purified of all toxins from cradle to cradle.

The localizing of processes, but especially of waste treatment, is another theme that runs strongly here. Not only can neighborhoods create aquatic biological localized waste treatment processes that are beautiful and natural, but since the water they drink comes out the other end, they are individually incentivized to avoid dropping toxins into the natural waste system.

The authors have a triangle comprised of Energy, Equity, and Economy, and without getting into the public philosophy (see my review of the book by that title), suggest that the three must go forward together.

They point out that feedback is important, that information improvements can contribute a great deal to our making progress along the lines they suggest, with business being the greatest beneficiary.

The book concludes with five steps and five guiding principles.

The five steps are:
1) Get rid of known toxins and culprits in every product and service
2) Follow informed personal preferences
3) Do detailed analysis of the positive, neutral, and negative components of any product or process
4) Design around the positive
5) Reinvent constantly--exceed the first fix again and again

The five guiding principles are:
1) Signal intention
2) Restore, restore, restore
3) Innovate and keep innovating
4) Understand and prepare for the learning curve of the client
5) Exert inter-generational (sustainable) responsibility

This is not a good book to read in isolation. It earned four stars because of the authors' proven accomplishments, but the book I wish they had written would have had much more substance of successful natural designs from the past, and proposed new designs for neighborhoods, townships, rural areas, and cities as well as factories. It would be quite interesting for these two authors to create a book on "Designing Forever: The Way It Needs to Be." If they write it, I will buy it and review it here at Amazon.
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