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Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things Paperback – April 22, 2002
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Paper or plastic? Neither, say William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Why settle for the least harmful alternative when we could have something that is better--say, edible grocery bags! In Cradle to Cradle, the authors present a manifesto calling for a new industrial revolution, one that would render both traditional manufacturing and traditional environmentalism obsolete. Recycling, for instance, is actually "downcycling," creating hybrids of biological and technical "nutrients" which are then unrecoverable and unusable. The authors, an architect and a chemist, want to eliminate the concept of waste altogether, while preserving commerce and allowing for human nature. They offer several compelling examples of corporations that are not just doing less harm--they're actually doing some good for the environment and their neighborhoods, and making more money in the process. Cradle to Cradle is a refreshing change from the intractable environmental conflicts that dominate headlines. It's a handbook for 21st-century innovation and should be required reading for business hotshots and environmental activists. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
Environmentalists are normally the last people to be called shortsighted, yet that's essentially what architect McDonough and chemist Braungart contend in this clarion call for a new kind of ecological consciousness. The authors are partners in an industrial design firm that devises environmentally sound buildings, equipment and products. They argue that conventional, expensive eco-efficiency measures things like recycling or emissions reduction are inadequate for protecting the long-term health of the planet. Our industrial products are simply not designed with environmental safety in mind; there's no way to reclaim the natural resources they use or fully prevent ecosystem damage, and mitigating the damage is at best a stop-gap measure. What the authors propose in this clear, accessible manifesto is a new approach they've dubbed "eco-effectiveness": designing from the ground up for both eco-safety and cost efficiency. They cite examples from their own work, like rooftops covered with soil and plants that serve as natural insulation; nontoxic dyes and fabrics; their current overhaul of Ford's legendary River Rouge factory; and the book itself, which will be printed on a synthetic "paper" that doesn't use trees. Because profitability is a requirement of the designs, the thinking goes, they appeal to business owners and obviate the need for regulatory apparatus. These shimmery visions can sound too good to be true, and the book is sometimes frustratingly short on specifics, particularly when it comes to questions of public policy and the political interests that might oppose widespread implementation of these designs. Still, the authors' original concepts are an inspiring reminder that humans are capable of much more elegant environmental solutions than the ones we've settled for in the last half-century.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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If you're going to the market to buy some juice. You've got to bring your own bags and you learn to reduce your waste...And if your brother or your sister's got some cool clothes...You could try them on before you buy some more of those...Reuse, we've got to learn to reuse… And if the first two R's don't work out..and if you've got to make some trash...Don't throw it out...Recycle, we've got to learn to recycle…
I think I’ve made my point. The message is everywhere. And as Johnson’s song laid out for us above, the message is clear: Reduce, reuse, recycle. However, as widespread and as this message is becoming one must stop and ask: is it effective? William McDonough and Michael Braungart argue in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things that such a design goal is ineffective. Efficient? Yes. Effective? Not quite. They propose that such efforts, which they categorize as “eco-efficient” design, are only a “less bad” version of a poor design methodology that emerged from the industrial revolution. These efforts do not change the way products are designed, rather they seek to mitigate the effects of poor design. As result, they seek a negative goal of zero impact on the environment. The problems associated with this approach are numerous. First, it creates a dichotomy between the environment and industry, with gains to one necessitating a loss to the other (also known as zero sum, see the trend). This leads to conflict and opposing agendas between the two and does very little to reveal how the two may actually be of benefit to one another. Second, as mentioned, it only makes a bad thing, less bad. To reduce something bad or harmful does not negate its impact, but only delays it. As such, these efforts are by definition unsustainable. Third, at best it has a goal of seeking not to degrade the environment and certainly does not consider the possibility that good design may actually improve the environment. So what is the main problem with the design form that emerged from the industrial revolution? Put simply, it was designed to become waste. Or put another way, it was designed with waste in mind. The authors label such design, cradle-to-grave design, as it is purposed from inception to become waste. They suggest that to solve this design dilemma we must rethink our idea of waste, or rather not think of it as a possibility at all. If design is reborn without waste in mind then we will have new products and new systems that bring life and wasteful abundance to its surroundings. If we sow design with new life in mind, our industries and our environment will reap the benefits of this change in design methodology. The author’s point out that nature’s idea of waste or excess actually enriches its surroundings. What if we design products from inception that sought to do the same? What if we learned from nature’s example and designed our systems cradle-to-cradle?
We could easily call "Cradle" a dream, but the real world fascination you will find here pins Nobel Prize-quality medals on the lapels of Michael & Bill.
Cradle gives us hope that the excesses of the Mechanical Age do not suffocate us with their formaldehyde gases, but will energize an age where taking a problem to its highest level of abstraction yields tools to solve the thorniest issue we face. Do our actions mirror our reputation?
McDonough and Braungart go on to point out that "blindly adopting superficial environmental approaches without fully understanding their effects can be no better - and perhaps even worse - than doing nothing (59)." This means that people that buy into the whole "buying and using recycled products is an environmentally friendly decision" without actually understanding what it is they are buying may actually be doing more harm than good. Materials that are being forced into a new life may have chemicals that are harmful to humans and their health. This isn't to say that all recycled products are bad, it just means that we should learn to understand what it is that is being recycled, how it has been recycled, and if the result is actually environmentally friendly and of an equal quality.
By rethinking the way things are made, the hope is that we will see a future where there is no waste. The ideal future would be a world where everything was environmentally friendly and decomposable. "Transformation to an eco-effective vision doesn't happen all at once, and it requires plenty of trial and error - and time, effort, money, and creativity expended in many directions (181)." This vision will take a very long time to see through, but I think that by reading this book and opening our eyes to a new way of thinking, we can take one step towards this future.
Then again maybe this is a joke by the authors?