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The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance Paperback – April 16, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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  • The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance
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  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With their landmark work on designing zero-waste merchandise, Cradle to Cradle (2002), architect McDonough and chemist Braungart launched a revolutionary program that encourages manufacturers to substitute environmentally unfriendly products with those that generate as few toxic footprints as possible. In consulting for corporations as far afield as Ford and Nike, the pair has demonstrated that nonpolluting goods, from carpets to shoes, can win consumers over without sacrificing the bottom line. Now the authors take their sustainability philosophy an inspired step further, arguing that industries can do better than simply trimming down the garbage and instead become “part of the natural cycle of regeneration on the planet.” Drawing on multiple examples from nature’s endless food chain, where one creature’s waste becomes nutrition for others, McDonough and Braungart debunk the notion that ecological measures inevitably steal profits from business and joy from life. The authors’ many reports on industry innovators give readers a peek into a future where mankind might one day stop destroying the environment and, instead, add to its abundance. --Carl Hays

Review

“Asking how a cherry tree would design an energy-efficient building is only one of the creative ‘practices' that McDonough and Braungart spread before their readers. This book will give you renewed hope that, indeed, ‘it is darkest before the dawn.'” ―Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club on Cradle to Cradle

“[McDonough and Braungart are] masters of holistic environmentalism . . . [They] have a knack for combining big ideas with commonsense practicality, which leaves readers feeling excited about the future.” ―Bruce Barcott, Outside Magazine on Cradle to Cradle

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865477485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865477483
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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.
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C2C and The Upcycle

William McDonough, an American architect, and Michael Braungart, a German chemist, combined to write Cradle to Cradle (C2C). C2C, published in 2002, discusses product design, with emphasis on materials utilization efficiency in an environmental context. C2C proposes that product design consider negative effects, especially toxicity, to humans and the natural world at every step in the product's value chain, including disposition when the product is no longer useful. In essence, C2C goes beyond "cradle to grave" design, which ends at a landfill or an incinerator, to "cradle to cradle" design, where non-toxic materials are reclaimed, recycled or reused in generation after generation of products.

Recently, the same two authors published The Upcycle. The Upcycle isn't really a sequel to C2C. Rather, as its title implies, it is an expansion on C2C, based on experience -- in this case, two decades of experience. Think of The Upcycle as another generation of the same product, rather like release 1.0 and release 2.0 of a software package.

Here are a few of the key ideas from The Upcycle:

>> More good, rather than less bad: The general approach to environmental impacts and human well-being is to do less bad -- reduce atmospheric emissions, reduce industrial accidents and reduce waste to landfill, for example. The Upcycle asserts that reduction, even reduction to zero, isn't sufficient. Production should aim beyond shrinking its negative footprint on the world to producing an increasing positive footprint.
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I'm a fan of the work of McDonough and Brungart, and believe they're on the right track with their important work. Cradle to Cradle, their previous book, hit a home run, IMO. This one, unfortunately, does not--it reads more like a pastiche of repurposed speeches and presentations than an organized progression of information and ideas. That might have been more tolerable if the book itself were more attractive. Unfortunately, though it's been manufactured to the best-available sustainability standards, its typography smacks of low-end word-processing. Differentiation between subheads and text is lacking, margins and indentations are unattractive, and chapter dividers are clumsy. The simplistic graphics add little informational value. Several inserts on pale gray paper, crammed with tiny sans serif typography, are awkwardly interspersed and interfere with the book's flow. Most concerning is that, for a book that concerns science and product engineering, there is no index. This book deserves a design and editing "upcycle" of its own.
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Here is a sequel that is actually an improvement of the original! Concisely written with marvelous insight for everyone, not just environmentalists. This is the movement we all need to join; it is for everyone.
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I keep ordering more copies of this book to give to my smartest friends because the vision it promotes of a world that is not only healthy and sustainable but also productive of beauty and joy is a world I want to live in.
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These two are onto wonderful ideas that change the world for the better and play a key role in humanity avoiding an overshoot and collapse future. Thinking about redesigning processes to eliminate toxicity and recycle materials and use sustainable energy sources are all lovely ideas. But if we look at reality, we see carbon emissions still increasing, despite these ideas and innovations and the economic benefits of cutting waste. I doubt that the transformation required can happen solely based on clever design and improved technology. A future that works will also require recognizing the limits of the planet's resources and, at some point, ending population growth and economic growth. It might be theoretically possible to transition to a sustainable economy with 10 or maybe even 20 billion people, but I think most people would prefer a world with, say, 2 billion people and a lot more reliance on good old fashioned nature, rather than hydroponic strawberry farms. Technology has a way of producing unintended consequences. Like more growth, putting us further out on a limb that is being sawed off. And, since the basic modus operandi of these authors has been to persuade companies to improve processes, they face some serious economic barriers where process improvements require additional inputs and cost more. An example in a video about their work had a German textile manufacturer switching from synthetic fibers to natural fibers (like cotton). That's fine, but where is the cotton grown? What chemicals are put on the cotton to kill pests? What species were displaced in making more cotton fields? Did the cotton require nitrogen fertilizer (made from natural gas) to get good yields? It ain't so easy being green, as Kermit pointed out.
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