At a time when the world is seriously looking at global warming and the environment, are we really doing enough?
“Reduce, reuse, recycle” should go without saying. But in fact, most of us have only really heard the last third of the phrase, and they’re ranked in order of importance. Reducing the amount that we consume, and shifting our consumption to well-designed products and services, is the first step. Finding constructive uses for “waste” materials is next. And tossing it in the recycle bin is last.
Action to reduce waste, save water, recycle plastic bottles, turn off the lights, walk to work etc. is this enough? Using less off these resources is not enough. Sustaining is minimum. We must do more or think better or are we just lazy?
Cradle-to-grave is how products impact natural systems. It is the full Life Cycle Assessment from manufacture ('cradle') to use phase and disposal phase ('grave'). For example, trees produce paper, which is recycled into low-energy production cellulose (fiberised paper) insulation, then used as an energy-saving device in the ceiling of a home for 40 years, saving 2,000 times the fossil-fuel energy used in its production. After 40 years the cellulose fibers are replaced and the old fibres are disposed of, possibly incinerated. All inputs and outputs are considered for all the phases of the life cycle.
"the cradle-to-grave effects on the environment of making, using and disposing of a product" Cynthia Crossen.
Rather than seeing materials as a waste management problem, as in the cradle-to-grave system, cradle-to-cradle design is based on the closed-loop nutrient cycles of nature, in which there is no waste. Just like nature, the cradle-to-cradle design seeks, from the start, to create buildings, communities and systems that generate wholly positive effects on human and environmental health. Not less waste and fewer negative effects, but more positive effects of regeneration, seed, growth, plant, product, "upcycle" and/or seed, growth, plant, product etc etc. One organism's waste is food for another, and nutrients and energy flow perpetually in closed-loop cycles of growth, decay and rebirth. Waste equals food.
This thinking was developed and popularized by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart in their 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.
This is not just wishful thinking or "concept" design. The cradle-to-cradle philosophy is driving a growing movement devoted to developing safe materials, products, supply chains and manufacturing processes throughout architecture and industry. It is being adopted by some of the world's most influential corporations, including Ford Motor Group, Nike and Herman Miller Furniture. Even densely populated China is looking at development and the impact of the rapidly growing population on housing development.
Nike has announced 11 new shoes, shirts and jackets developed with its Considered Design principles of reducing waste, eliminating toxic substances and using environmentally preferred materials. Nike's Considered Design is aimed at reducing the impact of products through rethinking, replacing or eliminating materials during design, development and manufacturing. Recycled materials, stitching replaces adhesive etc.
Cradle-to-cradle design also makes extraordinarily good sense economically and socially. This is especially visible in the workplace. When designs for large-scale factories and offices are modeled on nature's effectiveness, they generate delightful, productive places for people to work. This not only encourages a strong sense of community and cooperation, it also allows efficiency and cost-effectiveness to serve a larger purpose.