Cradle to Cradle – a new way to think about design and production

by Karen Topakian

Imagine buying a television, a washing machine or a sofa and not worrying that its final resting place may be in a landfill?

Imagine purchasing a piece of carpeting that not only doesn’t off gas but instead cleans the air?

These products can exist and do exist because of the chemical and design work undertaken by German chemist Michael Braungart, Ph.D. and architect Michael McDonough at MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry).

In 2002, they wrote the book Cradle to Cradle to promote the idea that the manufacturing of products doesn’t need to produce waste if the process incorporates ecologically intelligent design. They have worked with manufacturers such as Herman Miller, Pendleton Woolen Mills, Kiehl’s and Method to produce products, which when broken down become “food” or “manufacturing nutrients” for other high quality products, without the use of toxic materials or processes.

Your television could be broken down into its component parts and rebuilt as a new television or as another high quality good. Each part would be built/designed to serve as a manufacturing nutrient or “food.”  No waste. No muss. No fuss.

In the world of permaculture, it would be known as a closed loop.  As in nature where one critter’s poop is another critter’s food or habitat. Nothing goes to waste.

Braungart and McDonough describe it as, “Unlike cradle-to-grave systems, cradle-to-cradle design sees human systems as nutrient cycles in which every material can support life.”

The Cradle to Cradle process turns the whole notion of recycling on its head.

These innovators believe everything in the world can be designed and created using the intelligence of natural systems. Now they have even developed a certification process to assess a product’s safety to humans and the environment.

If you’re interested in reading more about their work. Check out their website,

Or read their book, which “is printed on a synthetic ‘paper,’ made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged. And the book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers.”

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