Cradle to Cradle! Rethinking the world of economics….

The following article is based on the book "Cradle to Cradle" from Michael Braungrat and William McDonough.


“The GDP as measure of progress emerged during an era when natural resources still seemed unlimited and “quality of life” meant high economic standards of living. But if prosperity is only judged by increased economic activity, then car accidents, hospital visits, illnesses (such as cancer) and toxic spills are all signs of prosperity. Loss of resources, cultural depletion, negative social and environmental effects , reduction of quality of life- these ills can all be taking place, an entire can be in decline, yet they are negated by a simplistic economic figure that says economic life is good. Countries all over the world are trying to boost their level of economic activity so they, too, can grab a share of the “progress” that measurements like the GDP propound. But in the race for economic progress, social activity, ecological impact, cultural activity and long term effects can be overlooked.”

According to Prof. Braungart “less bad” referring to more efficiency and more eco-friendly productions and a bit of social activities is not enough. We really have to understand the triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet in a holistic way. This means to include all goals right into the whole life cycle of the product. A successful story is the Swiss textile mill Roehner and its aesthetically unique fabric that is also environmental intelligent. Here a link to the case study:


In the following I will write down the key steps to get there according to the book (pp 165-186).


“Step 1 get free from known culprits

Do everything in an environmental and social friendly way right from the beginning. From the materials to the manufacturing to the product only use materials not harmful for our health and the environment (such as PVC, cadium, lead and  mercury). You do not need to worry about any regulations and will save costs in the long run, your employees will be happy to work in your factory (reduced health risks) and you will gain a long term competitive advantage, because the cost of “technical” and not truly recyclable waste will increase exponentially over the years to come.

Step 2 follow informed personal preferences and prefer ecological intelligence

Prefer respect, this is at the heart of eco-effective design. It is difficult quality to quantify: respect for those who make the product, for the community near where it is made, for those who handle and transport it and ultimately the customers. Prefer delight, celebration, and fun. Add the element of pleasure and delight. It’s very important for ecologically intelligent products to be at the forefront of human expression. They can express the best of design creativity, adding pleasure and delight to life. 

Step 3 create a passive positive list

Create a detailed inventory of the entire palette of materials used in a given product, and the substances it may give off in the course of its manufacture and use. What, if any, are their problematic or potentially problematic characteristics? Are they toxic? Effects on local and global communities?

"Passive positive" lists – lists of materials used categorised according to their safety level

The X List – substances that must be phased out, such as teratogenicmutageniccarcinogenic.

The Gray List – problematic substances that are not so urgently in need of phasing out

The P List – the "positive" list, substances actively defined as safe for use

Step 4 activate the positive list

Step 5 reinvest

Do more than designing for biological and technical cycles we are recasting the design assignment: not “design a car” but design a “nutrivehicle”. Instead of aiming to create cars with minimal or zero negative emission, imagine cars designed to release positive emissions and to generate other nutritious effects on the environment. The car’s engine is treated like a chemical plant modelled on a natural system. Put it even further design a new transportation infrastructure! The planet will be crawling with cars, and we need other options. Sounds fanciful? Of course, but remember the car itself was fanciful notion in a world of horse and carriage.

For example Nike is testing clean new rubber that will be a biological nutrient and could likewise have a revolutionary impact on the industry.

The final point has no absolute endpoint and the final product may be totally different as the one you began to work on. Transformation to an eco-effective vision doesn’t happen all at once and it requires plenty of trial and error- and time and effort.

Finally signal your intention and restore! Drive for “good growth” and not just economic growth.


Except intergenerational responsibility

In 1789 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madision in which he argued that a federal bond should be repaid within one generation of the debt, because as he puts it, “The earth belongs…to the living…No man can by natural right oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeeded him in that occupation, to the payments of debt contracted by him. For if he could, he might, during is own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands of several generations to come, and then lands would belong to the dead, and not the living.”  The context is different, but the logic is beautiful and timeless.  Ask: How can we support and  perpetuate the rights of all living things to share in a world of abundance? How can we love the children of all species- not just our own- for all time? Imagine what a world of prosperity and health in the future will look like, and begin designing for it right now. What would it mean to become, once again, native to this place, the Earth- the home of all our relations? This is going to take forever. But that’s the point.”

Criticism according to Wikipedia:

Experts in the field of environment protection have questioned the practicability of the concept. Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, head of the German Wuppertal Institute called his assertion, that the "old" environmental movement had hindered innovation with its pessimist approach "pseudo-psychological humbug".

I can feel very nice on Michael's seat covers[22] in the airplane. Nevertheless I am still waiting for a detailed proposal for a design of the other 99.99 percent of the Airbus 380 after his principles.

In 2009 Schmidt-Bleek stated that it is out of the question that the concept can be realized on a bigger scale.[23]

Some claim that C2C certification may not be entirely sufficient in all eco-design approaches. Quantitative methodologies (LCAs) and more adapted tools (regarding the product type which is considered) could be used in tandem. The C2C concept ignores the use phase of a product. According to the Variants of Life Cycle Assessment the entire life cycle of a product or service has to be evaluated, not only the material itself. For many goods e.g. in transport, the use phase has is the most influence on the environmental footprint. E.g. the more lightweight a car or a plane the less fuel it consumes and consequently the less impact it has. Braungart fully ignores the use the phase.[24][25]

It is safe to say that every production step or resource-transformation step needs a certain amount of energy (Newton's second law). Even the highest Cradle to cradle certification requires only 50% of energy for production to come from solar sources.

The C2C concept foresees an own certification of its analysis[26] and therefore is in contradiction to international ISO standards 14040 and 14044 for Life Cycle Assessment whereas an independent and critical review is needed in order to obtain comparative and resilient results. Independent external review.[27]


What is your opinion? 


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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Ignasi (Monday, 10 September 2018 11:48)

    As a C2C ambassador and business developer since 2005 I can only say that most of the criticism has been either tackled or addressed, or it’s in the process to be reviewed in the upcoming version 4.0 of the certification, including Energy Use and Climate. However, industry transparency and openess for the good is still behind in the planetary agenda. Btw, I would love to help designing a C2C aircraft, may be a good chance to combine C2C principles and criteria for effective circular products with well known tools like GRANTA software. I believe I can fly....