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Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

4.6 22
by William McDonough, Michael Braungart

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A manifesto for a radically different philosophy and practice of manufacture and environmentalism

"Reduce, reuse, recycle" urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. But as this provocative, visionary book argues, this approach perpetuates a one-way, "cradle to grave" manufacturing model that dates to the


A manifesto for a radically different philosophy and practice of manufacture and environmentalism

"Reduce, reuse, recycle" urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. But as this provocative, visionary book argues, this approach perpetuates a one-way, "cradle to grave" manufacturing model that dates to the Industrial Revolution and casts off as much as 90 percent of the materials it uses as waste, much of it toxic. Why not challenge the notion that human industry must inevitably damage the natural world?

In fact, why not take nature itself as our model? A tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we do not consider its abundance wasteful but safe, beautiful, and highly effective; hence, "waste equals food" is the first principle the book sets forth. Products might be designed so that, after their useful life, they provide nourishment for something new-either as "biological nutrients" that safely re-enter the environment or as "technical nutrients" that circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles, without being "downcycled" into low-grade uses (as most "recyclables" now are).

Elaborating their principles from experience (re)designing everything from carpeting to corporate campuses, William McDonough and Michael Braungart make an exciting and viable case for change.

Editorial Reviews

author of Building a Win-Win World and Beyond Glob Hazel Henderson
Achieving the great economic transition to more equitable, ecologically sustainable societies requires nothing less than a design revolution—beyond today's fossilized industrialism. This enlightened and enlightening book shows us how—and indeed, that 'God is in the details.' A must for every library and every concerned citizen.
We buy, use, and dispose. But what if there were another way? Cradle to Cradle proposes a new paradigm whereby a product's reuse is built into it from the beginning -- for example, this book's plastic "paper."
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Noted eco-designers suggest a paradigm shift in human habits of manufacture and consumption. American architect/industrial engineer McDonough and German chemist Braungart collaborated at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit on a proposal for eliminating the concept of waste in industrial design. Here, they elaborate on their theory, explaining that even environment-friendly policies such as recycling and waste-reduction still fall short of achieving for humankind the kind of balance and harmony that other living entities have employed for millennia. The authors, who now run a design consulting firm, examine reigning industrial design practices and our basic misconceptions about waste, arguing against the idea that "less bad is good" and offering several points for future thought about putting their principles of "eco-effectiveness" to work. The emphasis here is on moving beyond traditional thinking about the relationship between nature and humanity to consider instead how to make humanity itself a better-functioning natural system. Despite the awakening of environmentalism over the past three decades, McDonough and Braungart assert, we are still largely stuck with the Industrial Revolution precept of "cradle to grave" consumer goods that become waste. They offer several examples of how industrial processes and thoughtful changes in the design of habitat and work environment might create true self-nourishing systems. Environmental regulations, the authors believe, are needed stopgaps but ultimately exemplify a major design flaw in the way we think about making things. For instance, instead of a more fuel-efficient car, why not a mode of transportation that would not simply be less polluting but wouldactually nourish the atmosphere? Moving past both the planned obsolescence that is the cornerstone of much industry, as well as the control and command structure of environmental regulation, McDonough and Braungart encourage humanity to begin thinking of itself as a self-sustaining entity that does not necessarily need to take a toll on its surroundings. A readable, provocative treatise that "gets outside the box" in a huge way. Timely and inspiring.
From the Publisher
"Enlightened and enlightening…. A must for every…concerned citizen." ---Hazel Henderson, author of Beyond Globalization: Shaping a Sustainable Global Economy

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.92(w) x 7.14(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

This Book Is Not a Tree

At last. You have finally found the time to sink into your favorite armchair, relax, and pick up a book. Your daughter uses a computer in the next room while the baby crawls on the carpet and plays with a pile of colorful plastic toys. It certainly feels, at this moment, as if all is well. Could there be a more compelling picture of peace, comfort, and safety?

Let's take a closer look. First, that comfortable chair you are sitting on. Did you know that the fabric contains mutagenic materials, heavy metals, dangerous chemicals, and dyes that are often labeled hazardous by regulators — except when they are presented and sold to a customer? As you shift in your seat, particles of the fabric abrade and are taken up by your nose, mouth, and lungs, hazardous materials and all. Were they on the menu when you ordered that chair?

That computer your child is using — did you know that it contains more than a thousand different kinds of materials, including toxic gases, toxic metals (such as cadmium, lead, and mercury), acids, plastics, chlorinated and brominated substances, and other additives? The dust from some printer toner cartridges has been found to contain nickel, cobalt, and mercury, substances harmful to humans that your child may be inhaling as you read. Is this sensible? Is it necessary? Obviously, some of those thousand materials are essential to the functioning of the computer itself. What will happen to them when your family outgrows the computer in a few years? You will have little choice but to dispose of it, and both its valuable and its hazardous materials will be thrown "away." You wanted to use a computer, but somehow you have unwittingly become party to a process of waste and destruction.

But wait a minute — you care about the environment. In fact, when you went shopping for a carpet recently, you deliberately chose one made from recycled polyester soda bottles. Recycled? Perhaps it would be more accurate to say downcycled. Good intentions aside, your rug is made of things that were never designed with this further use in mind, and wrestling them into this form has required as much energy — and generated as much waste — as producing a new carpet. And all that effort has only succeeded in postponing the usual fate of products by a life cycle or two. The rug is still on its way to a landfill; it's just stopping off in your house en route. Moreover, the recycling process may have introduced even more harmful additives than a conventional product contains, and it might be off-gassing and abrading them into your home at an even higher rate.

The shoes you've kicked off on that carpet look innocuous enough. But chances are, they were manufactured in a developing country where occupational health standards — regulations that determine how much workers can be exposed to certain chemicals — are probably less stringent than in Western Europe or the United States, perhaps even nonexistent. The workers who made them wear masks that provide insufficient protection against the dangerous fumes. How did you end up bringing home social inequity and feelings of guilt when all you wanted was new footwear?

That plastic rattle the baby is playing with — should she be putting it in her mouth? If it's made of PVC plastic, there's a good chance it contains phthalates, known to cause liver cancer in animals (and suspected to cause endocrine disruption), along with toxic dyes, lubricants, antioxidants, and ultraviolet-light stabilizers. Why? What were the designers at the toy company thinking?

So much for trying to maintain a healthy environment, or even a healthy home. So much for peace, comfort, and safety. Something seems to be terribly wrong with this picture.

Now look at and feel the book in your hands.

This book is not a tree.

It is printed on a synthetic "paper" and bound into a book format developed by innovative book packager Charles Melcher of Melcher Media. Unlike the paper with which we are familiar, it does not use any wood pulp or cotton fiber but is made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers. This material is not only waterproof, extremely durable, and (in many localities) recyclable by conventional means; it is also a prototype for the book as a "technical nutrient," that is, as a product that can be broken down and circulated infinitely in industrial cycles made and remade as "paper" or other products.

The tree, among the finest of nature's creations, plays a crucial and multifaceted role in our interdependent ecosystem. As such, it has been an important model and metaphor for our thinking, as you will discover. But also as such, it is not a fitting resource to use in producing so humble and transient a substance as paper. The use of an alternative material expresses our intention to evolve away from the use of wood fibers for paper as we seek more effective solutions. It represents one step toward a radically different approach to designing and producing the objects we use and enjoy, an emerging movement we see as the next industrial revolution. This revolution is founded on nature's surprisingly effective design principles, on human creativity and prosperity, and on respect, fair play, and goodwill. It has the power to transform both industry and environmentalism as we know them.

Toward a New Industrial Revolution

We are accustomed to thinking of industry and the environment as being at odds with each other, because conventional methods of extraction, manufacture, and disposal are destructive to the natural world. Environmentalists often characterize business as bad and industry itself (and the growth it demands) as inevitably destructive.

On the other hand, industrialists often view environmentalism as an obstacle to production and growth. For the environment to be healthy, the conventional attitude goes, industries must be regulated and restrained. For industries to fatten, nature cannot take precedence. It appears that these two systems cannot thrive in the same world.

The environmental message that "consumers" take from all this can be strident and depressing: Stop being so bad, so materialistic, so greedy. Do whatever you can, no matter how inconvenient, to limit your "consumption." Buy less, spend less, drive less, have fewer children — or none. Aren't the major environmental problems today — global warming, deforestation, pollution, waste — products of your decadent Western way of life? If you are going to help save the planet, you will have to make some sacrifices, share some resources, perhaps even go without. And fairly soon you must face a world of limits. There is only so much the Earth can take.

Sound like fun? We have worked with both nature and commerce, and we don't think so.

Copyright (c) 2002 William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Meet the Author

William McDonough is an architect and the founding principal of William McDonough + Partners, Architecture and Community Design, based in Charlottesville, Virginia. From 1994 to 1999 he served as dean of the school of architecture at the University of Virginia. In 1999 Time magazine recognized him as a "Hero for the Planet," stating that "his utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that—in demonstrable and practical ways—is changing the design of the world." In 1996, he received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, the highest environmental honor given by United States.

Michael Braungart is a chemist and the founder of the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) in Hamburg, Germany. Prior to starting EPEA, he was the director of the chemistry section for Greenpeace. Since 1984 he has been lecturing at universities, businesses, and institutions around the world on critical new concepts for ecological chemistry and materials flow management. Dr. Braungart is the recipient of numerous honors, awards, and fellowships from the Heinz Endowment, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, and other organizations.

In 1995 the authors created McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (www.mbdc.com), a product and systems development firm assisting client companies in implementing their unique sustaining design protocol. Their clients include Ford Motor Company, Nike, Herman Miller, BASF, DesignTex, Pendleton, Volvo, and the city of Chicago.

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Cradle to Cradle 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an extraordinary and unlikely book. It is not printed on paper, but on a waterproof polymer with the heft of good paper and more strength, a substance that reflects the right amount of light, yet holds the ink fast. It seems like an impossible fantasy, but so does much of what the authors propose about design and ecology. They speak with the calm certainty of the ecstatic visionary. Could buildings generate oxygen like trees? Could running shoes release nutrients into the earth? It seems like science fiction. Yet, here is this book, on this paper. The authors make a strong case for change, and just when you¿re about to say, ¿if only,¿ they cite a corporation that is implementing their ideas. However, it¿s hard to believe their concepts would work on a large scale, in the face of powerful economic disincentives. We believe authors do aim some of their criticism at obsolete marketing and manufacturing philosophies, but the overall critique is well worth reading.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though this book was released in 2002, almost all of what is reviewed is still accurate today. We need to pursue, and communicate more on what is being done in today's society to become more sustainable and truly using the cradle to cradle concept.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a must for anyone who is looking to learn about what it TRULY means to be green. If you are a novice or a LOHAS addict, you will learn a lot about the environment, recycling/downcycling, and the future of product development.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cradle to Cradle is truly one of a kind. McDonough and Braungart manage to convey a strong sense of environmentalism and pragmatism concurrently, looking out for the welfare of the planet and capitalist economy at the same time. They are pioneers in the sense of incorporating the environment and the economy, a connection that has been lacking for quite some time, and turning into one vehicle for our future progress.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautiful and inspiring, I'm lucky that my sister's friend Rachel ever recommended this book to me! Innovative solutions to some of the biggest problems of the modern world are presented here. Right now we are living at odds with the eco-system and this book shows how we can all do a 180. Anyone who needs to feel a sense of hope and see that there is a lot of beauty in nature needs to pick up this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read for everyone who wishes to preserve this planet. Not at all like the usual environmentalist sobbing. Truly eye-opening and thought provoking. Not only does it tell of the multifarious injustices done to nature, it also provides a viable and feasible solution that should be implemeted by all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The material within the pages of the book was fascinating and true to the premise of the book the pages that the words were printed on truly carried out the message of sustainablity.