Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

by William McDonough, Michael Braungart

Paperback(First Edition)

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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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780865475878
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/22/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 114,162
Product dimensions: 7.92(w) x 7.14(h) x 0.67(d)

About 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, 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.

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

Table of Contents

Introduction: This Book Is Not a Tree3
Chapter 1A Question of Design17
Chapter 2Why Being "Less Bad" Is No Good45
Chapter 3Eco-Effectiveness68
Chapter 4Waste Equals Food92
Chapter 5Respect Diversity118
Chapter 6Putting Eco-Effectiveness into Practice157

Customer Reviews

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Cradle to Cradle 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 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.
Dithreabhach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a freecycle/recycle/thriftshop geek and William McDonough's book, written with his colleague, the German chemist Michael Braungart, is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design.
jonesjohnson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Want to change the way you look at every thing you own or consider purchasing? Here's how.
red.yardbird on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book - everyone should read this. Some great practical ways to think about design and the way we go about life. Read it!
joebart33 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
mind shifting. must read!
jessicawest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this is an absolutely fantastic book that everyone needs to read. it is a critique of our disposable society, but it offers real hope and good ideas for the future. the main premise is that all of the products we use should have a cradle to cradle design, whereas now most have a cradle to grave design. they are not created to be reused. even recycling is not as useful when the product wasn't designed to be reused in that way. this could change not only the design of everyday products, but the way we use them and see them as a part of our world.
tsedor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Challenges our thinking about how everything around us is designed and how we use it.
seldombites on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The authors of this book should, perhaps, stick with architecture and chemistry and leave writing books to others. The overall concept behind Cradle to Cradle is an interesting one, which is what prompted me to pick up this book in the first place. Unfortunately, I found this book incredibly boring, though I managed to struggle through to page 61 before giving up. Life is too short to read boring books! To add insult to injury, the authors have decided to prove their point by publishing their book on some kind of synthetic paper, making a relatively small book incredibly heavy to carry around. Cradle to Cradle will definitely not be making my recommendations list!
njvroom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most notable feature of Cradle to Cradle is the book itself. It is not paper, cardboard or newsprint, but rather made entirely of plastic. This provides the reader with a completely waterproof and very durable book which is then fully recyclable when finished. The physical book is an example of what the book teaches: we need to reevaluate and revolutionize current products. Throughout the book, the authors want products that do not just wind up in a landfill after being used, rotting away (a ¿Cradle to Grave¿ scenario). The natural resources are used for one product, and then are wasted when thrown away. Instead, the authors envision a system where a product is used by a consumer, then taken back by the manufacturer to be completely reworked as another product. This is called ¿upcycling¿ or a ¿Cradle to Cradle¿ scenario. Using examples from nature, the authors encourage manufacturers to not simply use organic or ¿less bad¿ products and call it ¿eco-friendly.¿ Rather, they want the entire manufacturing process (starting with the warehouse/building itself) to be rethought and completely redesigned, in order to make it ¿eco-efficient.¿Unfortunately, the book focuses too much on the evils of Cradle to Grave products instead of encouraging the reader with ideas for renewable and reusable products. The authors use some examples of ¿eco-efficient¿ design, but they are in the minority and scattered throughout the book. Instead of learning all the benefits of new systems, the book takes too much time preaching against the Industrial Revolution and its byproducts. A good book, but comes across as somewhat condemning.
saltypuppy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great perspective on redesigning the way we approach recycling and resources in general.
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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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