Cradle to Cradle: A revolutionary design concept

In nature, there is no waste and there is no pollution, they say. So why not try and copy the brilliance of nature in modern industrial design?

311_'green' chair (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_'green' chair
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What if there was a way to design industrial products that would not just be “less bad” for the environment, but actually “good” for the environment? Where could that most efficacious design be found? IKEA, Ford, GE, Lloyd Wright, Gehry?
Not really, contend some industrial designers. The most efficient designs can be found in nature. In nature, there is no waste and there is no pollution, they say. So why not try and copy the brilliance of nature in modern industrial design?
That’s the idea behind the Cradle to Cradle concept – a revolution in design that is catching on around the world and is slowly being introduced in Israel as well.
In Israel, Better Place has committed itself to the Cradle to Cradle concept, Yair Engel, the Israel representative of the Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency (, a private company, told The Jerusalem Post recently, and other major companies have expressed interest.
Cradle to Cradle is meant to replace the Cradle to Grave model, wherein products are discarded at the end of their lifecycle into landfills. Cradle to Cradle envisions products that either return to their biological sources as compost or are reused as part of another product.
The Cradle to Cradle concept divides the world into two material cycles – the biological and the technical.
Biological items can be broken down safely and returned to nature – eco-friendly cleaning materials or 100 percent cotton shirts, for instance.
Technical items – for example office chairs – would be broken down into their component parts and then reused in other chairs. The goal is no waste.
The burgeoning environmental awareness around the world has made companies cognizant of the damage their manufacturing lines do to the environment. So far, though, most companies are merely trying to reduce that damage, rather than reimagining the production process so that it does not harm the environment at all.
For example, another aspect of Cradle to Cradle is the removal of toxic or potentially harmful chemicals from the industrial process. The Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency firm was established in Germany in the ’80s and the Green Products Innovation Institute (gpinnovation.
org/about.html) was founded in California in December 2009 to certify products as harmful-chemicals-free.
After hearing about Cradle to Cradle, a European paint company combed through its inventory of several hundred chemicals that produce paint and whittled it down to just under 50 non-toxic chemicals to make all of its paint.
Cradle to Cradle was first formulated by American architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart in the mid-’90s. In 1998, they wrote an article in The Atlantic magazine titled “The NEXT Industrial Revolution.”
In it they laid out what they saw as the problem with “eco-efficiency” and proposed moving to “eco-efficacy” instead.
The two men are fond of the metaphor of the cherry tree and have used it to describe an ideal lifecycle. The cherry tree does not pollute and creates no waste. Sure, the leaves fall off, but they become nutrients for other plant life. Eco-efficiency, they argued, means remaining within the existing polluting industrial cycles but producing fewer tons of pollution. Ecoefficacy means designing items that don’t harm the environment from start to finish.
More than 90 companies and 300 products have received Cradle to Cradle certification around the world to date.
Here in Israel, Engel will soon be bringing Ingrid Zeegers, Royal Philips Electronics’ director of sustainable business development, for a seminar for CEOs and deputy CEOs interested in the Cradle to Cradle concept. Philips has adopted the concept as part of its sustainable development platform.
Last week, Ziva Patir of Better Place declared that the company was adopting Cradle to Cradle as well, Engel said. In addition, Engel has been in discussions with other large companies, which he preferred not to name at this point.
“We’ve been talking to large companies, all of whom are also exporters of products.
They understand what the value added is in international markets to Cradle to Cradle,” he told the Post.
At the same time, Engel said that much of Israeli industry lagged several years behind Europe and other places.
“Today, companies say, ‘We will have a complete lifecycle analysis (LCA) of our products in five years,’” he said. Lifecycle analyses are used to judge the impact of a product, but do not indicate a rethinking of the manufacturing process.
“The question is: Do we need to stop at every single station on this ‘Shabbat elevator?’ Can we not learn from other people’s mistakes and skip ahead to a different concept altogether?” Israeli companies see that there’s a desire for environmentally friendly products in the marketplace, he continued, but all they do is assuage the first hunger pangs and put off the major changes.
“They are trying to be ‘less bad’ rather than ‘good,’” he said.
Engel used the example of Desso, the largest carpet company in the world. Desso has moved to Cradle to Cradle now, so that in seven or eight years it can take apart it carpets and then reuse the material without “downcycling.”
Some people refer to recycling as downcycling because the process results in a lower quality product than the original.
“In order for them to have a chance at collecting their old floor coverings in 2017, they need to get rid of the PVC now,” Engel said.
According to Engel, Israel is uniquely suited to take the lead on Cradle to Cradle.
“European factories are often 200 years old and went from a family-owned business to a company. Israel, however, has a young and dynamic industry. Moreover, we live on an island [from a resources point of view]. We barely have any natural resources. What we are doing now is cluttering up our small island with garbage, and there’s no more room. We lose so much natural resources by burying them in landfills,” he said.
Electronics, paper, glass, wood, plastics – all of these could be reused.
“From a purely economic standpoint and not an environmental one, it’s like throwing money into a landfill,” he argued.
Engel said that under the new appreciation of the environment the earth could be seen as a spaceship.
“It used to be that the American model was one of an open unlimited horizon – the Marlboro man on his horse riding into the sunset. Now, the earth is more like a spaceship – it’s a closed circuit of resources and everything we throw away stays with us.”