applies the Cradle to Cradle design protocol to chemical benchmarking, sup-ply-chain integration, energy and materials assessment, clean-production quali -
fication, and sustainability issue management and optimization. Through
MBDC, they have created a Cradle to Cradle Certification to verify products
that meet these requirements.
McDonough took some time recently to chat with Organic Processing about
the Cradle to Cradle concept and how each of us can help reduce—even eliminate—the idea of waste.
OP: First off, for those who have not read the book (or even for those who
have but need to refresh their memories), let’s chat about the main points of
creating products according to the Cradle to Cradle concept. This philosophy
talks about moving beyond the conventional goals of merely reducing the negative impacts of commerce (eco-efficiency) to a new paradigm of increasing
positive impacts (eco-intelligent design). Please explain this.
McDonough: My partner, Michael Braungart, and I are trying to move the discussion of design from an “end-of-pipe” issue of reducing harm to a “pre-pipe”
issue of eliminating the very concept of waste. We can place filters on our
minds to prevent problems from being created and design in a way that produces positive value.
Being efficient is helpful; reducing our carbon footprint, energy use, pollution and social inequity are endeavors that do have value. However, on its own
it is insufficient at getting us to our goal of a sustaining world. Over time, eco-
increasing amounts of
time, energy and
money to realize
more meager gains.
idea of “going for
zero” does not do
well within board-
The book that is
leading the “new rooms, where efforts
product revolution.” are expected to be
toward expanding, not minimizing.
Being eco-effective requires an
organization to first determine the
preferred ends it wants to achieve,
then identify the efficient path to realize those goals. The story of harnessing creativity to positively benefit the
planet, people and prosperity is much
more inspiring and valuable than
guilt-driven efforts to reduce our
OP: According to your book, even
recycling and composting—viewed as
the most environmentally responsible
options—are not without serious drawbacks. What are the issues surrounding this? And if these options are not
the answer, what is?
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McDonough: Today, most recycling
and composting occurs with materials
never fully designed for those end-of-life processes. The materials themselves are not optimized to be “
nutrients” for recycling or composting and
the systems of value recovery are
incomplete and ineffective. In fact,
the materials may never have been
designed with human health and ecological health considerations in the
first place, so why would we want to
expose ourselves to them a second
time by recycling them? We need
manufacturers to design products safely for their first use (or cradle) and for
their end-of-use (next cradle), so they
can be easily disassembled into components that are fully and safely recyclable or compostable—Cradle to