Discovery Guides Areas


Hidden Histories:
the Story of Sustainable Design

(Released June 2009)

podcast link 
  by Alison Knight  


Key Citations




Return to Nature


Cradle to Cradle protocol: a systems approach

Cradle to Cradle (C2C) design raises awareness of lifecycle design. It is a set of guidelines for voluntary certification of sustainable products. It is based on the idea that everything we own should be capable of being either recycled, remade, or buried in the ground to compost.

Chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough have collaborated to write the book Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the Way We Make Things. The book sets out the thinking behind what they call a design paradigm based on principles and an understanding of the pursuit of value: "At a fundamental level, the new paradigm proposes that human design can learn from nature to be effective, safe, enriching, and delightful."35

Cradle to Cradle
Cradle to Cradle
Throughout the book Cradle to Cradle we are challenged with new concepts - for instance, "Waste equals food," where all materials can be seen as nutrients. We are asked to move from being less bad to how to do most good. And instead of being eco-efficient (doing more with less) we are asked to be eco-effective (am I doing the right thing to be 100 percent good?).

Previous examples of sustainable designs have focused on minimizing environmental damage; however, C2C argues that this does not stop damage, all it does is destroy the environment a "bit less." What C2C advocates is to become more effective rather than efficient. C2C takes the whole system view that outputs (waste) from one system can become inputs (nutrients) for another product or process in a cyclic system, which is what happens in nature. In C2C two forms of nutrient are identified: the biological nutrient cycle and the technical nutrient cycle. The biological nutrient refers to products that are designed to return to the biological cycle and can be composted. A technical nutrient is a product designed to go back into the technical cycle; for example it may be disassembled and the parts re-used.

Shaw Carpets use C2C principles in their manufacturing processes. When customers want a new carpet they usually throw away the old one, which may be a mix of toxic chemicals bound for the landfill. With C2C this is not the case. Shaw Carpets have adopted C2C principles and many of its carpets are made from 100 percent recycled materials. It has established a collection network enabling the company to collect up to 300 million pounds of carpet waste every year from customers which is then reused (i.e. become nutrients) in new carpet manufacture.36

Herman Miller is another company that uses C2Cguidelines. In 2003 they launched their Mirra Chair constructed from steel, plastic, aluminum, foam and textile, all of which is 96 percent recyclable at the end of the chair's life. Even the packaging material used in delivery of the product is recycled and the production line for the chair uses renewable energy: both wind turbines and gas from a landfill.37

Herman Miller is concerned not only for the environment but also for its employees. Braungart and McDonough designed the office space for Herman Miller to "give workers the feeling that they'd spent the day outdoors." To achieve this they included skylights over every work station and made sure workers had a view outside, not something typical of a factory. The design was so successful that a number of workers who left for higher wages in a nearby factory returned because they said they couldn't work "in the dark."38

We have seen the way that mimicking the lifecycle of an ecosystem can assist in the design of sustainable manufacturing processes; we shall now look at how such an approach can provide a model for sustainable living using the transition town movement as an example.

Go To The transition initiative movement

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