Leaders in Cradle to Cradle Design
By Martin Smith
Cradle to Cradle design, or C2C, is something of a revolution in the way we design and manufacture products. Initially started by William McDonough and Michael Braungart with the release of their immensely popular book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things,” this new way of designing uses nature itself as a model. The authors observed how there is no concept of “waste” in nature, and wondered why we ourselves consider things to be “waste” when we are “done” with them. When a tree dies, it decomposes and supplies nutrients for everything else around it—providing abundance even after its dead. So, why can’t our products or buildings do the same?
Bill McDonough states in his book that we don’t have a “waste” problem, we have a “materials-in-the-wrong-place” problem. The reason for this issue is due to the way most products are designed and manufactured—with zero regard to what happens to them or the environment after they’ve been used. How do we create things that, when they have reached their end use phase, go on to disassemble and supply their parts as “nutrients” to new products?
The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, created by McDonough and Braungart, serves as a platform for certifying quality products under their “Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard.” This standard looks at products through five categories—material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. If you want to dig deeper into the certification process, check out their website here.
Below we will find two pioneering companies leading the way in Cradle to Cradle design, and pushing us towards a future where our products decompose into technical or biodegradable nutrients instead of “waste.”
Jim Hackett, President and CEO of Steelcase, an office furniture and interior product design manufacturer, was the first to embrace the Cradle to Cradle vision in a product line. The Think Chair, launched in 2004, was the first product to earn Cradle to Cradle certification—raising the bar high for sustainable products in the industry. Now, in 2016, Steelcase holds 18 certified products in the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Registry. But Steelcase doesn’t stop at simply being sustainable with its own products.
Photo credit: Ecovative
The packaging Steelcase use for their products is made of biodegradable mushroom material. Another Cradle to Cradle Certified Product, the RestoreTM Mushroom Packaging was created by the company Ecovative. The company’s Environmental Director, Sam Harrington, said they were initially inspired by Cradle to Cradle principles to grow a packaging that would hold the potential of disrupting the plastic industry across many applications (not just in packaging). From the looks of their growth (corporations such as Dell and IKEA have now adopted the packaging as well), it’s fair to say they are definitely on the right track for achieving their aspirations.
The cleaning company you may often glance over while pacing through aisles at Target has 13 Gold and 5 Silver Certified Products in the Cradle to Cradle Registry. Method Products creates their sustainable line of cleaners in the industry’s first LEED Platinum plant. Most of the ingredients in their products are biodegradable, have low skin and eye irritation, and are derived from plants. All of their hand wash, dish soap, and spray cleaner bottles are made from 100% PCR (post-consumer resin). From their site, it is noted that PCR “has about a 70% lower carbon footprint than using virgin plastic.” How could a company so environmentally conscious as this possibly be any more sustainable?
They could clean up plastic on beaches and create bottles out of it, that’s how. Method Products actually teamed up with local clean-up groups to collect plastic debris on beaches in Hawaii, and then partnered with Envision Plastics to create the “world’s first bottles made with plastic waste collected from the ocean.” That should be enough inspiration to get you through the week.
Choosing C2C for LEED Projects
When working on LEED projects, Verdical Group always makes sure that the appropriate interior office space products are chosen. Companies like Steelcase that incorporate sustainable manufacturing practices into their product lines help us choose the right office products for a LEED BD+C or ID+C project. LEED v4 also integrates Cradle to Cradle directly into the “Material Ingredients” credit point, allowing project teams to acquire points by including a certain amount of Cradle to Cradle certified products in their designs.