The book “Cradle To Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things” is co-written by a chemist and an architect.
Their main argument is that things need to be designed with the end in sight. Instead of making things with the idea that they will simply end up in a landfill, they argue that things should be designed to be useful once their primary use has expired.
For example, shoes that currently are monster hybrids of various synthetic and natural materials that cannot be separated and thus end up in the garbage, they argue that the shoes should be made so that the materials can be seperated.
That way when the shoes are worn out you separate the leather from the plastic and reuse the materials for more shoes.
This concept of designing for beyond the primary use is key to the book, thus the title “Cradle to Cradle”, meaning you make it to have many births. This is a play on the concept of “Cradle to Grave” where you take into consideration the environmental impact that the products entire life cycle creates.
In “cradle to cradle” you do that too but you never design for obsolescence. You essentially design for reincarnation.
And they don’t mean turning newspapers into cellulose for insulation. That crude kind of recycling is an attempt to reuse something that was not designed to be reused and that has all sorts of problems. The printers didn’t think that their news papers were going to end up in residential homes, so they weren’t considering what kinds of inks to use (toxic or not).
The book is essentially a variation on our concept of Built It Forward. To design correctly is to Build It Forward because you are creating products that will give more to the future than take.
They finish the book by pointing out that municipal bonds give the current people money that become debt for future generations. That is not a gift to the future. Likewise they say design should be the same way. Why design a product that will become a disposal health hazard for people in the future.
All our design, from homes to cars, should give back to the world in abundance. They use the cherry tree as an example. The cherry tree gives off way more cherry blossoms than necessary for it to survive. But in doing so it gives to the world more than it takes. The blossoms are food for animals and earth.
Likewise a car could produce clean water with its engine and clean the roads of toxins with electrostatic wheels. Or shoes could be biodegradable so that when they wear out you throw them into the back yard and they make your flowers grow better.
There is a sense of abundance in their views that contradicts the current trend to “be less bad”: reduce carbon emissions, reduce VOCs, consume less, cut less forests.
They say that if the products are designed correctly, like the cherry tree, you could consume as much as you want. If you buy more intelligently designed shoes it just means your flowers will grow bigger and more beautiful.
It is the design that is bad, not the consumption.
And the design needs to encompass the entire cradle to cradle cycle. So not only do the shoes need to be designed correctly, but so does the shoe factory and the process of getting the shoe materials.
For example a car factory could create more nutrients and clear water than it consumes, becoming an ecosystem that actually improves the environment.
The authors are really into working with large companies, like Nike and Ford, and they have no criticism of these huge companies that have created such destruction. They are more interested in pointing out how great their redesign of the Ford motor plant is and how visionary the current Ford CEO is.
There is no mention that Ford unleashed hell onto the world and did it for many many years without a damn for the environment. The world has been hacked to pieces by roads and the cars that use them.
Perhaps the authors are more into focusing on future possibilities than past ignorance. Or perhaps criticizing their clients in a book is bad business….
Along the same lines there is no feeling that large companies themselves might be a problem.
The closest they get to that is to point out the need for more diversity. For example why make a soap that tries to fit all climates (and thus maximize your market). That just means you need to add all sorts of chemicals to it. If you design locally you can have one soap for hard water and another soap for soft water. You save money on chemicals and you save the environment.
But they don’t say there should be local companies. There is still the implication that the large international soap company should do the designing.