Cradle to Cradle: From Revelation to Revolution
GreenWise asks: How can we make things truly sustainable?
Steven Ware, architect and author, shares the methodology in Cradle to Cradle, an authoritative book and now also a label, that shows business how to make products truly eco-efficient.
‘Cradle to Cradle’ is powerful stuff. Think of Saul on the road to Damascus. I first came across the book a couple of years ago, and there was something so blatantly beneficial in what the authors were suggesting that there seemed two things to do; first, spread the good word, and second, put the ideas into action.
As a practicing architect I am asked to prescribe in great detail what materials go into our buildings. We think hard about recyclability; about the parts of the building that will be replaced, and with what frequency. The supply chain for a building is dazzlingly complex. What Cradle to Cradle incites us to do is find out if precious raw materials have been trapped in a dead end process because recycling is simply too costly.
This is the technical bit, and it’s a critical part of the path. Globally speaking, we have two major challenges to face; the first concerns energy, the second, matter. Cradle to Cradle primarily deals with our approach to matter. Our biosphere is made up of cycles, complex and intelligent loops whereby chemical compounds find their way from one domain to the other, enabling metabolism to occur, capturing energy from the sun, extracting and incorporating precious substances, sustaining life. What Cradle to Cradle challenges us to do is to make our industrial sphere or ‘technosphere’ function in cycles. In nature there are no dead ends, only cycles. Our industrial sphere, as it stands, is full of dead ends. Given our demands on the earth’s resources, we have no choice but to become more clever and efficient, to simulate natures’ own evolution. When we get the biosphere’s and technosphere’s cycles functioning together, we can truly talk about sustainability. Better still, healthy growth. And why not ‘Utopia’?
So how do we ‘practice’ Cradle to Cradle? Companies do it by having their production methods analyzed both in terms of chemistry and strategy. What substances come and go from their factories? How are their products designed with the recycling process in mind, thereby avoiding the dead ends? This is a kind of audit, but more and more companies are doing it, including some very big names. Cradle to Cradle has thus gone from being a book to becoming a label and has even become a set of planning guidelines for urban development. Furthermore, the label is not all-or-nothing; it rewards the effort that a company makes to get on the path.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Cradle to Cradle paradigm is its positivism. It goes beyond loving your fellow man, to loving your planet. It encourages companies and individuals alike to conceive and consume intelligently, to rejoice in a world where waste no longer exists because built-in obsolescence becomes built-in re-use. And love is a great force – enough to provoke revelations – whichever path you’re on.
Steven Ware is the Director of Art&Build France. He lives and works in Paris.
Do you practice Cradle to Cradle or have you used its guidelines in any project? We’re eager to hear from anyone who has implemented its processes in any way. Please share your thoughts, views and experience in the comments with us.
Image credit: Art&Build/Steven Ware/QuickIt