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Cradle to cradle

a summary of the book

NOTE: could you try to indicate which texts are quotations from the book, and which are your comments? if they are quotes, could you include a page number, for example.nik gaffney

Human industry has been in full swing for little over a century, yet it has brought about a decline in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Nature doesn't have a design problem. People do.

In the industrial revolution its infrastructure is powered by brutish and artificial sources of energy that are environmentally depleting. It pours waste into the water and smoke into the sky. It attemps to work by its own rules, which are contrary to those of nature. The design goals of early industrialists were quite specific, limited to the practical, profitable, efficient, and linear. Many industrialists, designers and engineers did not see their designs as a part of a large system, outside of an economic one. Early industries relied on a seemingly endless supply of natural “capital.” Ore, timber, water, grain, cattle, coal, land-these were the raw materials for the production systems that made goods for the masses, and they still are today. Nature itself was perceived as a “Mother Earth” who, perpetually regenerative, would absorb all things and continue to grow. Neighter the health of natural systems, nor an awarenes of their delicacy, and interconnectedness, have been part of the industrial design agenda. At it deepest foundation, the industrial infrastructure we have today is linear: it is focused on making a product and getting it to the costumer quickly ad cheaply without considering much else. Cradle-to-grave design dominate modern manifacturing.

According to some accounts more than 90 percent of materials extracted to make durable goods in the US become waste almost immediately.

Under the existing paradigm of manufacturing and development, diversity-an integral element of the natural world- is typically threated as a hostile force and a threat to designgoals. Brute force and universal design approaches to typical development tend to overwhelm and ignore natural and cultural diversity, resulting in less variety and greater homogeneity. In the race for economic progress, social activity, ecological impact, cultural activity, and long-term effects can be overlooked.

Products that are not designed particulary for human and ecological health are unitelligent and inelegant-what we call crude products. How does these crude products effect you; when combined in the workplace or home, crude products-whether appliances, carpets, wallpaper adhesives, paints, building materials, insulation or anything else- make the average indoor air more contaminated than outdoor air. More than half of the households showed concentrations of seven toxic chemicals that are known to cause cancer in animals and are suspected to cause cancer in humans. Allergies, astma and sick building syndromes are on the rise. It may be tempting to turn back the clock. Yet the next industrial revolution will not be about some idealized , preindustrial state in which, for example, alle textiles are made of natural fibers. The typical responce to industrial destruction has been to find a less bad approach: this approach has its own vocubulary, with which most of us are familiar: reduce, avoid, mimimize, sustain, limit, halt. The association of growth with negative consequensed has become a major theme of environmentalists in the modern age.

Consider rubber shoe soles, moreover, usually contain lead and plastics. As the shoe is worn, particles of it degrade into the atmosphere and soil. It can not be safely consumed, either by you or by the environment. After use, its valuable materials, both biological and technical, are usually lost in a landfill

We are addicted to oil which creates a bizar worldgame on many frontlines.

A great deal of current solar income, of which there is plenty: thousand of times the amount of energy needed to fuel human activities hits the surface of the planet every day in the form of sunlight.

Humans have a habit of using the atmosphere as a garbage dump.

What about recycling? As we have noted, most recycling is actually downcycling: it reduces the quality of a material over time. When plastics other then soda and water bottles are recycled, they are mixed with different plastics to produce a hybrid of a lower quality. Which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bumb. Metals are also often downcycled. Since downcycled materials of all kinds are materially less rigorous than their predecessors, more chemicals are often added to make the materials usefull again. As a result, downcycled plastic may have more additives than' virgin' plastic.

In a world where designs are unintelligent and destructive, regulations can reduce immediate deleterious efffects. But ultimately a regulation is a signal of design failure. In fact, it is what we call a license to harm: a permit issued by a goverment to an indusry so that it may dispence sickness, destruction and death at an 'acceptable' rate. But as we shall see, good design requires no regulation at all.

Not using your car for a while is just delaying the problem.

To be less bad is a fatally limited goal. The “less bad” environmental approaches to industry have been crucial in sending important messages of environmental concern - messages that continue to catch the public's attention and to spur important research. At the same time, they forward conclusions that are less useful. Instead of presenting an inspiring and exciting vision of change, conventional environmental approaches focus on what not to do. Such proscriptions can be seen as a kind of guilt management for our collective sins, a familiar placebo in western culture. In very early societies, repentance (shame/guilt), atonement and sacrifice were typical reactions for comlex systems, like nature, over which people felt they had little control. Societies around the world developed belief systems based on myth in which bad weather, famine, or disease meant one had displeased the gods, and sacrifices were a way to appease them. In some cultures, even today, one must sacrifice something of value in order to regain the blessings of the gods (or god) and reestablish stability and harmony. Conventional environmental focus on what not to do, here it can use aswell some transformation: instead of presention an inspiring and exiciting vision of change. Environmental destruction is a complex system in its own right - widespread , with deeper causes that are difficultt to see and understand. Like our ansestor, we may react automatically with terror and guilt and we may look for ways to purge ourselves ( get rid of the unwanted feeling) which the eco-efficient movement provides in abundance, with its exhortations to consume and produce less by minimizing, avoiding, reducing, and sacrificing. Humans are condemmed as the one species on the planet guilty of burdening it beyond what it can withstand; as such, we must shrink our presence, our systems, our activities, and even our population so as to become almost invisible. To be less bad is to accept things as they are, to believe that poorly designed, dishonorable, destructive systems are the best humans can do. From our perspective, this is a depressing vision of our species role in the world. What about an entirely different model.

McDonough designed a factory for Herman Miller, the office-furniture manufacturer to celebrate the local landscape and to invite indigenous species back to the side instead of scaring them away. Storm water and waste water are channeled through a series of connected wetlands that clean them, in the process lightening the load on the local river, which already suffers serious flooding because of runoff from roofs, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces.

The concept of eco-effectiveness means working on the right things- on the right products and services and systems-instead of making the wrong things less bad.

Urban and industrial growth is often refered to as a cancer, a thing that grows for its own sake and not for the sake of the organism it inhabits. [Edward Abbey]

A tree is not an isolated entity cut off from the systems around it; it is enextricably and productively engaged with them. This is a key difference between the growth of industrial systems as they now stand and the growth of nature.

Look for solutions at local circumstances.

Individually we are much larger than ants, but collectively their biomass exceeds ours. Just there is almost no corner of the globe untouched by human presence, there is almost no land habitat, from harsh desert to inner city, untouched by some species of ant. They are a good example of a population whose density and productiveness are not a problem for the rest of the world, because everything they make and use returns to the cradle-to-cradle cycles of nature. In their transport under the ground they aerate the soil, and make passageways for water drainage, playing a vital role in maintaining soil fecundity and health. They truly are as biologist E.O. Wilson has pointed out the little things that run the world, but not overrun it. Like a tree they make the world a better place.

We can be humbled by the complexity and intelligence of nature's activity, and we can also be inspired by it to design some positive side effects to our own enterprises instead of focusing exclusively in a single end.

Eco-effective designers expand their vision from the primary purpose of a product or system and consider the whole. What are its goals and potential effects, both immediate and wide-ranging, with respect to both time and place? What is the entire system-cultural, commercial, ecological-of which this made thing, and away of making things, will be a part?

Like they designed a green roofs , that will keep the building cool, and produce solar energy, grow food and flowers, as well as providing a green sanctuary from bussy urban streets to birds and people alike. And what if new cars are purifying the air and producing drinking water. Think of the most high tech building ever ; like a tree, producing more energy than is uses, providing shade, songbird habitat, , distills water, creates microclimates, changes with the seasons, uses solsar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food and produces oxygen. If each new addition to a human community deepened ecological and cultural as well as economic wealth. If modern societies were perceived as increasing assets and delights on a very large scale, instead of bringing the planet to the brink of disaster.

Taking an eco-effective approach to design might result in an innovation so extreme that it resembles nothing we know, or it might merely show us how to optimize a system already in place. It's not the solution itself that is necessarily radical but the shift in perspective with which we begin, from the old view of nature as something to be controlled to a stance of engagement.

a suggestion for a new design assigment:

  • factories that produce effluents that are drinking water
    • Billion, even trillion, of dollars' worth of materials accrued for human and antural purposes each year.
    • Transportation that improves the quality of life while delivering goods and services
  • products that, when their usefull life is over, do not become useless waste but can be tossed onto the ground
  • industrial cycles to supply high-quality raw materials for new products.
  • buildings that, like trees, produce more energy than they consume and purify their own waste water.
    • A world of abundance, not one of limits, pollution, and waste.

To eliminate the concept of waste meeans to design things-products, packaging, and systems-from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist. It means that the valuable nutrients contained in the materials shape and determine the design: form follows evolution, not just function. As we have indicated, there are two discrete metabolisms on the planet. The first is the biological metabolism, or the biosphere-the cycles of nature. The second is the technical metabolism, or the technosphere-the cycles of the industry, including the harvesting of technical materials from natural places. With the right design, all of the products and materials manufactured by industry will safely feed these two metabolisms, providing nourishment for something new. Products can be composed either of materials that biodegrade and become food for biological cycles, or of technical materials that stay in closed-loop technical cycles, in which they continually circulate as valuable nutrients for industry. In order for these two metbolisms to remain healthy, valuable and succesfull, great care must be taken to avoid a contamination one with the other.

What a plaeasure it can give us to throw stuff away as a guilt-free gift to the natural world. Popular wisdom holds that the fittest survive, the strongest, leanest, largest, perhaps meanest-whatever beats the competition. But in healthy, thriving natural systems it is actually the fitting-est who thrive. Fitting-est implies an energetic and material engagement with place, and an interdependent relationship to it. Being fitting, ants do not inevitably work to destroy competing species. Rather, they compete productivity from their niches, the term scientists use to describe species' various zones of habitation and resource use within an ecosystem. In his book Diversity and the Rain Forest , John Terborch, a scientist who has studied the complex ecosystems of the rain forest, explains how ten species of ants wren manage to cohabit a single area of the forest while preying on the same kinds of insects: one species inhabits an area close to the ground, several more live in the middle tiers of the trees, and another occupies the high canopy. In each of these area , species forge differently - one middle- tier wren gleans the leaves for insects, another the twigs and branches, and so forth, leaving food in the other niches.

The vitality of ecosystems depends on relationships: what goes kon between species, their uses and exchanges of materials and energy in a given place. A tapestrie is the metaphor often invoked to decribe diversity, a richly textured web of individual species woven together with interlocking tasks. In such a setting, diversity means strenght, and monoculture means weakness. Remove the threads, one by one, and an ecosystem becomes less stable, less able to withstand natural catastrophe and disease, less able to stay healty and to evolve over time. The more diversity there is, the more productive functions-for the ecosystem, for the planet-are performed.

Ants loosen ans aerate everywhere the soil around plant roots, helping it permeable to water.

Industries that respect diversity engage with local material and energy flows, and with local social, cultural, and economic forces, instead of viewing themselves as autonomous entities, unconnected to the culture or landscape around them.

We begin to make human systems and industries fitting when we recognize that all sustainability (just like all politcs) is local. We connect them to local material and energy flows, and to local customs, needs, and tastes, from the level of the molecule to the level of the region itself. The question that helped to guide the team' work at every level was: 'what is the right thing for this place.'

In less industrialized parts of the world, however, creative approaches to capturing local energy flows are still very much alive. For example; In Pakistan, chimneys topped with 'wind scoops' literally scoop wind and channel it down the chimney, where there might be a small pool of water for cooling the wind as it moves downward into the house.

It has been famously said that form follows function, but the possibilities are greater when form follows evolution.


Ultimately, it is the agenda with which we approach the making of things that must be truly diverse. To concentrate on any single criterion creates instability in the larger context, and represents what we call an “ism” , an extreme position disconnected from the overall structure. To strech something to an ism can neglegt certain factors for longterm success like the health of an environment, social fairness, the diversity of human culture, or economic concerns. Eco-effectiveness sees commerce as the engine of change, and honors its need to function quickly and productively. But it also regognize that if commerce shuns environmental, social and cultural concerns, it will produce a large-scale tragedy of the commons, destroying valuable natural and human resources for generations to come. Eco-effectiveness celebrates commerce and the commonweal in which it is rooted.

they testing each proposed design via a tool; a trianlge with three corners; economy, equity and ecology They often start with questioning the economic corner; to see if a product or service can make a profit. If yes you can continue with equity and then to ecology and finish at economy again.

Natural systems take from their environment, but they also give something back. The cherry tree drops its blossoms and leaves while it cycles water and makes oxygen; the ant community redistributes the nutrients throughout the soil. We can follow their cue to create a more inspiring engagement-a partnership- with nature. We can build factories whose products and by-products nourish the ecosystem with biodegradable material and redireculate technical materials instead of dumping, burning, or burying them. We can design systems that regulate themselves. Instead of using nature as a mere tool for human purposes, we can strive to become tools of nature who serve its agenda too. We can celebrate the fecundity in the world, instead of perpetuating a way of thinking and making that eliminates it. And there can be many of us and the things we make, because we hane the right system-a creative, properous, intelligent, and fertile system-amd, like the ants, we will be “effective”

As Albert Einstein observed, if we are to solve the problems that plague us, out thinking must evolve beyond the level we were using when we created those problems in the first place.

Here's where redesign begins in earnest, where we stop trying to be less bad and start figuring out how to be good. Now you set out with eco-effective principles, so that the product is designed from beginning to end to become food for either biological or technical metabolisms. In culinary terns, you're no longer substituting ingredients-you,ve trown the recipe out the indow and are starting from scratch, with a basketful of tasty, nutricious ingredients that you'd love to cook with, and that give you all sorts of mouthwatering ideas.

One can take it a step further than only designing for biological and technical cycles like not “design a car” but to “design a nutrivehicle”. Commit to a new paradigm, rather than to an incremental improvement of the old.

You may not know today what it is that you need to grow in the future, but if all your recources are tied up in basic operations, there won't be anything extra to allow for innovation and experimentation. The ability to adapt and innovate requires a “loose fit” - room for growing in a new way. Rather thean spend all its time and moneu fine-tuning an existing vehicle, for example, an automobile manufaacturer might also be designing annother car on the side: an innovative vehicle based on 'feedforward.“ Innovative design takes time to evolve, but rest assured, in ten years the “perfect” vehicle of today will be a thing of the past, and if you don't have then new neew thing, one of your competitors will win.

What would it mean to become native to this place, the Earth-the home of all our relations?

cradle_to_cradle.txt · Last modified: 2017/03/28 15:03 by