at some point in our past, the word “disposable” became a hype word in advertising, convincing us that “disposing” of things was the “way of the future,” disregard that there was no foreseeable future in that math. but now, a new breed of manufacturer is on the rise in an offshoot (but, should be the status quo) of design, called Cradle to Cradle, C2C. We should be participating in growing this industry by rewarding businesses like these with our purchasing dollars.
[Editor’s Note: This is an updated version that corrects the number of Cradle to Cradle-certified products offered by Steelcase.]
Sustainable product design has moved well past the advent of corn-based candy wrappers and toothbrushes made from recycled yogurt cups. Today’s manufacturers are embracing Cradle to Cradle design (C2C), an environmentally intelligent sustainable design methodology that has been applied to everything from polyester cloth to foam core insulation and ergonomic office chairs to mailing envelopes.
“Cradle to cradle is about the merging of design and chemistry,” says Jay Bolus, vice president of technical operations for McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), a private consulting and C2C certification firm in Charlottesville, Va.
William McDonough, the company’s co-founder and principal, coined the phrase ‘cradle to cradle’ and launched the international design trend with the 2002 publication of his book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.”
“The idea behind cradle to cradle is to design better products by putting filters in your head instead of at the end of a pipe,” Bolus says. “Products should have no end-of-life. Rather they should be designed with an end-of-use in mind.”
Cradle to cradle certification includes 19 human and environmental health criteria to ensure materials are not harmful to the environment or people, and can either be recycled, remanufactured or composted. The result is products that are environmentally sustainable today and 100 years from now. About 150 products from some 50 companies have been certified but since several are product families, the actual number is much higher, Bolus said.
Bolus is quick to point out that this does not mean all C2C products must be natural or biodegradable. While many of the products MBDC certifies are made from natural substances, he urges companies to think more broadly about C2C requirements.
“There is a bio bias. People think C2C has to be natural,” he says. “But the math shows that you can’t possibly make everything from natural material. We couldn’t sustain it.”
Instead, companies need to look at the engineering and chemistry of a product, choose materials that are not harmful to the environment and build products in ways that make them easy to disassemble and re-use. A C2C-certified side chair, for example, might be made from steel or aluminum — which is 100 percent recyclable — with a recyclable plastic seat attached with simple screws or a snap fit design that can be easily taken apart.