Throughout the course of history waste, environmental degradation and pollution have grown alongside human population and economic activity. Economies and people’s livelihoods have become dependent on producing and consuming myriad products made up of chemical compounds unknown in nature or to them — and indigestible to the Earth’s natural processes of recycling and reuse.
To produce these products, we destroy ecosystems and wildlife – even other people at times – and pollute the air, water and land. When we’re finished with them, we discard them to be carted off, dumped, buried or incinerated. A small, but significant and growing amount, we recycle or reuse.
Some might say, “That’s nature, and we’re just a part of it.” Others are using the gifts nature has endowed us with to find better ways of designing and making things — ways that are not only socially, ecologically and economically sustainable, but can actually leave a net positive footprint on societies and our planet.
In the 2002 book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart introduced the concept of cradle-to-cradle product design.
Taking up and expanding on the concept and its principles, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute today released a study exploring the business, environmental and social impacts on 10 pioneering companies participating in a pilot implementation of its Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program.
Cradle to Cradle Explained
After 18 years of working with leading brands to develop it, William McDonough and Dr. Braungart handed the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard over to the nonprofit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII).
As the institute explains, it was “created to bring about a new industrial revolution that turns the making of things into a positive force for society, economy, and the planet.”
Quite a mandate. So just how exactly does the institute follow through and seek to realize its goals? The short answer, as C2CPII President Bridgett Luther writes in the foreword to the pilot study technical report, is “by working to innovate well-designed, healthy products with reusable and safe materials, made without the need to deplete precious resources or energy.”
Elaborating a bit on this statement, the institute explains that the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program guides continual improvement towards products that are:
- made with materials that are safe for humans and the environment;
- designed so all ingredients can be reused safely by nature or industry;
- assembled and manufactured with renewable, non polluting energy;
- made in ways that protect and enrich water supplies; and
- made in ways that advance social and environmental justice.
The Cradle to Cradle Product Certification Pilot Program
Exhibiting an admirable sense of “responsible leadership,” some of the world’s leading businesses have signed on to the Cradle to Cradle Product Certification Pilot Program and are helping realize C2CPII’s goals. All told, C2CPII has evaluated products from more than 200 companies for certification.
To reach out and spread the Cradle to Cradle message more broadly, in its pilot program technical report C2CPII profiles 10 pilot program companies that differ in size, location and product offerings. In doing so, the institute explores “the economic, social, and ecological benefits of certification.”
As highlights, C2CPII in a press release offers three examples from participating companies:
- AGC Glass Europe Panibel Dark Blue – Certification and optimization of its product and processes illustrated a clean energy strategy that led to over 40 percent of fuel oil replaced by ‘cleaner’ natural gas; its cost to human well-being was reduced by 60 percent; and its sales are over 21 percent higher than the rest of the industry, due in part to winning new business from clients in the green building market.
- Construction Specialties Acrovyn 4000 product eliminated 100 percent of its PVC in the product after certification; realized 50 percent of its energy use is renewable and the remaining 50 percent is offset by renewable energy credits; and its cost to human well-being was reduced by 57 percent.
- Shaw EcoWorx carpet tile received a 46 percent increase in recycled content; a 50 percent increase in water efficiency; a 48 percent increase in sales; and its costs to human well-being was reduced by 50 percent due to energy efficiency improvements and switch to renewables.
C2CPII’s technical report also details the experiences of the seven other Cradle to Cradle Product Certification Pilot Program participants – Aveda, Desso, Ecover, Mosa, Puma, Steelcase and Van Houtum. Among the business benefits realized from participating in the certification program, the report authors highlight, were “reduced costs, improved product value, new revenue streams and avoided risks.”
In addition, they continue, pilot certification program participants’ experiences with adopting the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Certification framework “illustrates the structural cost reduction through re-using product material and increasing resource efficiency. By avoiding traditional resource markets and by reducing dependency on non-renewable energy, the report shows companies’ risk was reduced from volatile commodity prices and supply disruption.”
With a “middle class” of consumers emerging in populous, rapidly developing nations such as Brazil, China and India, humanity has come to a pivotal and critical point in time with an increasingly pressing need to rethink and find ways of designing products in economically viable ways that don’t degrade people or the environment, Luther highlights in the foreword of the report.
“Billions of people around the world are poised to gain middle class consumer power to change how we design, use and reuse products,” Luther said. “If the world is going to flourish, shared prosperity must be realized with a new consumption model free from waste, pollution, and social and environmental expense. The model is Cradle to Cradle and its implementation is the certification program.”
Image credits: Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute