It’s been about two and a half years since the launch of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the nonprofit chartered by architect and designer William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart to “bring about a large-scale transformation in the way we make the things we make.” And it’s been just over a decade since the publication of McDonough and Braungart’s book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, the inspiration and knowledge base behind the institute.
Over that decade, the concept of “cradle to cradle”— that things could be designed and manufactured using materials and methods that would allow them to be returned to manufacturing cycles, or to the soil as something benign or even beneficial — has been talked about increasingly. Indeed, the term itself is now used widely — misused, in some cases — by companies and governments around the world.
Of course, cradle to cradle — C2C for short — is more than a concept. It’s a certification standard, “a continuous improvement quality standard to guide product manufacturers and designers in making safe and healthy things for our world,” in the words of the institute.
Over the past two years, the organization, and C2C itself, has moved forward in fits and starts, seeking traction in the marketplace. A handful of leading companies — including Alcoa, Armstrong, Aveda, Dow, Eastman Chemical, Herman Miller, Method, Natureworks, Owens Corning, PPG, Shaw Industries, Steelcase, and the U.S. Postal Service — have certified their products against the institute’s standard…
…I recently caught up with Bridgett Luther, the institute’s president. I’ve known Luther since her days as director of the California Department of Conservation under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the perch from which she was first exposed to McDonough and Cradle to Cradle. In 2008, the governor signed into law the California Green Chemistry Initiative, aimed at reducing public and environmental exposure to toxins through improved knowledge and regulation of chemicals. The law mandated that the state develop regulations for identifying and prioritizing chemicals of concern, create methods for analyzing alternatives to existing chemicals, and develop a regulatory mechanism, including possible restrictions or bans on certain chemicals.
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) is a sustainability consulting firm founded by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, co-authors of “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”. MBDC advises companies on integrating C2C principles into products, operations, and corporate strategy to regenerate economy, ecology, and equity.