Cradle to Cradle
William McDonough
& Michael Braungart
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buy *Cradle to Cradle* online Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
William McDonough
& Michael Braungart

North Point Press
193 pages
April 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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"This book is not a tree" and it is waterproof, durable, and pleasing to the touch and to the eye. It is made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, which can be recirculated indefinitely -- made and remade into "paper" and other products. It epitomizes the theories of architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, advocates of a design that "upcycles" safe materials in the manufacturing process, rather than "downcycling" toxins into landfills, as in today's "cradle-to-grave" pattern.

Curled Up With a Good BookIn their arresting introduction, they depict a scene with:

  • your favorite armchair -- the fabric containing mutagenic materials, heavy metals, dangerous chemicals, and dyes that, as you move, are inhaled.
  • your child's computer -- comprised of toxic gases, metals, acids, plastics and other additives.
  • your baby's rattle -- of PVC plastic, containing phthalates, known to cause liver cancer in animals and possibly endocrine disruption, along with toxic dyes, etc.
  • your carpet and your shoes that dispense toxins with every step you take.
Powerful incentives to read on and learn more about the authors' innovative ideas.

They maintain that "reduce, reuse and recycle" are not enough; they just perpetuate the "cradle-to-grave" model. They feel "biological nutrients," which nourish the earth, and "technical nutrients," recycled in a closed manufacturing loop, are an answer to many of our toxic problems.

During the Industrial Revolution, nature was viewed as boundless and renewable "capital." Today we know it is not, but most of our industrial processes still assume it is.

" may be referred to as a consumer," the authors write, "but there is very little that you actually consume...Everything else is designed for you to throw away...But where is 'away'? ...'away' does not really exist." Of the approximately 80,000 defined chemical substances and mixes produced today, only about 3,000 have been studied for effects on living systems. "The immune system, constantly exposed to such toxins...can only handle so much."

These powerful arguments and others buttress the authors' appeal for an Industrial Re-Evolution with a shift in perspective and an eco-approach to design. Some paradigms are already shifting. Braungart saw his mother fined for her "wild garden" in 1982. Ten years later, she won an award for creating this "habitat for songbirds." The authors' firms have contracts with some of the leading manufacturers to start designing more "cradle to cradle" processes, on an incremental basis. Henry Ford was always said to be ahead of his time, and he "upcycled" his shipping crates into floorboards for his Model A trucks when they reached their destination.

"We're initiating a similar practice that is a modest beginning: Korean rice husks used as packing for ... electronics sent to Europe, then reused as material for making bricks," the authors said. Are you old enough to remember the jelly jars designed to be used as glasses after they were emptied? No more. But "upcycling" can be as simple as that.

They advocate designing with "upcycling" in mind, integrating solar collecting with existing power sources, and innovative sewage treatment to turn it into an asset. In China, where Styrofoam creates "white pollution," the authors suggest packaging made from biodegradable rice husks, which are now burned. They advocate non-polluting, naturally based renewable products -- "biological nutrients" which will be reabsorbed into water or soil and "technical nutrients" which will recirculate in a closed loop, rather than be recycled down.

They conclude with a chapter on "Putting Eco-Effectiveness Into Practice."

"Ask: How can we support and perpetuate the rights of all living things to share in a world of abundance? How can we love the children of all species -- not just our own -- for all time? Imagine what a world of prosperity and health in the future will look like, and begin designing for it right now.... "
McDonough in 1996 received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development and was a Time Magazine "Hero for the Planet" in 1999. Braungart, a former director of the chemistry section for Greenpeace and world lecturer on ecological chemistry and materials flow management, has won numerous awards.

The authors have skillfully managed to invest vital, but potentially dry, subject matter with color, interest and clarity. It is a very readable book and, if heeded, has great potential impact on our toxic society with its growing pollution, "sick" buildings, and depleting resources.

© 2002 by Joan Riley for Curled Up With a Good Book

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