Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle

"Cradle to Cradle Design" (sometimes abbreviated to C2C) is a biomimetic approach to the design of systems. It models human industry on nature's processes, in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. It suggests that industry must protect and enrich ecosystems, nature's biological metabolism, while also maintaining safe, productive technical metabolism for the high-quality use and circulation of organic, synthetic, and other materials. Put simply, it is a holistic economic, industrial and social framework, that seeks to create systems that are not just efficient but are essentially waste free.Lovins, L. Hunter (2008). [ Rethinking production] in "State of the World 2008", pp. 38-40.] The model in its broadest sense, is not limited to industry, it can be applied to many different aspects of human civilisation including urban environments, buildings, industrial design and manufacturing, economics, and social systems.

The phrase "Cradle to Cradle" itself, was coined by Walter R. Stahel in the 1970's, and the current model is based on a system of "lifecycle development" initiated by Michael Braungart and colleagues at the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) in the 1990s, and explored through the publication "A Technical Framework for Life-Cycle Assessment". In 2002, William McDonough in partnership with Braungart released the publication "", an effective manifesto for Cradle to Cradle Design, giving specific details of how to achieve the model. The model has been implemented by several companies, organisations and governments around the world, particularly in China and the US. There is C2C Certification available but as of 2006 this is somewhat limited. Cradle to Cradle has also been the subject matter of many documentary films including the critically acclaimed "Waste=Food".


In the Cradle to Cradle model all materials used in industrial or commercial processes, such as metals, fibers, dyes, etc, are seen to fall into one of two categories; "technical" or "biological" nutrients (see definitions for more information). "Technical nutrients" are strictly limited to non-toxic, non-harmful synthetic materials that have no negative effects on the natural environment, they can be used in continuous cycles as the same product without loosing their integrity or quality, for example, in this manner these materials can be used over and over again in many pairs of pants, instead of being "downcycled" into lesser products, ultimately becoming waste. "Biological Nutrients" are organic materials that, once used, can be thrown onto the ground, on the garden, in a river or any natural envionment, and decompose into the soil providing food for small life forms, without affecting the natural environment, this is dependent on the ecology of the region for example; organic material from one country or landmass may be harmful to the ecology of another country or landmass.




Currently, we come into contact or consume, directly or indirectly, many harmful materials and chemicals, like heavy metals, on a daily basis. In addition, countless other forms of plant and animal life are also exposed, particularly frogs, which are one of the most susceptible species to this type of pollution. C2C seeks to remove dangerous "technical nutrients" (synthetic materials such as mutagenic materials, heavy metals and other dangerous chemicals) from current life cycles. If the materials we come into contact with and are exposed to on a daily basis are not toxic or have long term health effects then the health of the overall system can be better maintained. One example is that of a fabric factory, they can eliminate all harmful "technical nutrients" (synthetic materials) by carefully reconsidering the chemicals they use in their dyes to achieve the colours they need with fewer base chemicals.


The use of a C2C model fundamentally lowers the financial cost of systems. For example, in the redesign of the Ford River Rouge Complex, the planting native grasses on assembly plant roofs retains and cleanses rain water, as well as moderates the internal temperature of the building, to save energy. The roof is part of an $18 million rainwater treatment system designed to clean 20 billion gallons (76,000,000 m³) of rainwater annually, this saved Ford $50 million that would otherwise have been spent on mechanical treatment facility. [] If products are designed according to C2C design principles, they can be manufactured for less, thus sold for less. (see Hypothetical Examples for more information) They eliminate the need for waste disposal such as landfills.


*Cradle to Cradle phrase; essentially a play on the "Cradle to Grave" phrase, implying that the C2C model is sustainable and considerate of life in general.
*Technical nutrients are basically inorganic or synthetic materials manufactured by humans such as plastics, metals, that can be used many times over without any loss in quality, staying in a continuous cycle.
*Biological nutrients and materials are fundamentally organic materials that can decompose into the natural environment, soil, water, etc. without affecting it in a negative way, providing food for bacteria and microbiological life.
*Materials are usually referred to as the building blocks of other materials, such as the dyes used in colouring fibers, or rubbers used in the sole of a shoe.
*Downcycling is a term used to describe what is conventionally known as recycling, which is seen as "downcycling" materials into lesser products, a plastic computer housing becomes a plastic cup, which then becomes a park bench, eventually becoming waste.
*Waste = Food is a basic concept of organic waste materials becoming food for bugs, insects and other small forms of life who can feed on it, decompose it and return it to the natural environment which we then indirectly use for food ourselves.

Existing Synthetic Materials

The question of how to deal with the countless existing "technical nutrients" (synthetic materials) that cannot be recycled or reintroduced to the natural environment is dealt with in C2C design. The materials that can be reused and retain their quality can be used within the technical nutrient cycles, while other materials are far more difficult to deal with such as plastics in the Pacific Ocean and the like.

Hypothetical Examples

One effective examples is that of a shoe designed and mass produced using the C2C model. The sole might be made of "technical nutrients" (synthetic material) while the upper parts might be made of "biological nutrients" (organic material. The shoe is mass produced at a manufacturing plant which utilises its waste material by putting it back into the cycle, such as using off-cuts from the rubber soles to make more soles rather than merely dispose of them (this is dependent on the technical materials not loosing their quality as they are reused). Once the shoes have been manufactured they are distributed to retain outlets where the customer buys the shoe at a fraction of the price they would normally pay for a shoe of comparable aspects; the customer is only paying for the use of the materials in the shoe for the period of time that they will be using the shoe. When they outgrow the shoe, it breaks or is damaged, they return it to the manufacturer. The manufacturer separates the sole from the upper parts (separating the technical and biological nutrients), the biological nutrients are returned to the natural environment while the technical nutrients are used to create the sole of another shoe.

A simple example is that of a disposable cup, drink bottle, packaging or wrapper, made entirely out of biological materials, when the user is finished with the item it can be disposed of and returned to the natural environment. The cost of disposal of waste such as landfill and recycling is eliminated. The user could also potentially return the item for a refund so it can be used again.


The C2C model can be applied to almost any system in modern society, urban environments, buildings, manufacturing, social systems. 5 steps are outlined in "Cradle to Cradle - Remaking the way we make things":
*Get "free of" known culprits
*Follow informed personal preferences
*Create "passive positive" lists - lists of materials used categorised according to their safety level:The X List - substances that must be phased out, teratogenic, mutagenic, carcinogenic, etc.:The Gray List - problematic substances that are not so urgently in need of phase out:The P List - the "positive" list, substances actively defined as safe for use
*Activate the positive list
*Reinvent - the redesign of the former system

While the C2C model has influenced the construction or redevelopment of many smaller buildings, several large companies, organisations and governments have also implemented the C2C model and it's ideas and concepts:

Major Implamentations

*The Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies incorporates cradle to cradle systems throughout the center. The use of the term C2C is replaced with Regenerative.
*The Chinese Government is constructing many cities based of C2C principles, utilising the rooftops for agriculture.
*The Herman Miller factory building and products, an office furniture manufacturing company.
*The Ford River Rouge Complex redevelopment. [] Cleaning 20 billion gallons (76,000,000 m³) of rainwater annually.


Currently there exists a C2C Certification for industrial design. The first products to gain C2C Certification were certified in 2005 and include: the Haworth Zody Chair, the Steelcase Think chair and the Hycrete concrete additive.

Co-ordination with other models

The Cradle to Cradle model can be viewed as a formwork that considers systems as a whole or holistically, it can be applied to many aspects of human society, it can also be considered a progression of current Life cycle assessment models. The model in some implementations is closely linked with the Car-free movement, such as in the case of large scale building projects or the construction or redevelopment of urban environments. It is closely linked with passive solar design in the building industry and with permaculture in agriculture within or near urban environments.

ee also

*Appropriate technology
*Life cycle assessment
*List of environment topics


External links

* [ "Waste = Food Documentary"] - A documentary on Cradle to Cradle
* [ "Cradle to Cradle (Synopsis)"]
* [ "Cradle to Cradle Principle"]
* [ World Changing article of C2C Certification]
* [ Cradle to Cradle Supporters]
* [ The emergence of the term ‘cradle to cradle’]

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