Cradle to Cradle Thinking


Diagram of the cradle-to-cradle approach to environmental sustainability.


Cradle to cradle is a concept popularized by the American architect William McDonough working with German chemist Michael Braungart. In 2002 they published the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”.

According to the Dictionary of Sustainable Management, Cradle-to-cradle is defined as:

“A phrase invented by Walter R. Stahel in the 1970s and popularized by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book of the same name. This framework seeks to create production techniques that are not just efficient but are essentially waste free. In cradle to cradle production all material inputs and outputs are seen either as technical or biological nutrients. Technical nutrients can be recycled or reused with no loss of quality and biological nutrients composted or consumed. By contrast cradle to grave refers to a company taking responsibility for the disposal of goods it has produced, but not necessarily putting products’ constituent components back into service.”


Life-cycle assessment evaluates the environmental costs associated with a product, process, structure, or activity by identifying energy and materials used and wastes released into the environment.

Cradle-to-cradle is a way of thinking.

From a sustainable building practice perspective, the dominant paradigm, “cradle to grave” thinking represents irresponsible thinking.

By contrast, cradle to cradle thinking, where we take fundamental ecological responsibility for the building as an object resulting not only from conventions of design, but as part of an ecological process involving production of the building’s materials, the building’s construction, environmental impacts resulting from the use of the building, deconstruction, recycling, re-use of the building, and cycling of the building’s materials back into the construction/deconstruction cycle with the goal of minimizing the building’s impacts on the environment, represents responsible thinking.

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