What is Cradle to Cradle Design?
Cradle to Cradle Design (also referred to as Cradle to Cradle, C2C, or regenerative design) is a concept which proposes to change our way of thinking on materials and products from a linear process into a circular one. Our current linear cradle to grave process causes numerous environmental problems. Nature is sacrificed to the harvest of materials towards human needs, valuable materials are buried or burned after use, and huge amounts of waste and toxins are produced.
Cradle to Cradle models human industry on nature’s processes viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. It suggests that industry must protect and enrich ecosystems and nature’s biological metabolism while also maintaining a safe, productive technical metabolism for the high-quality use and circulation of organic and technical nutrients. Put simply, it is a holistic economic, industrial and social framework that seeks to create systems that are not only efficient but also essentially waste free.
The concept originated with the 2002 publication of architect William McDonough’s “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”, a manifesto for cradle to cradle design that gives specific details of how to achieve the model. The model has been implemented by a number of companies, organizations and governments around the world, predominantly in the European Union, China and the United States. Cradle to cradle has also been the subject of many documentary films, including the critically acclaimed Waste=Food.
The Linear Cradle to Grave Process
o Materials: Valuable materials are disposed and become useless.
o Natural resources Are spilled for energy & waste production.
o Waste: Large amounts of waste materials are produced.
o Toxics: Air, water and soil and people get polluted with toxic waste products.
o Energy: Fossil fuels and nuclear power create severe pollution.
o Natural habitats are destroyed by harvesting materials.
The Circular Cradle to Cradle Process
In the circular process every product can be endlessly recycled as long as the products are designed and produced with the recycling phase in mind. Because waste is turned into food for nature and industry an unlimited grow of consumption would be possible. To make recycling possible we should separate two types of material cycles or ‘metabolisms’: the technical and biological. The technical metabolism recycles man made materials like plastics, concrete, metals and other chemicals. When the different materials in the product can be separated after use it will be possible to endlessly reuse these materials into new products without losing its material qualities.
The materials that are part of the biological cycle consist of natural materials like wood, cotton, wool and paper products. After use they can be recycled in nature as a nutrient for plants and animals. A condition for this cycle is that the materials are not contaminated with technical materials or toxins.The key condition for both systems to work is that the materials can be effectively separated and recycled after use. This is necessary to prevent down cycling, which happens when different materials are mixed into a new product.
Each recycling stage will limit the possibilities for reuse until a useless product is produced after all:
•Materials stay available since they are reused in an endless cycle.
•Natural resources are fed with waste materials and will regrow.
•Waste: By separating biological and technical nutrients its easier to recycle waste.
•Toxins: Non-toxic alternatives are available, preventing waste from becoming a toxic.
•Energy sustainable energy sources makes harvesting resources and pollution unnecessary.
•Natural habitats are less disturbed as fewer materials need to be harvested.
Cradle to Cradle Design in Architecture
The cradle to cradle concept is easy to explain using a single product that is made in a factory, is used and disposed after a few years. Architecture is a different story since most buildings are unique designs that are made of products made in numerous factories from all over the world. Closing the material cycle here is difficult task. The best way to make sure the building can be separated into materials that can be reused in the factory it came from is by making the building de-mountable and by using locally produced materials. McDonough & Braungart extend the use of local building materials to using local energy and water.
A building should produce its own energy to prevent the mining and use of fossil fuels for energy production. By gathering rainwater and purifying its own waste water a building can prevent pollution and dehydration of ecosystems elsewhere.
Cradle to Cradle gives architects an assignment as follows:
•no toxics should be used.
•all materials should separable and recyclable after the building’s lifetime.
•the building should be the product of local action to ensure (ecological) diversity, expression and aesthetic preference.
•the design will emphasize the use of local resources
•the design will emphasize use of local building methods.
•the building gathers its own rainwater and purifies its waste water.
•the building generates its own energy or provides it to neighboring buildings whenever feasible.