be contagious. Moving through culture from one person to another,
a compelling idea can create small, relatively unnoticed changes
until at some dramatic moment it begins to have a large effect.
Malcolm Gladwell, borrowing the concept from epidemiology, famously
called this moment the tipping point. The historian
Thomas Kuhn, a student of scientific revolutions, called it a paradigm
shift. Either could describe the emergence of cradle-to-cradle design
in mainstream business culture, a positive epidemic that is beginning
to create big changes in the design of our world.
Cradle-to-cradle design is being adopted in the world of business
because it offers a positive effect framework for economic activity,
from the design of safe, healthful products to the creation of productive,
cost-effective factories that revitalize the landscape. In a cradle-to-cradle
business, products are designed for closed-loop systems that generate
no waste: Bio-based materials replenish the soil after use, while
high-tech materials circulate in perpetual cycles of production,
recovery and remanufacture, retaining their value through many product
life cycles. Ideally, cradle-to-cradle buildings and manufacturing
systems are powered by the renewable energy of the sun and are designed
to create more positive effectsmore wetlands, more habitat,
more clean waterrather than fewer negative ones. All of which
adds up to enterprises that generate a wide spectrum of social,
economic and ecological value.
After a decade in which cradle-to-cradle design emerged business
by business, last months EnvironDesign8 conference in Minneapolis,
MN, signaled that it has reached its tipping point. Since its inception
in 1997, when 100 people gathered in Phoenix primarily to address
environmental issues in architecture, EnvironDesign has become a
diverse forum of innovative ideas. This years event was particularly
notable for bringing together an exceptional group of businesses,
government agencies and NGOs who are putting cradle-to-cradle thinking
to work. Along with companies like Herman Miller, Shaw Industries
and MechoShade Systems, which have been steadily integrating cradle-to-cradle
design into product development, there were also representatives
of promising new ventures that are carrying cradle-to-cradle principles
beyond company boundaries into inter-business communities and the
Transforming an Industry: GreenBlue and The Sustainable Packaging
Generating this new kind of business-to-business community is one
of the key reasons we helped found the non-profit GreenBlue (www.greenblue.org),
which was established in 2003 to shepherd cradle-to-cradle design
into the public domain and encourage its widespread adoption. Offering
theoretical and technical expertise, GreenBlue uses cradle-to-cradle
design as a catalyst for industry-wide change, inviting business
competitors to strive together to create new standards and practices
that will transform conventional manufacturing.
Consider the packaging industry. Currently, the life cycle of most
packaging is a one-way, cradle-to-grave stream of materials. In
the U.S. alone, 45 million tons of containers and packaging are
discarded annually, creating a host of unintended environmental
problems. But what if packaging flowed in cradle-to-cradle cycles,
generating only positive effects? What if it provided nutrition
for the soil and created no waste?
Those were questions that came to the fore in March 2003 when the
EPA-sponsored Cradle-to-Cradle Design Challenge invited the industry
to re-design e-commerce packaging. The purpose of the challenge
was to stimulate creativity and offer the industry positive alternatives
Regulations will always be a part of the picture, said
Claire Lindsay, EPA Office of Solid Waste project director, but
we are also trying to find ways to encourage beyond compliance,
and cradle-to-cradle design is totally beyond compliance. That resonates
with industry. Industry wants maximum freedom to innovate, and going
beyond compliance by means of this new paradigm generates innovative
Indeed it does. Not only did the design challenge encourage the
packaging industry to consider the ecological and human health characteristics
of materials, but along with a cover story in Packaging World on
cradle-to-cradle design, it laid the foundation for an industry
working group devoted to implementing cradle-to-cradle principles.
After a pair of meetings arranged by GreenBlue, industry giants
such as Cargill Dow, Dow Chemical, Estee Lauder/Aveda, Mead/Westvaco,
Nike, Starbucks, Tropicana/Pepsi and Unilever organized to pursue
a positive, robust environmental vision for packaging
that includes developing cyclical material flows and increasing
the demand for environmentally intelligent, cradle-to-cradle
materials. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (www.sustainablepackaging.org)
officially launched in March 2004. We believe it will develop into
a promising, replicable model for a business community, a model
in which cooperation, quality and innovation drive mutually beneficial,
Rethink, Redesign, Reinvent: The eDesign Challenge
The EPA Office of Solid Waste has also partnered with GreenBlue
on the eDesign Idea Competition to develop cradle-to-cradle principles
in the electronics industry. Like packaging waste flows, the electronics
solid waste stream is formidable. It is also growing fast; electronics
is one of the fastest growing sectors of the consumer products market
and electronics customers are apt to replace quickly outdated technologies.
Since only some of the disposed equipment is re-used or recycled
into new products, valuable materials are lost, often creating unintended
human and environmental health hazards.
The eDesign challenge is an effort to find viable alternatives by
sparking creativity within the industry. As electronics designers
work with and internalize cradle-to-cradle principles, they will
be able to apply them to the design of products, production processes,
distribution logistics and delivery systems. Cradle-to cradle principles
also provide a platform for shared leadership and collaboration
among the range of stakeholderssuppliers, manufacturers, dismantlers,
government agencies, academia and non-governmental organizationsinvolved
in realizing an integrated system of design, manufacturing and recovery.
The idea competition marks the beginning of a transition toward
a new vision for the design of products and material recovery systems
as well as a promising new relationship between EPA and industry.
As EPA policy analyst Angie Leith has noted: Looking into
the future, we see that we have to look upstream. We have to look
at materials flow management and not waste management. We have to
think of cradle-to-cradle rather than cradle-to-grave. Thats
the direction we want to go. In other words, rethink, redesign,
reinvent. And look for the eDesign Challenges winning ideas,
which were announced May 12 at the 2004 Symposium on Electronics
and the Environment (ISEE).
EnvironDesign8 also hosted the launch of the C2C Home design competition.
The brainchild of Roanoke, VA, architect Gregg Lewis, C2C challenges
the design and construction industries to rethink each step of building
a home through the lens of cradle-to-cradle design, from sourcing
safe, healthful materials to orienting a house on the solar grid
to closing the loop on flows of water and energy.
Sponsored by the Roanoke Regional Housing Network with support from
GreenBlue and the American Institute of Architects, C2C Home is
a two-tiered competition. Invitations have been extended to every
collegiate architecture program in the United States, while professional
designers worldwide have been invited to compete in a separate competition.
Selected student design teams will be offered internships in Roanoke
and will help build the homes they design with assistance from the
local construction community, which will also build the selected
entries from the international design competition. The C2C Home
sponsors anticipate building as many as 30 new homes in the inner
city neighborhoods surrounding downtown Roanoke.
Lewiss goals for C2C Home are manifold. First of all, he wants
to start a conversation in his southwestern Virginia city about
the benefits of design for sustainability. By building a variety
of affordable cradle-to-cradle homes in downtown neighborhoods,
he hopes C2C Home will provide a model for healthy urban growth
and generate diverse communities that bring people back to the city.
This is crucial, he notes, because the inner city neighborhoods
in Roanoke, like so many American cities, have been decimated
by sprawl. C2C Home will encourage the antithesis of
sprawl by building selected designs on vacant lots in or near
downtown. Ultimately, he said, we have to design
and build diverse, vibrant city neighborhoods because truly sustainable
communities are going to have to be urban-centered.
Lewis also wants to show that cradle-to-cradle design offers more
than a checklist of standards. We have standards in place,
and theyre a great starting point, he said. But
this design assignment is not just about the bones of a house. Its
about how we live. And so we need more than baseline standards that
set guidelines for energy efficiency or the use of sustainably harvested
wood. We need to have a vision that is much more forward thinking
and thats what cradle-to-cradle design offers. It allows us
to think long-term and pursue inspiring goals. It allows us to re-think
the entire design process and build an entirely new approach to
Further south, in New Orleans, another home building venture is
creating a model for the healthy house, specifically, a house built
without polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Cradle-to-cradle design begins
with an assessment of materials to ensure that they are safe for
human and ecological health, and the PVC-free house, featured by
the Healthy Building Network at ED8, illustrates the ultimate outcome
of that crucial first step: eliminating harmful chemicals
There is perhaps nowhere that this is more crucial than in Louisiana,
home of an industrial corridor called Cancer Alley and
the greatest concentration of PVC facilities in the United States.
PVC presents a problem because its production, use and disposal
generates toxic waste. A common ingredient of windows, doors, siding,
wall coverings, interior surfaces and insulation, PVC contains hazardous
plasticizers and toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. Plasticizers
are suspected of disrupting human endocrine systems, cadmium is
known to be carcinogenic and lead is a neurotoxin.
Though a single home built without toxic materials does not address
the fact that PVC plants in Louisiana have displaced whole communities,
the builders of the PVC-free house, Greenpeace and Habitat for Humanity,
hope it will provide a model for safe, affordable housing in the
state and worldwide.
Like homelessness, pollution is a global problemone
that disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color,
said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace. This
house will be a testament to two basic rights: the right to decent
housing and the right to a healthy environment.
Instituto de Empresa: Fostering Eco-Intelligent Management
C2C has also tipped abroad. While Europe, in most respects,
is far ahead of the United States in adopting sustainable design,
many of the initiatives there are geared toward making industry
more efficient, rather than more effective. Instituto de Empresa
(IE), a leading business school in Madrid, wants to change that
by fostering eco-intelligent management among international business
Insituto de Empresa (IE) is well positioned to do so. Founded at
the end of the Franco regime in 1975, IE was created to generate
an entrepreneurial community in Spain and has since become one of
the top business schools in Europe, ranked first by the Wall Street
Journal and in the top five by the Financial Times. IEs new
Centre for Eco-Intelligent Management is an extension of its long-standing
commitment to support socially responsible business.
Launched in February 2004, the centre will serve innovative businesses
by providing research and training to senior management. The centres
researchers will focus on developing case studies of C2C initiatives,
which will serve as educational reports for MBA and executive training
programs. By showing the benefits of profitable eco-intelligent
products already in the marketplace and by illustrating how managers
can play an active, leadership role in integrating cradle-to-cradle
design into product development, the centre hopes to help business
leaders transform their companies.
Gregory Unruh, academic director of the centre, believes reaching
senior management is a key element of the transition to a cradle-to-cradle
All of the organizational research done shows that these types
of innovative initiatives are going to be successful only when they
have support from the very top level of management, Unruh
Top level managers, he added, are frequently not very knowledgeable
about sustainability issues. The centre is therefore focusing its
research efforts on doing systematic studies of successful cradle-to-cradle
initiatives to distill the factors of success, understand
organizational barriers, and develop the management case and the
management tools to help business leaders move their companies forward.
In addition, said Unruh, the centre is training MBA grads
who understand cradle-to-cradle design and understand what it takes
to implement it so they can go out and actually have an impact.
All of these new initiatives represent a delightful prospectand
theres more to come. Susan Lyons, who worked closely with
us on the design of Climatex Lifecycle, the first cradle-to-cradle
fabric, will be opening a new C2C design studio next fall. The studio
will invite designers to work together creating innovative new products
and it promises to be a cradle of creativity . . . At NeoCon 2004,
MechoShade will unveil its new EcoVeil, an eco-effective shadecloth
for solar shade systems that was designed as a safe, technical nutrient
that will be kept in a closed-loop cycle . . . GreenBlue will be
working with designers and educators to bring cradle-to-cradle design
into the classroom and will continue to develop cooperative working
groups in electronics, packaging, textiles and cleaning products
. . . In 2005 we can look forward to seeing C2C homes being built
in Roanoke, and further down the road, to the C2C Home design challenge
being repeated in cities across the country and around the world.
Gregg Lewis has his eyes on a C2C Home design challenge for the
athletes village at a future Olympiad, and its not hard
to imagine that he will make it happen . . . and each spring, we
will surely see EnvironDesign drawing these and other innovators
together for three days of inspiring meetings.
This year, Gregory Unruh traveled all the way from Spain to attend
ED8 to take part in a GreenBlue workshop and meet with the
companies that are implementing cradle-to-cradle designthe
Shaws, the Herman Millers, the Visteons.
Obviously, he said, EnvironDesign is the nucleus
of this. The people I met and talked with in Minneapolis are really
trying to apply what seems to be the only logical solution to the
business sustainability challenge. And it was especially encouraging
to hear Shaws Steve Bradfield say: Sustainabilty is
our goal; cradle-to-cradle is our path. I really do think
were at a tipping point.
William A. McDonough, FAIA, and Michael Braungart are founders of
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, a consultancy that works with
a wide variety of companies to implement eco-effective design and
commerce strategies. For more information, visit www.mbdc.com.