For those to are ecologically minded, a key part of creating any new product is to produce a life cycle assessment (LCA), which is also known as a cradle-to-grave analysis, working from manufacture (‘cradle’) to use and disposal (‘grave’). The LCA investigates all of the environmental impacts of that product and attempts to minimise that damage.
One of the key premises of McDonough and Brangart’s Cradle to Cradle is that minimising damage just isn’t good enough. Instead, the authors propose that we change our entire design processes so that reuse and nourishment are built right into the process. Instead of minimising waste, we create value.
Cradle to Cradle goes beyond the notion of having recycling as the final step in a process flow, and instead builds on the idea that waste need not exist at all. We can design our lives and products around the notion of nourishment – from the way we live to how we design and produce goods. The natural world provides the template for what the authors suggest, from the regenerative world of the insect, to the cherry tree, to the use of natural nutrients such as solar and wind power. They suggest that the key to working within, rather than against, nature is to respect biodiversity, respect the elegance and abundance of what is around us, and begin our design process with the notion of there is no such thing as waste:
Industries that respect diversity engage with local material and energy flows, and with local social, cultural, and economic forces, instead of viewing themselves as autonomous entities, unconnected to the culture or landscape around them. (122).
The writing style itself is clear, simple, and suitable for all ages and knowledge levels. Different readers will take different things from the book. It is addressed to those that do design for a living, and for those who are professionals in industry, this book will serve as a manual for development.
But all of us are engaged in creation and consumption in one way or another (the machine I’m using to type this on, or the reams of paper my kids draw on to take two general examples) and the choices we make on how we will conduct those activities, and seeing ourselves as all being part of the great cradle to cradle cycle is an important step forward.