Designing For Sustainability
Last Updated on March 9, 2021
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002)
Written by an architect and a chemist, their book looks to a new way of designing how things are made. As the authors explain, the current (conventional) way of making things is failing us. It is simply a status quo that has perpetuated from the days of the Industrial Revolution. It requires a serious update.
Indeed, despite the centuries since the first assembly lines, we haven’t radically changed manufacturing. Sure, we now have automation and A.I. to support our operations, but the approach itself hasn’t changed. The methods haven’t yet been adapted to exist symbiotically with the natural environment. We are producing too much of what cannot simply reenter the planet’s ecosystems without causing harm to it.
McDonough and Braungart suggest we try something else. Rather than continue forcing artificial processes that introduce countless synthetic compounds into our environment, why not take a page out of nature’s handbook. We can design for sustainability.
Be More Like Nature
Looking to the natural world, we can witness so much brilliant designing (see also Biomimicry). In nature, there is no waste. Instead, there exists a balanced redistribution of energy. Elements transition from one form to another. In social sustainability terms, this is referred to as adopting a circular economy. Resources remain within the system, to be used again and again.
The circular economy represents an alternative model for business and manufacture. One that is totally possible, and indeed supported by nature. It would however require a substantial mental shift in how we currently operate.
Adopting sustainable design also means demonstrating a greater conscience for the product life-cycle. It requires us to adjust the way waste is perceived and utilized. Products should not (as they predominantly are now), be simply designed for a temporary service before they end up in a landfill.
Rather they can, and should, be re-conceived. The authors encourage us to break away from cradle-to-grave (end of life) products. These dead-end products fail us on so many levels. We can be designing differently in order to aim for sustainability. We can adopt the cradle-to-cradle approach.
McDonough and Braungart describe their goal as advocating for design that is “delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power -economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.“
Packed with Goodness
The authors did a great job of conveying their message. Designing for sustainability not only makes sense, it is crucial in our confrontation of the climate crisis. McDonough and Michael Braungart definitely get it!
It was a fun and informative read, with plenty of ingenious examples. The combination of storytelling and analysis will also provide you with a number of aha! moments. As the sustainably transition should rightly elicit. 😉 Indeed, Cradle-to-Cradle is both educational and inspirational. You should totally give it a chance.
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