As a society, we are standing on the edge of another revolution. In the19th and 20th century, the industrial revolution changed forever the landscape of our world through improvements in manufacturing, transportation and standards of living and business. As a world society, business evolved to go beyond the few blocks or, at most, miles surrounding a location to a truly global economy. In addition to the many positive effects, many unintended detriments accompanied the rapid industrialization of the world. However, today, another change, and change to undo some of the negative affects, is before us and requires immediate action to prepare for the next century.
In Cradle to Cradle, authors William McDonough and Michael Bruangart share the secrets of the next century and the need for not only immediate action, but also change from the current systems to something new. Several key points are shared throughout the book that are expanded below.
The first concept that seems to be a common thread in today’s society is the notion of doing something, even if it is only “less bad”. Some actions include replacing a gas-guzzling SUV for a more fuel-efficient compact car or buying a home that is 20% more efficient that your previous homes. Not to minimize these actions, but each of these solutions only partially addresses some of the issues facing the world today. A more fuel-efficient car reduces dependence on fossil fuels, but does not eliminate it and might add additional concerns over the disposal of battery technologies in the future. Similarly a more efficient home can reduce dependence on dangerous fuel sources, but it only addresses a small part of the problem, missing air quality, destruction of surrounding ecosystems, etc. The real solution is not in simply doing better today, but finding a way to change the way in which products are used in the future.
Giving new life to products that up-cycles is a key component to understanding the concept of Cradle to Cradle living. Simply recycling will not do enough for the future. Designing products that can be recycled into a better product, fully utilizing the original materials should be the goal of future product development. This is the concept that waste is not waste, but food for the next cycle. A great example of this was represented at the International Builder Show in Las Vegas this year. Several manufacturers provided detailed information about a product or service on paper that is designed to be planted after the information has been “consumed”. The papers will then breakdown into the soil, improving the soil, and activating the seeds within the paper to grow natural grasses or flowers. The paper is fully utilized by the next, and arguably, more beautiful process of creating life.
An underlying theme throughout the book is the need to re-evaluate packing, processes and products used in everyday life to find opportunities to redesign and up-cycle. At times a frustrating theme in the book is the little time is spent on solutions. However, towards the end of the text, the intentional writing is made clear. Solutions still have to be found, and as with many products mentioned in the book, there are no one-size fits all answer to these questions. Solutions to the packaging problem cannot be addressed and solved in 200 pages because the solution for one product, in one geographic area, is drastically different than for another.
By the end of the book, the concept of “Less Bad” vs. Eco-inventive changes to starting at “less bad” with plans to progress to something new. Making better decisions with the information available today is a responsible step as long as future plans include not just a re-design, but re-invention. For housing, simply re-designing current structures is only the “less bad” approach. To change housing to be a positive contributor to the ecosystem, old ways should be set aside and new concepts explored as part of a completely new design for future homes. Similar to the authors’ admonition to not just build a better car, but to build a “nutrivehicle” that goes beyond zero-effect to positive effect, homes need to be reinvented, from development forward, to create structures that work now and in the future and provide a positive addition to the surrounding ecosystem.