As a response to these questions, the German chemist Michael Braungart and the American architect William McDonough, laid down, in the early 1980s, the principles of what they called ‘Cradle to Cradle’, also described as « the circular economy with a positive impact ».
Its first premise is that the accepted pattern that we have been following for years, of extraction, production, consumption and disposal, has run out of steam and needs to be rethought.
Indeed, too many resources are wasted without benefiting everybody, and we are overwhelmed by rubbish.
In addition, the accepted pattern encourages poor quality products, which have a harmful effect on the environment and on our health.
The strength of the Cradle to Cradle philosophy is to be found in the way in which it views ecology. When we speak about the environment, we usually find someone preaching at us to the effect that our activities are too harmful and cause a great deal of pollution so we must continue to reduce our impact on the environment even more. Are we really so wicked? Of course we aren’t!
The Cradle to Cradle concept starts from the premise that mankind’s impact on the environment can be beneficial, positive and restorative.
Thus, rather than aiming for the ‘less bad’, Cradle to Cradle proposes that we should aim for the ‘best’ and design projects that are beneficial for health, the environment and the economy.
The Cradle to Cradle concept proposes a new pattern for the way our societies function. It transforms the accepted linear system of extraction, production, consumption and disposal into a circular system.
If we are to avoid throwing resources away and wasting them, we must take things that have reached the end of their useful lives and transform them so as to give them a new value making it possible for them to become part of a new production cycle instead of ending up in the dump!
In this way, we do away with the idea of rubbish and there exist only resources that can be used over and over again.
The transformation of products to give them a new value is called ‘upcycling’. Upcycling is the basic principle of the Cradle to Cradle philosophy.
If materials are to be transformed and reused over and over again, they must be of a high quality and what they are composed of must be known.
With the Cradle to Cradle philosophy, attention is paid to what is being made. Only ingredients that are beneficial to health and the environment are selected, because what good would it do to keep reusing them if they were toxic? The second principle of the Cradle to Cradle philosophy is thus Eco-design.
The Cradle to Cradle philosophy takes its inspiration from the way nature functions.
Is a world without rubbish really possible? Yes it is! You just have to look at the way nature functions to realise this. In nature there is no waste: everything is a nutrient. Nobody would ever dream of going into forest to clear up all the dead leaves, firstly because it would be ‘mission impossible’ and secondly because it would be a monumental mistake!
In fact, when the leaves of a tree, its ‘waste’, fall to the ground and wilt they then turn into food for the whole living ecosystem which benefits from it and in its turn restores precious nutrients to the earth which are of benefit to the tree. Thus the circle is completed, the natural equilibrium is ensured and everyone reaps the reward!
So if our dustbins are overflowing, it could be because something is wrong with our system. This is why the circular economy takes its inspiration from the way nature functions in order to protect and make better use of our resources.
Cradle to Cradle is all very well but if a project is powered by fossil fuels its positive impact is clearly restricted. Here too we should trust nature. Solar energy is available, efficient and non-polluting. We shall certainly not lack for it and it does not imperil either our children’s or our grandchildren’s future.
With the new technologies we are today able to integrate solar energy on a large scale into our production systems. Wind energy is a supplementary source. Still further possible sources may be provided, among other things, by biomass.
To make a world everything is needed!
In nature, the richer and more diverse ecosystems are, the more resilient they are in the face of change. When deciding how to manufacture our products, we must take this as the model to follow, with the same genius for diversity and variety.
Do not confuse Recycling and the Circular Economy
The Circular Economy is broader in scope than recycling. Recycling deals with waste whereas the Circular Economy eliminates the idea of waste and deals only with resources and their various uses.
Recycling is an excellent activity that should be encouraged and is beginning to bear fruit. Despite its effectiveness, however, it is limited simply to the processing of waste, the composition of which is unknown and the ingredients of which were, for the most part, not designed for any subsequent use and might therefore be harmful to health and the environment.
The Circular Economy with a positive impact, or Cradle to Cradle, goes further with its Eco-design and upcycling. It establishes ecosystems which have a considerable economic, social and environmental impact.