Cradle to Cradle

After having a late night coffee, I sat up last night and finished reading Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

I’d heard good things about this book, especially from the folks at work, and given I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I want to go professionally, and eco-design being a big part of that thinking, I thought I’d borrow a copy and have a read.

It’s a fantastic book for anyone interested in eco-design (in the broadest sense of “design”, but especially product design). Although some of the core ideas are now finding wider acceptance (I first heard about the Cradle to Cradle approach through Worldchanging, and further via Joel Makower and Gil Friend) there are still many insights, ideas, methods and examples throughout the book that make it well worth the effort.

McDonough and Braungart’s vision is a compelling one. The basic gist of it (and I certainly can’t do it justice in a short review) is that we have an opportunity to rethink the way we design things – from architecture to products to systems – that work in harmony with nature, rather than just doing “less damage”. Not just doing “less bad”, but actually playing a restorative role – or moving from “sustainable” to “nurturing”.

They use the metaphor of a cherry blossom tree, and how in the tree and surrounding ecosystem – there is not concept of waste in nature. The “waste”, as it were, become nutrients to the earth and organisms around the tree.

They invisage a design thinking that creates products that become nutrients for both biological (e.g. can be safely buried) and/or technical systems (re-used in original form for industry etc.). They imagine buildings acting like a tree – cleansing water, purifying the air, creating habitat for local species (including humans). And if we have buildings that act like trees, they extend the metaphor to imagine a city acting like a forest.

As the book progresses they introduce additional tools and insight into how we might make this shift in thinking – from “eco-efficient” (less bad) to “eco-effective” (nurturing).

The book is not a “how-to” guide – it is very much putting forward the Cradle to Cradle. The examples serve to show that, in fact, it can be done – factories that clean the water that they use, that are net positive in terms of energy consumption (i.e. they collect more energy than they consume) – rather than demonstrating how it can be done.

Overall I was really inspired by the book and got a lot out of it. Even though some of the concepts were already familiar, reading them “first hand” really cemented some of the ideas much more solidly – I feel I now have a better sense of the nuance in the argument, rather than just the broad brushstrokes I had previously.

I’d highly recommend it – 5/5 stars – I really can’t think anything that could be improved…