Cradle to Cradle Design: A Deeper Shade of Green

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Cradle to Cradle encourages the development of products that benefit “people, planet and profit.”

Most of us have heard the term “cradle to grave.” Something is created, used and then thrown away. Now a new twist on the phrase is becoming a merit badge for eco-conscious corporations: cradle to cradle design.

Cradle to Cradle, a certification framework created by architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart, encourages the development of green products that benefit “people, planet and profit.” It’s a stringent, comprehensive set of green business standards that calls for manufacturers to design products that can be part of a continuous life cycle.

Although the term “cradle to cradle” gained popular recognition relatively recently, McDonough and Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) has been operating since 1995, making the founders’ theory of infinitely sustainable commerce a reality for the burgeoning corner of industry with an environmental and social conscience.

With Cradle to Cradle certification, not only are a product’s components reviewed, but each component’s base ingredients face strict guidelines as well. Products receiving basic, silver, gold or platinum certification must have been successfully designed to “eliminate the concept of waste.” A product’s “waste” must become either “biological nutrients,” or be recycled as “technical nutrients.” Five criteria regarding a product’s safety, recyclability, renewable energy use, water stewardship, and the company’s social responsibility efforts must be met in varying degrees for each level.

So who is leading this charge toward healthier and more sustainable products? Beauty products company Aveda has seven individual Cradle to Cradle products that have attained gold certification, and cleaning-product company Method has more than 30 silver-certified products. Proctor & Gamble has several certified hair care products, and some Pendleton wool fabrics have also been certified. Many other Cradle to Cradle certified products are in the architectural or construction industries (see MBDC’s Cradle to Cradle website for the full list).

A platinum product certification has yet to be awarded, meaning no company to date has met McDonough and Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle ideal. But the fact that an ideal has been defined opens the door for more companies to move toward MBDC’s vision of leaving a positive footprint on the planet, instead of simply reducing a negative one.