Cradle to Cradle: Principles, Examples, Pros, and Cons - Profolus (2022)

During the 1970s, Swiss architect and industrial analyst Walter Stahel coined the expression “cradle to cradle” while developing a closed-loop approach to production processing. Further in 2002, German chemist Michael Braungart and American architect William McDonough, who was also regarded as the “father of the circular economy,” wrote the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” that introduced and detail their Cradle to Cradle design model, while also discouraging downcycling by encouraging the production of goods in consideration of the benefits and applications of upcycling.

Understanding the Principles of Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle or C2C is a design approach to production and consumption based on biomimicry or processes found in nature that considers resources and materials as “nutrients” circulating indefinitely within the economy in a feedback-rich closed-loop. It also sees wastes as everlasting resources that could be reintroduced back into the economy.

Nevertheless, it is fundamentally a criticism of the popular corporate phrase “cradle to grave,” which describes traditional production and consumption models within a linear economy characterized by the life cycle of a product beginning as a raw material extracted from nature and ending as waste materials in landfills.

Braungart and McDonough laid down key tenets for integrating the C2C approach within the economy. First is the elimination of the concept of waste. Industries should produce materials that could be reused perpetually. Societies should also deploy systems aimed at collecting and recovering the value of these materials following their use.

Second is the need to maximize renewable energy. The use of renewable energy sources to include wind power and solar power, including concentrated solar power and photovoltaic technologies, promote the use of perpetual inputs for energy production.

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Furthermore, in their model, Braungart and McDonough also explained that materials produced and used for industrial and commercial purposes fall into either one of the two categories: biological nutrients and technical nutrients.

Take note of the following:

• Biological Nutrients: These are organic materials that can be readily and safely disposed of in a particular natural environment without negative environmental impact, thus providing nutrients to life forms. Note that the disposal of organic materials is dependent on the characteristic particular area. Some of these materials might be harmful to a particular natural environment.

• Technical Nutrients: These are non-toxic synthetic materials that could be used continuously without losing their integrity and quality. Hence, instead of being downcycled into materials with lesser value until they become wastes, they can be used over and over again, thereby remaining within closed-loop industrial cycles. They have no negative impacts on the natural environment.

The principle of Cradle to Cradle is considerably straightforward: promote and maintain the high-quality use and circulation of biological nutrients and technical nutrients to protect and enrich ecosystems while enabling economic productivity.

Applications and Examples of Cradle to Cradle Approach

Take note that the application of the Cradle to Cradle approach is not limited to manufacturing and industrial design. Banking on the regenerative design principle introduced by landscape design professor John T. Lyle, it can also be applied to the design of urban environments, construction of buildings and public infrastructures, as well as social and economic systems.

Within the realms of economics, the approach is one of the core principles of a circular economic system. As a backgrounder, a circular economy is a proposed economic system that aims to reduce or eliminate the production of wastes through the continual use of finite resources, particularly based on material recycling, recovery, and regeneration.

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In addition, the design and deployment of a circular business model is a specific microeconomic application of this approach. A circular business equips an organization with a competitive advantage through the design and implementation of processes that promote the sustainability and longevity of production inputs and outputs.

More than just a corporate social responsibility, a circular business model maximizes the utilization and extraction of value from raw materials and the end-user products by ensuring all materials used and byproducts created are reusable.

Braungart and McDonough defined certification criteria for products that meet the principles of C2C. However, in 2012, the proprietary certification process has been turned over from the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting innovation for the circular economy.

The following are the certification criteria:

• Material Health: The chemical composition of these products should meet the established definition of biological and/or technical materials. Hence, they should have little to zero negative impacts on the environment.

• Material Utilization: In addition, these products, as well as their material components, should also be readily recoverable and recyclable using established or existing recovery and recycling methods, technologies, and processes.

• Energy Used: At least 50 percent of the energy input used in the production of these products should come from renewable sources. The energy input requirement encompasses subassemblies and all other parts of the production process.

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• Usage of Water: Companies should also use water in a sustainable manner. As a production input, this water should come from sustainable sources. Their disposal and discharge quality should have little to no impact on the environment.

• Social Responsibility: Furthermore, companies should operate and approach stakeholder relationships based on the principles of social responsibility. They should respect diversity and follow fair labor practices.

Several products that have either earned a C2C Certification or followed a similar design and production principle have been introduced in the market. Consider BioFoam as an example. Unlike expanded polystyrene or Styrofoam, which are made from polymers derived from fossil fuels, this patented biodegradable foam is made from vegetable materials. When discarded and disposed of, is material constituents become biological nutrients that can safely decompose while enriching the soil.

Ecovative Design LLC, a biomaterials limited liability company based in New York, has also developed and utilized a technology for utilizing mycelium produced by mushrooms and other fungi to produce organic compostable materials that can be processed and transformed into construction materials, thermal insulation panels, and protective packaging.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cradle to Cradle Approach

Considering the principles, applications, and examples mentioned above, the overall advantage of the Cradle to Cradle approach centers on its suitability to support sustainable development, as well as the implementation of a circular economy.

Below are the more specific advantages or benefits:

• Environmental Conservation: The approach takes into consideration the need to minimize or eliminate the negative impacts of industrial and commercial activities in the environment by ensuring that materials and products produced and consumed in the society can continuously be used, thus lessening or eradicating waste production.

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• Long-Term Economic Growth: Because of the specific focus on environmental conservation, another advantage of the Cradle to Cradle approach is the promotion of sustainable development that benefits the current generation without compromising the future needs of the next generation.

• Business Models and Analytical Tools: The approach can also be used in designing models for designing, deploying, and analyzing the value chain of a specific business organization, its corporate social responsibility program, or its production or manufacturing processes, among others.

• Expandable Applications: Remember that this approach is not limited only to production and industrial design. Because it is also an example of a whole systems concept, it can be integrated with other whole systems approaches used in urban planning, engineering and architecture, and social and economic systems.

Of course, despite the aforementioned, the real-world advantages are yet to be seen. The benefits listed above remain hypothetical. It is also worth mentioning that critics have highlighted the disadvantages of the Cradle to Cradle approach because of issues with practicality and feasibility.

The following are the specific issues and disadvantages:

• Constraints in Recycling: Current processes and practices in waste assortment and recycling remain inefficient because of the simplest fact that discarded products need to be disassembled or reprocessed to extract their individual components or deconstruct their material constituents.

• Issues About Costs: Similar to recycling constraints, another disadvantage of the Cradle to Cradle approach is the cost implication. Extracting specific components such as rare-earth metals is uneconomical. The inclusion of specific processes and standards within the production phase might also be cost-inefficient for manufacturers.

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• Limitations in Products: Taking into consideration the need to utilize either or both biological and technical nutrients in the introduction and production of new products might be too limiting and inflexible. There are certain products made from raw materials that do not readily fall under either of the two categories.

• Supply Chain Dependence: Another disadvantage of the approach is that it is too dependent on a seemingly infallible supply chain. Supply disruptions can disrupt the entire C2C framework of a particular manufacturer, thus resulting in production delays or a complete inability to produce a particular product.

FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES

  • Bakker, C. A., Wever, R., Teoh, Ch., and De Clercq, S. 2010. “Designing Cradle to Cradle Products: A Reality Check.” International Journal of Sustainable Engineering. 3(2): 2-8. DOI: 1080/19397030903395166
  • European Academies’ Science Advisory Council. 2015. Circular Economy: A Commentary from the Perspectives of the Natural and Social Sciences. European Academies’ Science Advisory Council. Available via PDF
  • Geissdoerfer, M., Pieroni, M. P. P., Pigosso, D. C. A., and Soufani, K. 2020. “Circular Business Models: A Review.” Journal of Cleaner Production. 277: 123741. DOI: 1016/j.jclepro.2020.123741
  • Lyle, J. T. 1996. Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development and Design for Human Ecosystems. Wiley. ISBN: 978-0-471-17843-9
  • McDonough, W. A. and Braungart, M. 2002. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press. ISBN: 0-86547-587-3

FAQs

What are the benefits of cradle to cradle? ›

The Cradle to Cradle Institute helps to design and develop products in a way that there is no waste, but just nutrients (a starting point) for something new. This is only possible if the product is completely safe, free of any toxic materials which can have the impact on the environment and on human health.

What is an example of cradle to cradle? ›

Another example of C2C design is a disposable cup, bottle, or wrapper made entirely out of biological materials. When the user is finished with the item, it can be disposed of and returned to the natural environment; the cost of disposal of waste such as landfill and recycling is greatly reduced.

What is the cradle to cradle design approach to manufacturing? ›

Cradle to cradle can be defined as the design and production of products of all types in such a way that at the end of their life, they can be truly recycled (upcycled), imitating nature's cycle with everything either recycled or returned to the earth, directly or indirectly through food, as a completely safe, nontoxic ...

What is Cradle to Cradle in LCA? ›

Life cycle assessment is a cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle analysis technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life, which is from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, and use.

What is Cradle to Cradle in business? ›

The cradle-to-cradle approach is a system that moves away from the conventional linear manufacturing process, which focuses on taking raw materials to produce products that will end up disposed, towards a circular approach by closing the loop in production and eliminating waste.

What is the difference between cradle to cradle and cradle-to-grave? ›

William McDonough: Cradle-to-cradle is the creation and qualification of a circular economy. It's a way of designing and producing that honours all future generations by designing and manufacturing for next use, instead of end of life. So rather than cradle-to-grave, which is a take, make, waste system.

What is the purpose of a cradle? ›

To cradle is to hold delicately and gently, like how you would hold an infant. A cradle is the tiny bed with rockers that the infant sleeps in.

What is the criticism of the Cradle to Cradle concept? ›

One criticism of the cradle to cradle system is that the modification of products, the introduction of different products, and the availability of a larger variety of products may be limited since these type of manufacturing systems are expected to reuse the same technological or organic elements.

When did Cradle Cradle start? ›

In 2005, MBDC originally created the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program to recognize high levels of sustainability achieved by its clients and to inspire others to optimize their products and “rethink the way they make things.” In 2010, MBDC donated to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute an ...

How is the cradle to cradle design different from the typical approach? ›

An important difference between the Cradle to Cradle design paradigm and many other approaches to achieve a sustainable world is the elaborate and well-developed certification framework. Cradle to Cradle is not only a philosophy on sustainability, but it has its own framework for certifying compliant products.

Is cradle to cradle the same as circular economy? ›

In summary, a circular economy aims to boost the effectiveness and longevity of given products that are capable of being recycled into new goods, while C2C design embraces an holistic approach to construction, envisaging that buildings that will be disassembled and reused.

What is cradle to grave approach? ›

'Cradle-to-grave' assessment considers impacts at each stage of a product's life-cycle, from the time natural resources are extracted from the ground and processed through each subsequent stage of manufacturing, transportation, product use, and ultimately, disposal.

Is C2C really sustainable? ›

An LCA comparing the C2C certified mineral paper TerraSkin with a cellulose based reference paper was conducted. From this, energy systems and recycling infrastructure was found to be decisive parameters for the sustainability of C2C products. They are therefore not always sustainable.

What are the 5 stages of LCA? ›

There are 5 Main Life Cycle Stages. Everything that is produced goes through these five main life cycle stages: materiel extraction, manufacturing. packaging and transportation, use and end of life. At each of these stages, there are inputs and outputs, flow-throughs, value losses, and potential gains.

What is Cradle Cradle philosophy? ›

C2C: a definition

Cradle to Cradle is a design philosophy summed up as 'remaking the way we make things. It's a certified product standard that integrates multiple attributes, including safe materials, continuous reclamation and reuse of materials, clean water, renewable energy and social fairness.

Do Nike have sustainable production methods? ›

Nike's commitment is not just to produce environmentally friendly footwear, but also to operate with sustainable business practices to reduce our carbon footprint and push toward a more sustainable future.

Who introduced cradle to grave? ›

Churchill, the leader of the Conservative Party, coined the phrase 'from the Cradle to the Grave' in a radio broadcast in March 1943 to describe the need for some form of social insurance to give security to every class of citizen in the state.

What is called the cradle? ›

1. a baby's bed with enclosed sides, often with a hood and rockers. 2. a place where something originates or is nurtured during its early life. the cradle of civilization.

How do you do the cradle position? ›

Cradle Position
  1. To nurse your baby while cradling or holding him across your lap, he should be lying on his side, resting on his shoulder and hip with his mouth level with your nipple. ...
  2. Use pillows to lift your baby and support your elbows to bring your baby up to nipple height, especially during the first few weeks.

What kind of a word is cradle? ›

As detailed above, 'cradle' can be a verb or a noun. Noun usage: The cradle was ill-made. Noun usage: He slammed the handset into the cradle.

Who wrote Cradle to Cradle? ›

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

What is the meaning of cradle in history? ›

2a : the earliest period of life : infancy from the cradle to the grave. b : a place of origin the cradle of civilization. 3 : a rocking device used in panning for gold. cradle.

What does cradle to gate mean? ›

Cradle-to-gate refers to the carbon impact of a product from the moment it's produced to the moment it enters the store. Some companies prefer to measure cradle-to-gate because they've designed a product that can be easily recycled or composted, avoiding the landfill altogether.

What does Cradle to Cradle mean to batteries and green chemistry? ›

Cradle to Cradle® describes the safe and potentially infinite circulation of materials and nutrients in cycles. All constituents are chemically harmless and recyclable. Waste as we know it today and which is generated according to the pre-existing take-make-waste model will no longer exist, only useful nutrients.

What is circular economy concept? ›

The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum.

What is an example of cradle to grave? ›

Definition of from (the) cradle to (the) grave

: from the beginning until the end of life He led a life of hardship from the cradle to the grave. The book describes her life from cradle to grave.

How do you use cradle to grave in a sentence? ›

for all of a person's life: She lived in the same village from the cradle to the grave.

Where does cradle to grave come from? ›

The term “cradle-to-grave” comes from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), which was established to set up a framework for the proper management of hazardous waste.

What is cradle to grave waste management? ›

Cradle to grave states that a generator is responsible for its waste from generation to ultimate disposal. Nothing will relinquish a generator of this responsibility—there's no expiration date or time limit—and hiring a someone else to transport and dispose of your waste does not transfer responsibility.

Who invented cradle to cradle? ›

Cradle to Cradle® is a set of design principles which was developed in the 1990s by Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart, William McDonough and EPEA Hamburg. It stands for innovation, quality and beneficial design.

What is cradle to grave analysis? ›

Term. 'Cradle-to-grave' assessment considers impacts at each stage of a product's life-cycle, from the time natural resources are extracted from the ground and processed through each subsequent stage of manufacturing, transportation, product use, and ultimately, disposal.

What is cradle to grave design? ›

What Is Cradle-to-Grave Design? The cradle-to-grave design (or take-make-waste) is how most products we currently use are made. That system relies on an unlimited supply of Earth's resources to make products and unlimited availability of space in landfills for the products at end-of-life.

What is cradle to grave marketing? ›

Cradle-to-Grave (C2G) marketing strategy involves the advertising of one's products or services to customers throughout their lifespan. The aim is to create befitting products, establish two-way communications, and practice appropriate promotions to maximize sales to customers at each phase of life.

What does cradle to grave mean in business? ›

DEFINITION: From creation to disposal; throughout the life cycle. The term is used in a number of business contexts, but most typically in company's responsibility for dealing with hazardous waste and product performance.

What are the 4 types of hazardous waste? ›

Class 1: Explosives. Class 2: Gases. Class 3: Flammable Liquids. Class 4: Flammable Solids or Substances.

What is the purpose of a cradle? ›

To cradle is to hold delicately and gently, like how you would hold an infant. A cradle is the tiny bed with rockers that the infant sleeps in.

What is the criticism of the Cradle to Cradle concept? ›

One criticism of the cradle to cradle system is that the modification of products, the introduction of different products, and the availability of a larger variety of products may be limited since these type of manufacturing systems are expected to reuse the same technological or organic elements.

When did Cradle Cradle start? ›

In 2005, MBDC originally created the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program to recognize high levels of sustainability achieved by its clients and to inspire others to optimize their products and “rethink the way they make things.” In 2010, MBDC donated to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute an ...

What is an example of cradle to grave? ›

Definition of from (the) cradle to (the) grave

: from the beginning until the end of life He led a life of hardship from the cradle to the grave. The book describes her life from cradle to grave.

Why do we need to consider the cradle to grave process of a material? ›

A cradle-to-grave analysis is a technique used to appraise the environmental impact associated with all stages of a product's life (from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling).

What is another way to say cradle to grave? ›

Also British, womb-to-tomb.

Is C2C really sustainable? ›

An LCA comparing the C2C certified mineral paper TerraSkin with a cellulose based reference paper was conducted. From this, energy systems and recycling infrastructure was found to be decisive parameters for the sustainability of C2C products. They are therefore not always sustainable.

What are the core principles underlying the cradle to cradle design approach? ›

Cradle to cradle in architecture, however, has the goal of utilizing the environment instead of only reducing damaging effects. The concept is based on three principles: the understanding of waste as food, the use of renewable energies and the support of diversity.

How is the cradle to cradle design different from the typical approach? ›

An important difference between the Cradle to Cradle design paradigm and many other approaches to achieve a sustainable world is the elaborate and well-developed certification framework. Cradle to Cradle is not only a philosophy on sustainability, but it has its own framework for certifying compliant products.

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