Cradle to Cradle deals with something I think about constantly: waste. McDonough and Braungart do a nice job of laying out what it means to live in a consumerist, unsustainable society, while categorizing the solutions of a cradle-to-cradle system. In this new system, they explore how the consumption and the re-use of materials positively affects the inherent qualities of those materials. In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Jared Diamond’s Collapse, as it references how we’re on the verge of complete destruction of our resources and natural spaces – because we create products that adhere to a “product lifecycle”. Once we are finished with a product or material, it goes into the planet’s largest graveyard of non-decomposing things – the landfill.
Personally, the idea of getting new products C2C certified is certainly appealing, but I’d be curious to know whether Braungart and McDonough are being seriously considered in the worlds of product design, fabrication, and waste management. In a 2008 Vanity Fair article, Phillip Bernstein explained,
When it comes to new ways of shifting our sustainability paradigms, Bill is the granddaddy of this way of thinking. He’s the visionary inventor, there before anyone. And now he’s actually building the factories that make clean water, working on the concept cars that make clean air, doing the big thinking that is moving things forward.
Realistically though, are these ideas changing the way we produce and consume? How many consumers are aware of the amount of destruction that our system requires. Yet, if the industrial revolution had produced a cradle to cradle solution, would we have the same technologies we’ve become accustomed to? If labor and materials have a higher cost, Moore’s law may have never been realized. When you compare McDonough and Braungart to Jared Diamond, they represent two sides of the same environmental coin. While McDonough and Braungart are optimists – believing that we can transform production so that products can be up-cycled instead of down-cycled or simply thrown into the landfill – Diamond believes that we’re already past the point of return, and that the destruction we’ve already caused is irreparable. The main thing that Cradle to Cradle lacks is more concrete examples of success. Ten years after the book was published, are McDonough and Braungart satisfied with the buzz and progress that the book created? I loved the book’s theories, I’m just not sure they know exactly where to go from there.