Designing from nature could solve the world's biggest challenges
Can a boat be designed to clean the water? How does a spider manufacture resilient fiber? The world needs products that don’t harm humans or the environment, and nature’s already done the research.
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This went far beyond “reduce, reuse, recycle.” McDonough and Braungart wrote about the regenerative powers that exist in nature, positing that humans could have a restorative impact on the environment. Consider, for example, death: Since we emit carbon even when our lives are over, Braungart suggests we focus on making our ecological footprint beneficial, rather than merely trying to shrink it. At heart, this approach underscores the limits of standard environmental thinking aimed at making products “less bad.” Too reductive, says Braungart, who scoffs: “Think about falling in love efficiently.”Skip to next paragraph
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As the concept of Cradle to Cradle spread, McDonough and Braungart began developing certification protocols, and calls grew for a universal certification process. California’s Green Chemistry Initiative, signed in 2008 by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, provided the impetus to take their work to the next level: In 2010, the team, with support from Schwarzenegger, launched the independent Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, making their certification system and methodology more widely available.
Similar to Biomimicry 3.8, the newly launched Cradle 3.0 challenges companies not only to redesign their products, but to incorporate social justice and renewable energy in the manufacturing process. McDonough acknowledges some of the immense barriers, particularly around secrecy agreements and proprietary information, allowing that it’s taken years to build trust.
But Bridgett Luther, former head of the California Department of Conservation, who now directs the Institute, is optimistic.
“You start incrementally redesigning, reducing carbon footprint, slowly moving to more renewables as they become more affordable.” she says. “What I love about Cradle to Cradle Certified is that we work with companies as a team, and over time you get better."
Just in time for Greenbuild 2012, San Francisco’s November expo on sustainable building, the Institute rolled out a training module for a new generation of scientists, guiding companies toward basic, silver, gold, or platinum certification of their products.
But for Luther, certification is merely a vehicle for more profound societal transformation.
“The whole design exercise is very empowering, because when companies go through this process they get really excited, and their products get amazing,” she says. “Cradle to Cradle people are happy, because they can see that the product they’re making is going to make the world a better place, and it leaks down into the whole company. Yes, we’re going to have to make do with less stuff because we’re not going to have enough minerals to go around, but we can invent stuff that’s so powerful that every time you use it there’s a bonus. I think there’s some real power in the vision.”
Having grown out of different strands of scientific inquiry, Cradle 3.0 and Biomimicry 3.8 share a fundamental commitment to the process of reconnecting with the natural world. But rather than providing a rigid set of prescriptions, Benyus and Luther view their disciplines as living, breathing organisms that are constantly breaking new ground, like nature itself.
“Biomimicry isn’t an answer; it’s a way to find answers,” says Benyus.