Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cradle to Cradle Overview

Please comment this week on your overall comments, impressions, positive and negative, regarding the Cradle to Cradle readings.

250-500 words

Also, please publish them under this posting and not as individual posts.



  1. When I first signed up for this class I was nervous that the material and texts would be extremely difficult to digest because I am not an environmental studies major. Keeping this in mind, I found cradle to cradle an easy read that didn’t omit my chances to learn about environmental design and its recent discussions. For instance, the way the authors, McDonough and Braungart, utilized real-world examples (that I have actually experienced or currently live with) helped me in understanding the key concepts in environmental studies they were discussing. Also, I found the book interesting in the way the book discussed corporations. It was nice to finally hear how some corporations have tried to stop doing harm and actually have helped the environment. Overall, I found the book a very interested and good read. I don’t believe the book is written in an apocalyptic way nor do I believe this book is in any way satirical. I honestly feel that these two authors are trying to express their knowledge in a very straightforward, to-the-point manner. They aren’t trying to glamorize the information, or present propaganda to force their readers in believing them. I truly believe the authors wrote this information because they thoroughly believe in what they are saying. Being a student that has never studied environmental studies, this book really allowed me to understand the material that we discussed in class on a more personal note.

  2. I also am a student who is new to formally looking at issues in environmental design. What I knew before this class was limited to casual reading and information picked up in conversation from friends more informed than myself. I find Cradle to Cradle to be a helpful resource- I can understand why it's a classic, and I think that it comes as an interesting counter to Massive Change.

    This being said, I can understand the complaint that it is 'apocalyptic'- I see this most in the 'Waste = Food' chapter. The authors outline in the first section of the chapter the trajectory that Western Civilization took as it became industrialized. This movement is described as one of complete harmony and balance toward irresponsibility and destruction. The fact that the authors cite William Cronon's 'Nature's Metropolis' is very telling of their attitude (Nature's Metropolis is a pretty evil representation of the meatpacking industry if anyone gets a chance to read it). However, this history and the consequences that we are still dealing with are ones that need to be confronted. Once we deal with the unpleasant aspects of our current designs, we can maybe return to a society where waste equals food. In relation to Massive Change, I find Cradle to Cradle to be more a more critical look at the past and a more carefully planned look at what is right for the future. This comes across as less exciting and optimistic than other takes on sustainability, but by no means would I say that the book is dismal.

  3. “Be less bad” is very admirable. And I completely agree with many of the ideals and thoughts that are represented in Cradle to Cradle. I understand both where negative criticism and positive praise comes from when reading this book. The book, in my own interpretation, can be very apocalyptic. But, I also believe that the book does something that many other environmental activists don’t do, offer a solution (I know I’m being very general). The fact that the authors clearly represent their ideals is very important to me; whether correct or incorrect, they offer a solution that is attainable. They advocate smart design and go on to state that poor design is the product of our perpetual society of waste. One thought stands out to me in particular: waste is a product of bad design. I couldn’t agree more. Most of what we consume as human beings are goods that can be used for their entire useful intended life. The rest is excessive packaging, overconsumption, poor planning, or excessive indulgence. I think from a design perspective this book does a tremendous job at explaining the problem and advocating change with an environmental lean.
    I would however offer some criticism. I think the ideas and fundamentals expressed in Cradle to Cradle are imperative for a sustainable environment, but I also think that recycling and other steps can be a great gateway into true understanding of the issue. I think awareness is most important surrounding the issues of sustainability. The fact that our own peers will misplace a piece of trash in a recycling bin, or place a blatantly recyclable plastic bottle in a trash can illustrates that we as a society aren’t fully educated, or simply don’t care. The ideas in Cradle to Cradle are those that exist in the most ideal world. Realistically, not everyone understands the importance of sustainability or upcycling and from this we must educate before we uproot the little knowledge that does exist. Personally, I think recycling is one of the most important initiatives we have, especially in the Chicago area. Proper education is certainly important, but I feel as though positive environmental sentiment from the broader public is almost as important as doing the most environmentally sound thing.

  4. Overall, I was impressed by McDonough and Braungart’s examination of design in American culture. However, there were many criticisms that the book was apocalyptic and I would definitely sympathize with that view as well. There were points in my reading where I put the book down and thought to myself: “What’s the point, then?” It is for this reason that I am critical of the execution of the author’s argument. I do not think that feelings of discouragement because of our dire environmental situation will initiate productivity. However, I do believe that the authors effectively offered routes for improvement towards the chapter at the end of the book, Putting Eco-Effectiveness Into Practice. The information that was included in the final chapter would have been more successful if included throughout the book instead of concentrated at the end.

    If we were to imitate the author’s approach in Cradle to Cradle to plan the lifecycle of a social movement it would play out along the lines of this: it would be born of a negative nature, inspired by catastrophic thinking and finally find success in the end when individuals discover what steps are actually necessary to create change. Realistically, the steps towards change are usually and should be, taken throughout the movement, discovering what works towards the ultimate goal and what can be discarded of because it lacks productive contribution.

    Cradle to Cradle did include a large amount of useful information and critically assessed the sustainable solutions that our culture is using currently. The authors refused to simply promote recycling because it is seen as an environmental good without looking at the process from all different angles. This reinforces the theme throughout the book that it’s not good enough to just be “less bad”. We need to restructure our thinking, designing and policies to intentionally plan for sustainable living and products, without attempting to implement makeshift solutions post-production.

  5. My overall impressions on cradle to cradle have been very positive. When I first read this book, I was skeptical after reading the first few pages. I thought that the book was exactly what it was being accused of in class, pessimistic or apocalyptic. I was sort of pissed off when the book said the chair I’m sitting on has hazardous materials that I’m inhaling up my nose, especially since I’m sitting on a wooden chair. Do they want to make me uncomfortable, scared or angry with the manufacturer or government?
    The following chapters changed my view on the book; the books outlook began to change from pessimistic to optimistic. I especially like the positivity toward the Ford Motor Companies River Rouge factory in Michigan. I agree with the authors even if River Rouge doesn’t turn out successful that the fact that instead of moving the factory down the road, they stayed where they were and dealt with the problems they created was forward thinking.
    I also found the chapter ‘being less bad is no good’ especially refreshing. I’m not an environmental science major, so I really didn’t know a lot about environmental thinking prior to this class. The one idea that I was constantly beat over the head was stop driving so much, stop consuming so much, stop doing so much. So that’s what I did. I rode my bike around and I recycled as much as I could. I felt like I was helping, and I felt that if everyone, every company, every country reduced their consumption. The world would be a better place. This chapter offers a new perspective, one that says that this is wrong. One of our speakers even spoke about how we constantly need to challenge the ideas that we have in place, and I think this is a perfect example. Even if reducing will help, there are better ways to do things.

  6. Posted by Ilana
    I’m quite surprised to hear that some people feel as though Cradle to Cradle is apocalyptic and cynical because, frankly, I don’t think they go far enough. I think Cradle to Cradle is incredibly pragmatic: our resources are dwindling and we can’t continue on the path that we’re going down if we want to survive as a species. McDonough and Braungart offer practical solutions to environmental problems we are facing by utilizing science and design. Their solutions don’t necessarily work outside of the current paradigm (although they advocate for a paradigm shift), however they are theoretically pragmatic. As far as I can see Cradle to Cradle is the perfect balance between environmental science and design. I can’t see how there could be a book better suited for this class.
    When I saw the book list for this course I assumed that the course was designed in response to the concepts proposed in Cradle to Cradle and Massive Change. When I saw the exhibit “Massive Change: The Future of Global Design” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago back in 2006, I felt extremely inspired by what I saw and it left a lasting impression. So much so that three years later I was motivated to take an environmental design class despite the fact that I had never taken a class on environmental science or design. This class and these books have allowed me to explore questions and issues raised three years ago as well as igniting interest in subjects that I will be exploring for the rest of my life. In this sense, Cradle to Cradle was an indispensible tool for this course.
    By using Cradle to Cradle we not only received important information and ideas; the book itself is evidence of innovative eco-design. When discussing issues of sustainability, the most common question seems to be “what can I do?” The book offers a good balance of concrete initiatives as well as theoretical propositions. My one critique is one I’ve already mentioned: Cradle to Cradle does not work outside the current paradigm despite outwardly calling for a paradigm shift. While I agree with efforts to design “nutrivehicles”, I would rather see an initiative to reduce our dependency on vehicles all together. In my opinion, a true paradigm shift would be one that viewed cars, and the society that depends on them, as outdated and unsustainable. Walking has never and will never be harmful to the environment. Sometimes the easiest solutions really are the best. That being said, Cradle to Cradle is accessible and quite encouraging and I think it should be used for future classes.

  7. Green give and take is the name of our blog and as an Env. Studies major I realize that humans have to compromise with each other, the environment and our selves. With that said, I hated this book. I didn’t mind the material inside but the matte finish, being able to see the words through the page; it was like staring at a crappy black and white 3D poster. Ok now that I’m done with why I hated picking up the book to read the assignments I’ll move on to the content.
    Did I love the content? No but it made sense. Was it apocalyptic? Maybe a little, but I think it was more direct and to the point than apocalyptic. The authors realize that to be able to fix something you have to know what’s wrong with it, and know what has and hasn’t worked in the past. This book points out and describes current and past problems. The writers point out that we are still using the same mind frame that the pioneers used to develop this land, destroy the wilderness to make it easier for us to live. Technology has evolved but our mind frame has not. It is these major points that the book describes that make it a useful tool for education. It also points out small things that humans can do to help the environment and small thing that we do to hurt the environment. The little things are ingenious, ship powder soap, not liquid; why ship water. This book gets down and dirty and asks almost common sense questions. Why is soap shipped in liquid form, because it sells better in liquid form? It is a design and consumption problem, thing are designed to be consumed.

  8. I have to stick by my earlier critique of Cradle to Cradle, in that while I certainly do feel that the authors have all of the right ideas, they may not be presenting them in the best way to reach a mass audience. I guess that I personally find thier tactics unnerving because it has been proven time and time again that by pointing to only the most extreme actions as the only option, people get turned off and feel overwhelmed. McDonough and Braungart are obviously spot on with their critiques of the environmental movement thus far, but telling people that being less bad is no good is not the best way to gain attention.

    This is not to say that I am not all for a societal overhaul into a no-waste situation, but for a capitalist country like the United States it is always easier said than done. There have to be pioneers for every movement to show that these things are possible and perhaps McDonough and Braungart are two such people. However, in assuming that because you know the best way and you have the resources to commit to it that everyone else can immediately follow suit is very unrealistic. In my opinion it could be said that the fact that some of the most formerly unsustainable corporations are adopting new pollution or recycling policies is a step in the right direction. Even when people know the facts they sometimes like to slowly ease in to new ways of doing things in fear of ruining a good thing (in this case, an economic good thing). We have to start somewhere, and the way I see it, something is always better than nothing, which I guess is my main issue with their delivery.

  9. Rachel Markel
    Cradle to Cradle Blog

    I am very new to this entire topic, so I found the book informative and it gave me new ideas the more I read. I thought the book was informative and offered new ideas for a more sustainable world.
    I liked the part about the different soaps. How to make soap more available for the different types of water it would be going into. I liked the idea of making them into capsules, to avoid wasting water. Or the idea about making washing machines into a new design that recycles the detergent from the previous load. I knew that there was a lot of water in the detergent, so the idea of waterless detergent was a good idea to avoid all the wasted resources, but I did not know that the washing machines only used a small portion of the detergent during the washing cycle.
    I feel like reading the book gave me a lot of insight into things that I had not known before. I am not more aware of everyday things that could be hazardous to a person’s health. I am so unaware of a lot of this topic, but even in the first chapter of the book, they described several things in a common household that produced harmful things to the body and the environment.
    I have no complaints of the book, maybe it is because I am so unaware of what I am looking for, but reading it makes me want to learn more about this whole thing.

  10. Rebecca Zak - I am also a student coming from little background in environmental studies. I have taken a couple classes at DePaul on the subject, but nothing to significant. Coming into this class all I really had was an interest in environmental conservation and also design. After reading most of Cradle to Cradle, I feel very positive about the book. I think the book was not a hard book to understand, and though a little extreme at times, is a very informative and great book. I love the connections the authors made such as the ant farm working with the earth for food and housing, and the cherry tree dropping its fruit to fertilize the soil. Both growing, but in their growth, helping the growth of the world. We, as humans, are the complete opposite. “But although they may run the world, they do not overrun the it. Like the cherry tree, they make the world a better place.” –mcdonough &braungart
    Everything that the authors talk about in chapter one under a culture of monoculture, I can see happening. Where I come from outside Chicago there used to be a lot of forestlands, and since I have lived there, numerous fast food restaurants, stores, and housing developments have taken their place. When I was young, my brother and I used to go by our house to what we called the “cowpath,” that is now Indian Hills another subdivision of model homes. I think that if we all did buy more locally such as McDonough and Braungart discuss, it would not only help out ourselves economically, but it would also make each place individual again. And instead of chopping down the trees that have been there for 50+ years because “we can” and replace them with 5 year old ones, we should work around the old natural trees.

  11. Rebecca Zak 2 - I also really enjoyed the discussion by the authors about separating biological materials from manmade materials. It’s very interesting to me that we don’t do something like this already, if a tv is thrown away and just sits… yet we have the resources to reuse at least most of the materials, why aren’t we? The authors bring up many subjects in this book that I feel make great points, this is one of them. They also relate this to shopping local. If we were to shop and manufacture goods more locally than we would not be getting the product plusses that we read about. That is almost disturbing to me to read about how gym shoes are spitting toxins into the environment every time you step. This is where I find my first problem with the book.
    One other subject I found especially interesting was in the Respect Diversity chapter of Cradle to Cradle. It was just briefly mentioned towards the beginning of the chapter, we have the resource that will not run out any time in the next thousands to millions of years yet we rarely use it. That resource is the sun. The sun is going nowhere. We have all this solar energy just sitting there waiting for us to use it instead of fighting over oil that is running out elsewhere. It’s the topics like these in the book that I believe are great points to bring up and they aren’t too far fetched like some of the other ideas. These are things that design should concentrate on to ensure that the we attempt to work with our environment like the ants or cherry tree. Or at least we start to head in the right direction.
    Although I really like this book and believe it had great points and again is very informative and easy to digest for a beginner, I also feel it was way extreme. I agree yes we should all consume less, and be more environmentally friendly, but I don’t believe it can all happen in one swoop like McDonough and Braungart talk about. They discuss redesigning the world so that waste equals food, or some other resource. I do believe we can make many steps in the right direction, and should for that matter, but things can’t just CHANGE like they would like. It will be a process, and that process will become less bad before it can ever become good, but we should always aim to make it more good.

  12. From the very beginning, I liked Cradle to Cradle. I think it’s an extremely interesting book, and I’m intrigued by its construction. Honestly, I really liked to touch the pages when I was reading it. Is that too weird? What I really liked about Cradle to Cradle was that it was easy to read, talked about interesting ideas, and, most importantly, it wasn’t preachy. Also, I was very impressed that it didn’t just state problem after problem, but actual solutions that have been or could easily be enacted to fix the problems.

    One solution has stuck with me for some time. I have told many other people about the idea and I really think it could work. Electronics are made with planned obsolescence; they are made to break. Then we dispose of them however, and they usually don’t get recycled properly. The heavy metals in the electronics are sometimes thrown into landfills where they contaminate the ground and water. McDonough and Braungart proposed a smart idea for this problem. Instead of buying the latest TV or iPod, we would “rent” it. After two years or so, the company would take the old product, which could then be recycled and parts of it could be reused, and give the consumer a new electronic. It would be cost effective for the producer of the product because they would save money by reusing materials from the old product. And, at the same time, the consumer would have a nice, shiny new toy to enjoy. This practice would force companies to make products that could be easily recycled so they would save money and time. I think this idea is so great, and they mentioned other uses for this novel idea (such as cars, carpet, and washing machines).

    We live in a capitalist society. There’s no changing that, and I don’t feel that it needs to be changed. Adapting our production of goods so that all three parties benefit (the producer, the consumer, and the environment) is not only smart, it’s necessary. This book was very fitting for an environmental design class. The content was in no way a stretch to accommodate the content of the course. I found it thought provoking, interesting, and well written.

  13. I think that Cradle to Cradle was a very eye-opening book for this class. Before I started reading Cradle to Cradle I had never really thought about the concept of "cradle to cradle" and it opened up a lot of connections in my mind. Yet waste equals food is the most basic concept of planet Earth. Plants use CO2 and release O2 which animals and humans use and then in turn further the waste equals food cycle.
    This book made me think about how we are so far from that natural cycle but gives ideas that in our current society are feasible ways about changing, about merging technology with that cycle. Overall I would this was a really helpful book in this, especially for people whom are not versed in the environmental studies literature which some people in the class are, including myself.
    I don't see the book as too apocalyptic but I think it could be viewed as too specific in their ideas. I think it was really interesting that the book was made to be "up-cycled" and actually holding this concept in my hand hard a large impact of the book for me. It is different to actually read about and idea and hold it in your hand. I enjoyed the book.

  14. Personally I have really enjoyed Cradle to Cradle. I think it is extremely informative, full of great ideas, easy to ready, and innovative. I noticed that many people stated that as a non-environmental science major they felt as if they learned a lot because they did not know much concerning the current ecological crisis, however, as an environmental student, I too have felt that I have learned so much and such a variety of new things from this single book. I was very impressed that they not only provided a thorough history and the current status of the multiple environmental issues, but that they also offered solutions. And thoughtful, detailed solutions... nothing too absurd or vague. They seemed challenge nearly every single current idea, system, and/or solution regarding the major ecological issues, which I think is extremely important for actual progress to be made. I also really appreciated the final chapter, Putting Eco-Effectiveness Into Practice because it makes it possible for the reader to actually be proactive themselves, instead of leaving the reader feeling helpless. However, I do agree with Meredith that it would have been more effective to have that information provided throughout the book rather than solely concentrated at the end.

    Yet as much as I loved Cradle to Cradle, I did have a couple of problems with it. First, I felt that it was a little apocalyptic. I mean, I really appreciate their direct, blunt, and to-the-point attitude, but at times it was overwhelming. I truly believe I am an optimist when regarding our current ecological crisis in the fact that I do think we can repair what we have damaged, etc. but even I at times just felt completely discouraged while reading this book. Some of the routes to actual improvement just seem so daunting. So I can only imagine what others may have felt or would feel while reading this book at times. These authors are intelligent and have some truly brilliant, innovative ideas, but in order for these ideas to be successfully executed, we need collective cooperation and motivation, and I feel as if this book would have a hard time reaching a mass audience. Additonally, although I do (mostly) agree with the idea that “being less bad is not good enough”, I again feel it is not the way to appeal to the public. Because being “less bad” is better than nothing. The tiny steps that individuals can make in their daily life is just as important, not only to improve the actual environmental crisis, but to also change that particular individual’s mentality, which will lead to larger changes with greater effects.

  15. it's important for anti-establishment art/eco types to see the mainstream business and engineering perspective on environmental design. A book like Cradle-to-Cradle is a good read because it expresses confidence in the ability of a capital-based business model to accommodate environmental issues. While I don’t agree that this is true, I value the exposure to alternative points of view. That said, I was bored by the condescending imperatives given by the book. As a moderately well-read environmentalist, I was NOT impressed by the book. What could I possibly take away from this text that would be of use to me in planning a project, or finding a job? This is a decent intro read, but there are better, newer texts out there that say basically the same things.

  16. (Kate Marolt)

    I found Cradle to Cradle to be a very interesting read overall, and I am happy that it was assigned as a text for our class. Even though I am a bit concerned with the fact that it is rather an old book (7 years old), I think that as an introduction to the concepts of designing with sustainability in mind it has done a good job of informing. Though I do believe it has some flaws and a few gaps between what we have now and how their ideas would be implemented, I feel that not only do the authors have some great ideas, but they gave me a good framework for really thinking about design in terms of industrialization and how we can counter the effects of what the past 200 years have done to this world. I like that they have made me think about design beyond the conventional, such as the idea of buildings as living systems, working in congruence with nature rather than conquering it. I have always had issues with gray walls and cubicles (ask my mom; I hated take your daughter to work day because I thought everyone was sad in their boxes. Yes, that was me, age 7), but I guess I never really thought about what it would be like to work somewhere radically different than that while still being in an office/professional/corporate environment. I still don't really feel as if a lot of what they are suggesting has happened yet, and I think that this is what bothers me most about Cradle to Cradle. The book is old, the ideas are great, but where is the implementation? I realize that it probably takes longer than 7 years for change to occur everywhere, but I would have liked to see more of a discussion concerning the obstacles facing those who are trying to re-design the world, both technologically and industrially. Because now that we are aware of all of the possibilities, we need to know what is in our way while taking the steps toward realization. I would be interested to hear what the authors have to say about the impact of this book now, and what they had hoped to give from it. As far as readings for the class go, I wonder if more discussion and more current articles/texts would be a nice addition to this book, though I can honestly say I don't know what those would be.

  17. Before reading "Cradle to Cradle" I had already started to think about issues and repercussions with the explosion of green/Eco-friendly products. I thought it seemed like everyone was missing the point of what it meant to become green when people could all of a sudden start buying shoes made out of car tires and consider themselves Eco-friendly.

    Once I started to read "Cradle to Cradle" it was refreshing to know concretely that other people were aware that even so-called eco-friendly production leads to excess waste. I agree with Liz in the fact that the book is interesting to as an object that in recyclable, and it is a good way to introduce the concepts of up-cycling, however, I thought that there are too few examples from real life to draw from in the book. I would have liked to see more examples of innovative design that are happening now, which could be lacking because the book was made when green-issues were just beginning to emerge in popular culture.

    I guess I also felt that this book focuses a lot on the big picture, such as large-scale production, which is good for consumers to be aware of. However, I think this book would be more approachable and less "apocalyptic" if some more focus was on what regular people can do everyday to become more environmentally conscious.

  18. Cradle to Cradle is full of really interesting facts and fascinating statistics. Before this class I did not really know anything about environmental issues and the effects that every day processes like printing had on our environment. Cradle to Cradle give an overview of everything that is damaging our world and how it is doing so. However reading through the book I started getting a sense of impending doom. I felt like every new chapter was another list of things that killing our planet and hurting our generation and generations to come. It feels almost like a scare tactic to try and get people to take environmental issues seriously. This is not necessarily a bad thing but my issue with the book is that it does not really give a clear plan to make the world better and fix the damage we have caused it more or less just outlines a philosophy to try and think differently. It gives me a list of problems and then no real plan on ways that I can help besides “thinking differently.” Which I felt wasn’t enough to give me hope. I do feel like I am at least somewhat up to date about environmental issues through reading the books and being aware of the problems is an important first step toward change.
    ~elliot pence