I recommend this book to every designer. Here are some of my initial thoughts about it.
Published in 2002, I wonder if every designer hasn’t already read it, I’m surprised it took me so long to pick it up it and I wonder if might be the last designer to have read it? The slowest runner in the race.
“Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William Mcdonough and Michael Braugart is probably one of the most important pieces of contemporary design writing.
The book is a clear overview to the industrial process, it’s implications to the natural environment and an encouraging voice promoting the transition to more sustainable design thinking and practice.
“Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things” reads like a loud wailing siren, with the urgency of a call to arms against industrial pollution.
It begins as an alarming expose of the industrial system, revealing many of the inconspicuous flaws and dangers that we fail to notice even with regards to the recycling process, that it calls down-cycling.
There are a few interesting references to footwear specifically as a “Monstrous Hybrid” that can neither be recycled, nor left to biodegrade. This includes chrome tanned leather footwear that contains chemicals which can contaminate the environment.
As a designer it makes you feel like you’ve spent a career as an accessory to environmental contamination. Because every synthetic that you’ve sourced is now contaminating nature and essentially poisoning it. Bill as he is referred to in the book calls it “Ecocide”. As designers shouldn’t we instead be leaving a positive design legacy?
Once the book has your attention it changes tone introducing some positive and encouraging perspectives of many environmental solutions, most of which use nature as a model. This makes sense; if you want to have a minimal environmental impact, then mimic natural processes.
Suggesting a design approach that places equal value of margins, design and environmental compatibility. With design goals that enrich not only Company and Consumer, but also Nature. Essentially to find a sustainable equilibrium between the 3 key sustaining elements of human life on earth; Wealth, Health and the Environments.
The book mentions some of Nike’s ecological initiatives such as developing leather that is tanned without toxic chemicals and bio rubber compounds that both can be composted and provide soil with rich nutrients.
There are many perspectives and theories in the book that many readers will have considered at some point, but Mcdonough and Braugart have skillfully been able to articulate them and join the dots to paint a clear and detailed picture of modern product landscape, its environmental challenges and opportunities.
In a time with so many environmental design challenges, the book is especially reassuring and motivational. Because it suggests that as a designer you are not alone. There is a whole community of innovators committed to the massive challenge of environmental design reform, and many who have been successful.
While the book isn’t a magical answer to every environmental design hurdle, it is a huge encouragement and that in itself is a very important achievement.
To quote the closing paragraph :-
“Imagine what a world of prosperity and health in the future will look like, and begin designing for it right now. What would it mean to become, once again, native to this place, the Earth – the home of all our relations? This is going to take us all, and it is going to take forever. But then, that’s the point.” – William Mcdonough and Michale Braugart
Never stop learning, never stop improving, never stop growing.
Keep evolving your design perspective, maybe by pulling yourself out of the urban equation to experience a more of the natural environment. Strengthen your relationship with nature so you can be more in tune with it, learn to respect it and design with it in mind.
P.S. A message to William Mcdonough and Michale Braugart: will you be writing “Cradle to Cradle – Revisited”?