Cradle to Cradle: Definition, Summary & Design

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  • 0:04 Defining Cradle to Cradle
  • 0:52 Summary of Cradle to Cradle
  • 1:42 Design of Cradle to Cradle
  • 2:33 Cradle to Cradle Advantages
  • 3:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Winston

Kimberly has a MBA in Logistics & Supply Chain Management

In this lesson you will learn how firms are developing waste-free products and services, through the use of a cradle to cradle design. Following your understanding of this, you can test your knowledge with a quiz.

Defining Cradle to Cradle

Do you recycle? Are you able to eliminate all waste in your home? It's difficult, but it can be done. It might seem less likely that a large corporation or organization can operate on a waste-combating model like this, but believe it or not, it too can be done in the form a cradle to cradle strategy.

Cradle to cradle is a sustainable business strategy that mimics the regenerative cycle of nature in which waste is reused. In nature, when a tree or animal dies or creates waste, that waste breaks down and becomes nutrients for another process. This is the goal of the cradle to cradle approach: creating a cyclical process instead of a linear one like the cradle to grave approach. The main objective of the cradle to grave approach is to decrease waste. The cradle to cradle approach goes a step further and attempts to eliminate waste altogether.

Summary of Cradle to Cradle

The cradle to cradle concept is not a new concept. Walter R. Stahel has been credited with using the term 'cradle to cradle' as early as the 1980s. He also mentioned a similar process in his 1976 research paper The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy. Faced with an increasing number of their copiers ending up in the landfills, Xerox, in the late 1990s, initiated a zero-to-landfill program, in which all parts of their copiers could be reused.

However, William McDonough, a sustainable architect, and Michael Braungart, a chemist, were instrumental in the design and development of the current concept of cradle to cradle in 2002. McDonough and Braungart co-authored a book entitled Cradle to Cradle and started a firm, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), dedicated to the concept, and have become leading experts on the subject.

Design of Cradle to Cradle

How a product is designed indicates what impact it will have on the environment. Imagine that each product or system designed using a cradle to cradle design is its own ecosystem. Waste is created, but just as in nature, it's used to feed a new process. Using nature as a model, products and systems are designed to reabsorb obsolete materials back into the system and then reuse them. This is called a closed loop system, because waste isn't discarded. According to McDonough and Braungart, in a cradle to cradle process, waste products are basically nutrients for another process. Two types of nutrients are:

  • Biological
  • Technical

A biological nutrient is any waste that can be reabsorbed into nature like food, material, or other biodegradable products. A technical nutrient is defined as materials that can be utilized over and over again in multiple processes.

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