Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Products for the Circular Economy
Cradle to Cradle is a framework driving the continuous improvement of products by means of good design principles.
The framework provides the principles to design eco-effective solutions on the basis of safer materials that can be perpetually cycle back to the technical or biological ecosystems. The technical ecosystem uses inorganic or synthetic man-made nutrients that can be used multiple times without loss of quality. The biological ecosystem uses materials that can decompose into the natural environment without damage to it.
Biological and Technological Ecosystems
In order to enable the circularity of materials to either ecosystem, the Cradle to Cradle principles encompass the following good design practices:
- Selection of safer materials for people and the environment
- Continuous reutilization of biological and technological nutrients
- Use of renewable energy and carbon management during production
- Improvement of product/process chemistry to achieve better discharge water quality
- Engaging with the supply chain to promote good working condition and fairness from the start
The principles drive change across the whole product life cycle because they encourage designers to rethink the way they design and make products aiming at “more good” instead of just “less bad”. The idea of “more good” prevents damage by means of designing products that are safer and can re-enter the technological or biological ecosystems instead of just mitigating impacts. Progress towards achievement of “more good” implies continuous improvement of the life cycle of products, which can be done following the Cradle to Cradle methodology:
Gathering the inventory of materials implies characterizing the chemical composition of materials that make up the product. The purpose is to identify harmful materials that when in contact with people and the environment can cause health issues and environmental damage. The first step to identify harmful materials is screening the product’s bill of materials to find any banned chemicals. Banned chemicals are those which are scientifically known to cause harm to human health and the natural environment. Next, the materials are assessed based on how they are utilized within the product and the potential exposure pathways during manufacture, use and end of life, to determine the potential level of harm.
Assessing the inventory of materials identifies the risk to human health and the environment due to the exposure to a chemical. Each material is assessed and ranked on a low to high risk scale based on hazard end point criteria. Ideally, all the materials can be characterized, the materials shall not contain carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive disruptor chemicals, and materials in the product can be cycled back to biological or technological ecosystems.
However, as products have been designed under the mindset of produce, consume and discard, they may contain chemicals of concern or concentrations above permissible levels and have no strategy for reutilization. It is also likely that they are not produced with cleaner energy sources and discharge contaminants to water, or even have a negative effect on people in the supply chain. Therefore, optimization will help designers to implement strategies that improve these areas of concern. The Cradle to Cradle principles can be integrated in the design and development process as practices that provide clear guidelines to set the positive goals for continuous improvement of products and production. Starting with the end in mind, considering the biological or technological fate, and taking precautionary approaches that prevent negative impacts can re-shape designs for the circular economy. Design is the key to keeping materials at their highest utility and value, to ensuring regeneration of the productive cycles.
The growing pressure on producers to tackle environmental issues and adopt circular economy practices require time and experience. Implementing the Cradle to Cradle framework requires changes in mindset and traditional business practices. Aided by experts on Cradle to Cradle methodology and following the Cradle to Cradle™ Products Program, producers of different industries have utilized these principles in the production of a wide diversity of product categories. The built environment, beauty and personal care, furniture, toys and juvenile products are already adopting Cradle to Cradle™ Products Program, to name a few. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute recognizes the efforts towards the circular economy by means of certifying products based on the level of alignment with the Cradle to Cradle standard requirements. Certifying a product (or a group of products if they have a similar composition and perform the same function) demonstrates the leadership of a company and positions the product above those of competitors. Cradle to Cradle Certified products are recognized and highly rewarded within various environmental schemes. Examples include Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) that assigns points to building products that are Cradle to Cradle certified, helping the overall rating of a building for LEED certification. Google Portico rewards Cradle to Cradle certified products with the highest potential score because they are risk assessed, helping designers make informed design choices for Google’s facilities. Target includes Cradle to Cradle Certified Products within its preferred supplier list. This list is based on Target’s score card, which recognizes suppliers of quality products that are safer for consumers and the environment and also awards points for Cradle to Cradle Product Certification.
SGS is committed to help brands and retailers be ahead of the curve by assessing products to determine the level of progress towards “more good”. As an Accredited General Assessor, SGS can help designers understand the requirements of the Cradle to Cradle program, assess products and propose ways for optimization of products and production processes seeking certification. In addition, SGS is organized to reduce the cost of the General Assessment due to its global network.
As more companies adopt the Cradle to Cradle methodology consumers will enjoy quality products that have a better footprint and perhaps endless productive cycles.
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For further information, please contact:
Ana Maria Leal Yepes
Sustainable Design Consultant
SGS North America, Inc.
t: +1-(862) 217-3706