Cradle to Cradle—Remaking the Way We Make Things

By William McDonough & Michael Braungart
Copyright 2002
North Point Press
$25.00, 193 pages

Reviewed by Richard Walthers


"This Book Is Not a Tree", says the introduction, and indeed it is not. The entire book, cover and pages, is printed on a plastic polymer that can be recycled into new books indefinitely while maintaining its high quality. More importantly it is an example of what the authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart are advocating in their revolutionary vision to redesign our constructed world. This is a short, not very detailed overview of an environmental solution that is both inspirational and simple, and it is one of the more important concepts published recently in the growing environmental category.

It is a design manifesto to save the biosphere. The popular environmental slogan of the last century, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is no longer useful as a strategy. Being eco-efficient is no longer viable rather eco-effectiveness is what we should be striving for in any development. Our present system of design needs to be changed. Instead of wasting nearly all of the raw materials that go into a product design, we should be cognizant of what Braungart calls the biological nutrients and the technical nutrients that comprise the manufacture of any new product. If we plan what goes into a product we don’t have to be concerned with how to dispose of it or how to protect ourselves from its toxicity later when it is no longer useful.

This eliminates the cradle to grave syndrome that everything in our society suffers from presently, and replaces it with a cradle to cradle system. Just like in the natural world where nothing goes to waste, every component is useful as a nutrient for something else. The authors call for a second Industrial Revolution to redesign everything in this manner, but if the Industrial Revolution gave us the current set of problems why, even in name only, would we want a second one? McDonough utilizes language quite effectively and this book is filled with a very descriptive nomenclature to describe various elements of the concept. We need more of this kind of informed terminology to help begin the transition toward a new wiser design methodology.