Cradle-to-Cradle: Why Your Gadgets May Live Forever

Cradle-to-Cradle: Why Your Gadgets May Live Forever

Jeff Heaton
Aug 23, 2011

082311_cradle_cover.jpgGleaming images of technology adorn a slick cardboard box. Inside awaits a product you've been hearing about for months. Carefully you open the box to reveal the new gadget, relishing the soft sound of cardboard on cardboard. There it is, wrapped in a thin sheet of virgin plastic. It is shiny and new. But not too long from now it will be scratched, dinged or, at the very least, no longer fresh. It will be old, faded in a way you can't explain. And then it will be junk. Your experience with a product may seem long to you, however, it is likely only a fraction of its life. Until recently that fraction has been the portion product design has focused on. But with concerns about the effects on environment and humans rising, a new way of viewing design has emerged and a standard along with it: Cradle-to-Cradle.

Until the end of the last century few products were designed from sourcing of materials through disposal or recycling and most didn't acknowledge that the usage portion of a product's life may be the shortest part. The term Cradle-to-Cradle, or c2c, describes thinking about products in all stages. McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), a sustainability consultancy, has created the Cradle-to-Cradle Certification to help guide and encourage designers in the creation of products that aim for good design holistically. We've mentioned some products with this certification before and if you're familiar with certifications like LEED and SEED this is familiar territory.

The certification, like others in the green realm, is awarded at different levels; here it's from basic to platinum. Products are judged on materials and manufacturing practices in five categories: Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy Use, Water Stewardship, and Social Responsibility.

Material health requires going through the creation of the product with a fine tooth comb, ensuring all chemicals and materials pose little to no risk to humans or the environment. Material reutilization attempts to chart the viability of recycling the product's materials after it's used. Renewable energy use and water stewardship are self explanatory: use renewable energy and don't dumb chemicals into water leaving the facility. Social responsibility is included, but MBDC expects the company to get a social certification from another party at the higher levels of c2c certification.

Should you really be concerned whether a third party is certifying my products considering they make money consulting for this? While a healthy bit of skepticism is always good, that's the use of this product. Companies know that consumers are interested in healthy products and while some may truly be taking steps forward, others are simply green-washing. It may not be the be-all end-all, but MBDC's Cradle-to-Cradle Certification is certainly a useful tool.

Do you see any holes in their rationale? Will this bring our technology forward or is it a waste of time? Concerned about zombie iPhones? Sound off in the comments.

(Images: Flickr users Timm Suess and gadl under Creative Commons.)

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