When we started reading Cradle to Cradle, we read William McDonough's encouragement that we make products and buildings that not only don't hurt the environment, but that actually improve it.
Like products whose manufacturing process creates byproducts of fresh water or buildings that don't off-gas dangerous toxins but actually clean the air. It sounded great, but we had a hard time grasping the real possibilities.
Later in the book, we learned about McDonough and Michael Braungart's line of upholstery fabric for DesignTex. It's made of biological nutrients wool and ramie. When it was manufactured, the effluent from the factory was actually cleaner than the influent from the local water mains. Production of their fabric cleaned the water. And the fabric itself is a nutrient. If it were simply thrown onto the ground at the end of its useful life, it would break down and return to the earth and actually provide biological nutrients to the soil.
The story was a happy and hopeful one to us and it opened our eyes to the possibilities we face as we try to design better for the future.