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The cover of Cradle to Cradle. Re-making the way we make things 

by McDonough and Braungart


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A great read to follow Papanek's Design for the Real World. If Papanek was concerned with the real world, McDonough and Braungart asked themselves what good design will look like for the entire world; and by entire, I mean flora and fauna, not just humans.

The book starts off by giving an overview of the environmental movement. The authors begin by discussing the five ways of dealing with waste - landfills, reduction of consumption, reusage of goods, incineration of goods, and recycling. The authors explain why all of these ways are not ideal and do not significantly tackle the problem. The later - recycling- is completely debunked by the authors who say that most times recycling is actually downcycling, which results in loss of valuable materials until what's valuable about them is lost, and which also results in the creation of hybrid materials that cannot be safely decomposed and, which subsequently, contaminate our environment.

What we need to do instead is upcycling, which is only possible if we were able to retrieve valuable chemicals and substances and use them by creating products of a higher quality compared to what has been the source of the substances. It is also only possible if we were to rethink the way we make things completely. And this is the most interesting and inspiring part of the book that takes Papanek's Design for the Real World to the next level. 

Another myth that the authors debunk is eco-efficiency, which from the authors' perspective, is only concerned with the growth of the economy (prosperity of the company), not 'good growth,' meaning the growth of all the systems around a product. The products should enrich not only the company that produces it but also the consumer and the environment in which both of them work and leave. The authors propose this new paradigm of eco-effectiveness.

The authors introduce the concepts of biological and technical nutrients (and, therefore, cycles). They argue that any product should be made with the possibility of re-introducing the substances it was made of/from back into the cycle, making waste food in literal and metaphorical terms. If the product (food, toiletries, clothing) is made of biological materials, it should be possible for it to be stored in the form of waste in the ground, water or air, without being harmful to them.

The same goes for products that are made of/from technical nutrients (such as hardware, machines, furniture, etc.). The substances that are used to make these products should not be lost forever or downcycled until they loose their valuable properties; they should be able to go back into the technical cycle.

This is why the authors propose to make products that won't be sold to the consumers that use a product until it breaks and thrown away and replaced. They can be leased to the consumer until they break so the company who produced them and that still has some sort of ownership over the valuable substances inside the product, can upcycle them and create new (and better) products.

The authors conclude the book with five concrete steps for the designers' community and other professionals to take in order to be more eco-effective. The authors also give a five-step recipe for businesses that wish to become long-term successful and embrace the remaking of the way they make things.


McDonough, William., Braungart, Michael. (2009) Cradle to Cradle. Re-making the way we make things. London. Vintage Book.

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