Time for a Wake-Up Call

So, you think tossing that milk jug into the recycling bin is going to make a difference? Not really, claim William McDonough and Michael Braungart. According to the authors of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, it’s going to take a lot more than the three Rs — recycle, reuse and reduce — to get this planet back on track.

McDonough and Braungart — an architect and a chemist, respectively — write: “Cradle-to-grave designs dominate modern manufacturing. According to some accounts more than 90 percent of materials extracted to make durable goods in the U.S. become waste almost immediately. Sometimes the product itself scarcely lasts longer. It is often cheaper to buy a new version of even the most expensive appliance than to track down someone to repair the original item. Many products are designed with ‘built-in-obsolescence,’ to last only for a certain period of time, to allow—and encourage—the customer to get rid of the thing and buy a new model.”

Their solution for this is to design with the mindset of cradle-to-cradle, where products have a circular life cycle, instead of the current cradle-to-grave, or linear, life cycle. Toward the end of the book, the authors include a five-step process for eco-effectiveness that can be implemented by any company that is willing to take the plunge.

The book is definitely a wake-up call, however I feel that many of the early chapters bombard the reader with information in such a way that it comes across a bit too thick as a hot-headed activist. Descriptions of the various dyes in clothing and how they can be toxic does not always make you want to find out what else could possibly bring you to your demise. Perhaps if the authors had included their case study of how Ford Motor Company began to remake itself and how it dealt with sustainability, then perhaps fewer readers would be apt to write this book off as “doom and gloom.” Nonetheless, Cradle to Cradle contains valid information for how your company can make changes, and how you personally can begin to think differently about the world around you.

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