Cradle to Cradle — Book Review

Cradle to Cradle Book CoverCradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, offers an alternative to the linear cradle-to-grave industrial model of extract, manufacture, use, and dispose of.

It introduces the concept of cradle-to-cradle where at the end of their useful life, products are not thrown away but become input for new products.

Book Review

The authors convey their vision of an industrial re-revolution through bits of history, stories, and examples.

“What if humans designed products and systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture, and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe, our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?”

Introduction: This Book is Not a Tree

The book itself embodies its theme of cradle-to-cradle. It is made of synthetic “paper” that is waterproof, durable and can be broken down and remade as “paper” or other products again and again.

Chapter 1: A Question of Design

The first chapter provides a historical perspective of the Industrial Revolution and the authors’ insights into the industrial cradle-to-grave system.

Chapter 2: Why Being “Less Bad” Is No Good

Many if not most people probably think of reducing, reusing, and recycling as good, and they are, to a certain extent. Being “less bad” is not the same as doing good. Reducing toxic emissions isn’t the same as eliminating them.

Chapter 3: Eco-Effectiveness

Eco-effectiveness is going beyond efficiency and eco-friendliness, and reimagining not only products themselves, but the way they are made, and what they will become in the future.

Chapter 4: Waste Equals Food

In nature, the concept of waste does not exist or as the authors put it “waste equals food.” For example, a leaf falls from a tree on the ground and becomes food for the organisms that live in the soil which in turn nourish the tree.

Chapter 5: Respect Diversity

Using the “triple bottom line” approach to ecology, economy, and equity, a business executive might ask the following about a new product idea, “Will it impact the local river?”, “How much will it cost to make?”, and “Are the people making it being paid a living wage?”

Chapter 6: Putting Eco-Effectiveness into Practice

In the final chapter, William McDonough talks about his work with Ford Motor Company to redesign and renovate their gigantic River Rouge factory in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Bottom Line

The authors, William McDonough, an architect by trade, and Michael Braungart, a chemist, met in New York in 1991, and immediately struck up a working relationship which later led to forming McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry. Both are recognized as experts in their fields and have hands on experience putting cradle-to-cradle concepts into practice.

One won’t find a step-by-step guide to eco-effectiveness in Cradle to Cradle.

Everyone can find inspiration and hope in this book.

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Biomimicry — Book Review

Biomimicry Book CoverOur copy of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, by Janine M. Benyus was purchased at an onsite bookstall during the Central Coast Bioneers Conference in October 2012.

I was hooked from the first sentence, “It’s not ordinary for a bare-chested man wearing jaguar teeth and owl feathers to grace the pages of The New Yorker, but these are not ordinary times.”

Book Review

Biomimicry is about learning from the non-human members of nature and applying that knowledge to design and make products, systems, businesses, and cities that fit in on earth.

The first chapter serves as an introduction to nature’s laws, strategies, and principles that are woven throughout the book.

  • Nature runs on sunlight.
  • Nature uses only the energy it needs.
  • Nature fits form to function.
  • Nature recycles everything.
  • Nature rewards cooperation.
  • Nature banks on diversity.
  • Nature demands local expertise.
  • Nature curbs excesses from within.
  • Nature taps the power of limits.

Each chapter covers a different topic: food, energy, manufacturing, health, computing, business, and the future. Benyus gives readers a glimpse of the work that was being done in these areas by sharing information and stories she gathered during numerous interviews with experts all across the country.

While reading Biomimicry, I marked several passages that seemed to exemplify issues addressed in the book. Here are a few.

“For society, it may mean changing economic policies so that our well-being, including our environmental well-being, is reflected in the gross national product.”

“Our greatest sin is this overengineering—we may not be able to live forever, but we make darn sure that our waste will.”

“Even negatives, like pollution, cancer, and other ills, are seen as positives so long as we keep cranking out products to deal with the cleanup or the cure.”

The Bottom Line

Janine Benyus is a biologist, innovation consultant, and author. Since the release of Biomimicry, Benyus co-founded the Biomimicry Guild and the Biomimicry Institute (TBI) which later came together as Biomimicry 3.8 and its nonprofit partner Biomimicry 3.8 Institute.

In Biomimicry, Benyus did an excellent job of describing some fairly complex scientific research in words that non-scientists could understand. I was only lost a few times. Her writing style is down to earth and sprinkled with unexpected but enjoyable humor.

The book was published in 1997 and I am interested in continuing my learning by following up on some of the research and studies to see where they are at now. Although some of the science might be outdated, the message is still just as relevant. We can learn a lot from others in nature.

Everyone should read this book.

When Biomimicry was published 15 years ago, CO2 in the atmosphere was at 355 ppm (parts per million), at the writing of this post in 2013 it is about 392 ppm.

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