I stumbled upon this interesting and useful project, Cradle to Cradle, discovering that it is not a brand new project but it dates back 2006, when this video was first released.
Developed by American architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle envisions an economy based on closed-loop cycles of materials.
Imagine an old pair of shoes that grows into flowers, a carpet that cleans the air and clothing that becomes food for plants. These are the kinds of products being developed by Dutch designers inspired by the Cradle to Cradle design concept.
The concept is quite widespread in Holland. Rewrap, for instance, makes laptop covers whose sleeves are made from the biodegradable wool of eco-sheep and non-toxic dye with the minimum of materials. They are manufactured in a workplace that helps reintegrate disabled people into the workforce.
Venlo is a city whose administration has decided to make the whole region Cradle to Cradle. Previously young people were leaving Venlo in search of work. Now the city attracts the leading businesses that embrace the Cradle to Cradle thinking. The city has become a hub for sustainable innovation.
Roy Vercoulen, the managing director of Venlo’s Cradle to Cradle Exposition Centre, explained to Andy Hix for The Guardian that the city’s procurement criteria stimulates innovation by stating intentions – such as a building that produces oxygen, sequesters carbon, purifies water, improves the health of its occupants and promotes local biodiversity – while allowing as much room for creativity within as possible.
If a company meets some of the procurement criteria, they score 30 points; if it meets all of the criteria it scores 70 points, and it can earn up to a 100% by coming up with solutions the city hadn’t thought of. The average score is 83.
Another great success story is Richard van Dijk’s one, from the Dutch waste company Van Gansewinkel, whose corporate slogan roughly translates as “There’s no such thing as waste.” The company realised some years ago that most of the materials being brought to them as waste can be turned into other products which, it turns out, is very profitable. Now they advise manufacturers on how to design their products to be more easily made into new ones.
Lex Knobben, co-founder of laladoo, a baby clothing company, said to Hix tha he came across Cradle to Cradle when he was trying to find out if it was possible to buy non-toxic apparel. He told Hix that even clothing made of organic cotton is often soaked in toxins during the dyeing process.
None of the high street brands he researched could guarantee that their clothing is 100% toxin free so now he is designing and selling onesies (nightwear) and bibs made from Cradle to Cradle materials.
When Hix asked Stef Kranendijk, whose carpet company Desso has boomed since adopting the Cradle to Cradle philosophy, what inspired him, he gives the same answer as almost everyone else: it was the documentary.
He is brimming with enthusiasm as he recalls watching it and thinking “This is fantastic. Fantastic! But I’m going to have to change my whole company!” Which is exactly what he did. Cradle to Cradle is one of the key drivers of innovation at Desso, which has developed a carpet that helps asthma sufferers by collecting dust from the air. It can be easily disassembled and made into new carpet.
The company Oat Shoes has designed stylish trainers with a packet of seeds in the tongue. The idea is that when they are worn out you can bury them, water them and “watch wild flowers bloom out of your old kicks”.
What’s impressive is how these companies have made the environmental and social outcomes of their businesses a core part of their strategies and a driver of innovation. Instead of aiming to reduce their impact to the environment they are actively seeking to have a positive impact, and are making money in the process.