Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII) and Autodesk have teamed up to promote their common vision of a design-led product and production revolution in support of the circular economy by offering a free web-based education program, which following completion, allows participants to submit their very own product design idea to the first ever Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge.

Launched in January 2015, the design challenge offers up to a $4,000 cash prize. Submissions are due March 15, 2015, and participants are able to begin the challenge as soon as the 1-hour course is completed. Prizes will be awarded in three categories: Best Student Project, Best Young-Professional Project, and Best Use of Autodesk Fusion 360 Tool.

The online course, Designing Cradle to Cradle Certified Products for the Circular Economy, helps student and professional designers explore the key principles embodied in Cradle to Cradle Certified products, peruse examples of revolutionary product design, and consider these innovations in the over-arching context of the “circular economy.” The call for a transition to a circular economy is rapidly gaining recognition worldwide. It seeks a change from the linear “take, make, waste” approach that dominated the first industrial revolution to a circular system in which valuable materials are not lost to landfills or incinerators but are designed to return safely to nature or industry. The urgency of such a major shift is fueled by the growing awareness of severe resource shortages that society will face in the years and decades ahead.

Those familiar with William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s 2002 Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things will recognize many fundamental ideas in circular economy thinking. First and foremost is the notion that “waste equals food.” “Nature operates according to a system of nutrients and metabolisms in which there is no such thing as waste,” wrote the authors. In applying these principles to modern commerce, they envisioned two nutrient systems — one for biological nutrients, another for “technical” nutrients. Designing with these nutrient cycles in mind is one of the first steps to designing for the circular economy.

And indeed, over the past few decades, there have been notable increases in the amounts of valuable materials such as metals, paper, and glass returned for re-use by industry and notable increases in number of products and packaging materials that can be effectively composted. But for the most part, “design for disassembly” and “design for re-use” have not been at the forefront of product ideation. With other design principles and considerations in mind, a great number of products use materials the authors called ‘“monstrous hybrids”—mixtures of materials both technical and biological, neither of which can be salvaged after their current lives.

The online course helps designers ask, “What’s next?” — thinking about what happens to a product or packaging after its use. It is the core question in the quality category “Material Reutilization,” one of five categories that make up the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard. The course also helps designers think through the implications of the four other quality categories against which products seeking certification are judged:

  • Material Health — selecting materials that are known to be safe and healthy for humans and the environment during the production, use, and disposal or reuse of a product;
  • Renewable Energy and Carbon Management — envisioning a future in which all manufacturing operations are powered with 100% renewable energy;
  • Water Stewardship — envisioning a future where water is managed as a precious resource and clean water is an essential human right; and
  • Social Fairness — envisioning a world where companies design their operations to honor all people and natural systems affected by the creation, use and disposal or reuse of a product.

The Product Standard is now in its third iteration as a guidance document for designers and manufacturers. Its first codification served as the basis of private recognition systems for clients of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), the organization established to help manufacturing clients develop concrete innovations to meet the book’s visionary concepts. In 2010, McDonough and Braungart co-founded the independent Institute to administer, promote, and continually improve a third-party product certification methodology. Version 3.0 of the Standard was released in 2013 and a public revision process is currently underway to release 4.0 of the Standard in 2016.

And in 2015, a major shift is underway and designers are at its heart.

In the early days of the program, products from participating manufacturers were being assessed at the end of the product development process. What’s transformative about the C2CPII/Autodesk course offering is how it reflects a major change in emphasis. Product innovation is shifting squarely to designers and how they think at the very earliest stages product development. “William McDonough famously says ‘design is the first signal of intent,’” say Institute president Bridgett Luther. “I would also add that the design revolution starts with the designers and that’s why we are so delighted to work with Autodesk to bring this first free offering in support to a dramatically changing design community.” In his presentation to the 2014 Solid Conference, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass echoed a similar enthusiasm for much transformed design world: “What I think we are all doing is radically changing the way we design and make things.”

If a new industrial revolution is in fact taking shape, it is being driven by radical improvements in design and engineering hardware and software and new expectations for the role designers play in creating a world where the concept of waste is eliminated and where a circular economy, fueled in large part by Cradle to Cradle principles, sees the design of products and production processes that are truly positive and replenish human and natural systems.

The time is now to register for Designing Cradle to Cradle Certified Products for the Circular Economy.

The Cradle to Cradle Design Challenge is well underway, and we look forward to seeing your future design.