Whatever beautiful religion William McDonough is preaching in his new book with longtime business partner Michael Braungart, I’m a believer. McDonough, of Cradle to Cradle fame, is undoubtedly sustainability’s sage, advising in The Upcycle, released last week, that it’s time we move beyond designing and creating things that are less bad (traditional sustainability principles) to creating things and systems that are actually beneficial (The Upcycle’s utopian vision).
The new book is a continuation of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which McDonough and Braungart published in 2002. In that book, they proclaimed that humans don’t have a pollution problem; we have a design problem. They introduced a holistic framework for the design of products and systems that are efficient and waste-free.
Today, they say let’s do better; let’s shift our thinking from designing for less waste to designing for abundance, using only materials and ingredients that are nutritive. If we designed intelligently from the get-go, the authors explain, we wouldn’t have to operate from a perspective of sustaining the status quo and mitigating waste and toxicity via “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We could replace that idea with “redesign, renew and regenerate.”
After all, “Who would want simply a ‘sustainable’ marriage?’” the authors ask. “Humans can certainly aspire to more than that.”
Yes, we can.
One example of operating on the principle of “do less bad,” the authors point to is the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), a good intention gone awry. Yes, this light bulb is more efficient and saves us money on electricity, but if you break one, you’ll have to reference an entire page of EPA instructions on cleaning up hazardous waste.
Step 1: “Have people and pets leave the room, and avoid the breakage area on the way out.”
After breaking a light bulb? This is a crippling drawback.
“If you design knowingly using a toxin or a questionable material in your work, how talented are you really?” the authors question.
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