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The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance

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The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance

4.5/5 (2 оценки)
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16 апр. 2013 г.


From the authors of Cradle to Cradle, we learn what's next: The Upcycle
The Upcycle is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Cradle to Cradle, one of the most consequential ecological manifestoes of our time. Now, drawing on the green living lessons gained from 10 years of putting the Cradle to Cradle concept into practice with businesses, governments, and ordinary people, William McDonough and Michael Braungart envision the next step in the solution to our ecological crisis: We don't just use or reuse and recycle resources with greater effectiveness, we actually improve the natural world as we live, create, and build.
For McDonough and Braungart, the questions of resource scarcity and sustainability are questions of design. They are practical-minded visionaries: They envision beneficial designs of products, buildings, and business practices—and they show us these ideas being put to use around the world as everyday objects like chairs, cars, and factories are being reimagined not just to sustain life on the planet but to grow it. It is an eye-opening, inspiring tour of our green future as it unfolds in front of us.
The Upcycle is as ambitious as such classics as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring—but its mission is very different. McDonough and Braungart want to turn on its head our very understanding of the human role on earth: Instead of protecting the planet from human impact, why not redesign our activity to improve the environment? We can have a beneficial, sustainable footprint. Abundance for all. The goal is within our reach.

16 апр. 2013 г.

Об авторе

Architect William McDonough is an architect and the founding principal of William McDonough + Partners, an architecture and community design firm based in Charlottesville, Virginia; MBDC, a firm that assists companies in designing profitable and environmentally intelligent solutions; McDonough Innovation, where he is able to advise business and provide targeted ideas and strategic business solutions. A highly regarded speaker and writer, William McDonough’s co-authored Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things has played an influential role in the sustainability movement.  McDonough partnered with Stanford University Libraries in 2012, on a “living archive” of his work and communications.  At the 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland, McDonough participated as a leader, presenter and convener, and made sustainability a primary focus, for the first time at the WEF.    In 1999 Time magazine recognized him as a "Hero for the Planet," stating "his utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that—in demonstrable and practical ways—is changing the design of the world." In 1996, he received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, the highest environmental honor given by United States.  Additionally, in 2009, McDonough led the founding of the  Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to donate the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Products Program to the public.  In 2014, William McDonough was appointed by the World Economic Forum to Chair of the Meta-Council on the Circular Economy.  

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The Upcycle - William McDonough


Imagine you are sitting in the top-floor boardroom of a major United States consumer products company and you are meeting one-on-one with the company’s executive in charge of sustainability. You have been to this facility many, many times before. Over seven years, you have met with executives in charge of finance, supply chains, manufacturing, product design, research and development, and marketing. Hundreds of meetings to listen, to learn, and to explore your new concepts for sustainable growth and beneficial innovation.

Together, you and the executive have shared data—lots of data. You know big-picture business issues facing this company and detailed chemistries of the products. You even know how many lightbulbs are used to illuminate the enterprise worldwide, how much energy that consumes, how many lightbulbs contain mercury, and how many people it takes to change a lightbulb and what that costs.

This is the nature of the work. To use a detailed, defined inventory as a platform for invention, innovation. To ask and answer: What’s next?

Outside the giant plate-glass windows, tall granite-clad skyscrapers stand proudly in the sunshine. The Brazilian mahogany table is polished to a shine, and the high-backed leather chairs remind you of the important executive decisions made in this room, which can affect the lives of millions of people—for better or for worse. One might say you are here chasing the butterfly effect. Given the scale of this company, one small decision has the power to make a real difference for the economy, for people, and for the planet.

That is one reason you are here—scale. But you are also here for another reason—velocity. Many of the largest corporate enterprises in the world have come to realize the downside of the butterfly effect, the repercussions of modern business that are obviously damaging and too often unaccounted for—famously called externalities, such as carbon in the atmosphere, toxic materials, poisoned rivers, lost rain forests, and so on, with no end of this decline in sight. Many businesspeople realize this is not good business. They like to know what they are doing and to be able to account for it, but they feel like they are driving a car without a gas gauge or even, shall we say, a battery charge indicator? It makes them nervous.

They also are like Olympic athletes who want to be on a safe, level playing field and who do not want to be left behind. They want to lead.

You might just ask this executive friend, Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could commit not just to reducing your carbon emissions but to being 100 percent renewably powered? Couldn’t we find a way to make such a statement?

The executive pushes the question aside. We can’t do that, he says. No matter how much we would like to declare ourselves that way. Look, we could only get a small percentage of our power for our factories from solar on our roofs. We and everyone else have been saying we’ll cut our carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020. Isn’t that enough? Because of the nature of business, we have to be conservative and risk averse. We can only describe actual performance goals that are realistic. How in the world can we say we are going to seek renewable energy for our entire global enterprise? Consumers don’t care and environmentalists won’t trust us, or if we launch the initiative piecemeal—which is the only way we could—the public awareness of the issue will become a point of concern for all the other products made by the company. For example, if we say these plants are renewably powered, it will raise the question of ‘Why not the other ones?’ and it’s a big, long job getting there. Our shareholders will think we’ve lost sight of our revenue and profit goals.

What if you just state your intention? you suggest. Say, ‘We will be renewably powered as soon as it is cost-effective, and we will constantly seek it out.’ Any shareholder can understand that plan. It’s true, and declaring your intention does the heavy lifting of getting people in the company to get moving in this direction. You’ve charted the goal. You’ll track your progress and report it. You’ll unleash the creativity and genius of your people in a clear, clean direction. You’ve made them want to search for the renewable power solution every time they go looking to supply a kilowatt-hour. It lets other industries know that if they can manufacture the solar panels or wind turbines or biogas collectors at a competitive price point, they will have a customer in you. And you, their customer, are likely to lead to other major customers. Before you know it, the renewable power industries are growing technologies and jobs in a businesslike way all across the United States, around the world. Your intention itself is powerful.

Okay, I get it, the executive says. I’ll put this in terms the business will understand and take this to the CEO.

This story actually happened. We didn’t have to look far to see how this was just one executive in this mammoth company, against the endless horizon of people in offices outside the plate-glass windows. This was one person, but this person could take a message to the leadership that would launch innovation as inspired as sending a person to the moon. In a few short months, the company announced it would pursue the goal of being renewably powered. All kinds of marvelous innovation busted loose within days. Factory managers started calling, saying, ‘Can I go first?’ ‘What can I do to get on board?’ Velocity.

We tell this story without names for two reasons. The first is that this is not a unique story and the point of telling it is to focus on and celebrate the power of intentionality. We know that everyone—consumers, manufacturers, government leaders—is interested in a cleaner, healthier world. Many companies with whom we work are delighted to embark on creating a renewable energy base. They would also love to make their products with only fully defined healthful materials. But society has factionalized to become so mutually suspicious that often consumers and customers don’t think companies want the same positive healthful future they want, and companies think critics will pounce on them if they even lift their heads to break out of the norm to say, We want to try. We are trying. We have embarked on the work of being renewable or pursuing only clean production or fully healthful products, but we have more work to do.

We hope this book, if nothing else, will inspire you to start and will cheer you on. We believe in constant improvement. Sometimes you can’t do it. It doesn’t work. Fine. Try another way—do it again and again. Restate your intention. Watch what happens.

Secondly, we tell this story without names because we want you to see yourself as both of these individuals in the conference room. All it took was one advocate and one executive to craft a strategy and to move it toward the head of the company, and an entire international corporation was changed. That person could be you in your job, your daily life. When we say start, we also want you to start thinking of yourself as a potential leader. As a person who changed his or her company, home, country for a better, more beneficial future. This book is written for you. We hope to encourage and inspire you with the how and why of creating a more abundant, joyful world for future generations.

*   *   *

Now we want to tell a story that names names. We were in a meeting with Walmart talking about how they could keep improving their environmental footprint in the world. Walmart is intent on being 100 percent renewably powered and has stated so very publicly; they are now the largest corporate users of solar collectors in the United States. Walmart is also working with local food growers to cut down on shipping vegetables long distances, thus making air and atmosphere cleaner. Of course they have a great deal of work to do, but they are starting and well under way. We were talking about products, how to use only positively defined ingredients in packaging in goods sold in the stores. The question on the table was Is it really possible? Just then, we noticed a United States Postal Service Priority Mail box on the desk behind the executive. Let’s turn it over, we said.

The executive did just that.

There was the little certification stamp: Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM.

That meant that the mailer had gone through our certification process to identify the chemicals and processes used to make the product, and that the product was fully defined—meaning we had identified and assessed every ingredient—and was on its way to its beneficial optimization of materials, logistics, energy, water, and social fairness. There we were observing Walmart observing USPS’s commitment to being healthful.

In China, Goodbaby, the world’s largest maker of childrens’ products, already has published a road map showing how it will adopt Cradle to Cradle standards company-wide. We name these names to show you that the most mainstream companies in the world are thinking in this positive way. We think you can too.

This philosophy, and this book, are the upcycle of our previous work.

*   *   *

A decade ago, we—Bill, an architect, and Michael, a chemist—published Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. We had come across an idea in our design and chemistry work that we considered extraordinarily exciting. Human beings don’t have a pollution problem; they have a design problem. If humans were to devise products, tools, furniture, homes, factories, and cities more intelligently from the start, they wouldn’t even need to think in terms of waste, or contamination, or scarcity. Good design would allow for abundance, endless reuse, and pleasure.

This concept, we believe, could move the dialogue far beyond a simple interest in recycling, because we noticed that the entire recycling effort grew from a negative belief. The theory being put forward by most sustainability advocates, and increasingly by industry, goes something like this:

Human beings create enormous amounts of waste and should strive to become less bad. Use less energy. Poison less. Cut down fewer trees. According to these current best practices, all people can hope to achieve is eco-efficiency, minimization, and avoidance, to recycle a limited percentage of objects humans use daily—bottles, paper—and fashion them into, unfortunately, a lesser product, one that can be used once more, or twice more, or maybe even five times more. But then where does this product go? Into a landfill? An incinerator?

That might not be so bad if the product were well designed from the first. It could become a nutrient in the biosphere. Or stay in the technosphere—as a reusable metal or plastic—instead of contaminating the biosphere, the entire ecosystem.

This project, as big as it sounds, is obviously not impossible: Nature itself designs this way.

But as modern engineers and designers commonly create a product now, the item is designed only for its first use, not its potential next uses after it breaks, or grows threadbare, or goes out of fashion, or crumbles. The item works its way from one downward cycle to another, becoming less valuable (think a food-grade plastic bottle smashed down, remelted with other plastics, and made into a speed bump) or more toxic (such as wood turned into a composite board made of formaldehyde-based glues). It seems that what humans make is detritus, frequently toxic.

We believe there is a different perspective. The problem is not with humans per se, but with what they have in the last 5,000 years, and especially in the last 150 years, fashioned.

When the Industrial Revolution manifested itself, people wanted simply to keep supply as high as demand, and as they did so, thinking grew frantic. Designers and manufacturers grasped for the next best short-term idea that came along, not necessarily informed by long-term considerations.

Humans have obviously gained a great deal from that revolution, but society can’t stay on that path. Everyone now knows how human beings are contaminating the biosphere, but another troubling possibility has emerged: Humans will run short on easily accessible, clean biological and technical materials from which to build and create a beneficial civilization.

These ideas and concerns united us—Bill and Michael—as far back as 1991, when we met in New York.

We were united in a common value: How can one design or manufacture in a way that loves all of the children, of all species, for all time? We wanted our products to be a positive contribution not only to this generation of living creatures but to future generations, to the whole

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    Waste does not occur within natural systems. The materials expelled by one organism are precisely the nutrients needed by some other organism. This creates a complex web where materials are reused endlessly, without degradation. There is, of course, an unfortunate exception to this, that being modern humans’ expenditure of materials. The upcycle challenges us to learn from nature and design products and systems that recycle materials endlessly without degradation while they derive energy from renewable sources. “The goal of the upcycle is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world with clean air, water, soil, and power—economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed.” This book builds on and extends the authors’ previous work, including their book Cradle to Cradle and the Hanover Principles prepared for the 2000 world’s fair in Germany.Although achieving the upcycle goal requires extensive hard work, we can each begin now by stating our intention: “We will be renewably powered as soon as it is cost-effective, and we will constantly seek it out.” Design for abundance, proliferation, and delight.The authors contend that “Human beings don’t have a pollution problem; they have a design problem.” We need to learn to design for an endless cradle to cradle cycle, not a one-time trip from cradle to grave. Design so the materials live on indefinitely, rather than being lost in landfills forever. Design is the first signal of human intention, and why should designers intend to inflict harm?When materials are designed to differentiate between the biosphere and the technosphere they can live on as nutrients forever. Materials native to the natural world can cycle throughout that world without harm or degradation. But metals, plastics, and other materials not continuously created by the biosphere are essential to manufacturing electronics, industrial products, and many consumer products. These materials can cycle throughout the technical world without degradation. The key to upcycling is to design products so that technosphere materials and biosphere materials are not mixed. This eliminates the often difficult process of separating them at the time of disposal. Consider the simple example of a juice box constructed of aluminum, plastics, and raw paper. Because biosphere and technosphere materials are combined, the box cannot be recycled until these materials are separated. Separation of these materials after product construction and use is very difficult. As a result, valuable aluminum is lost to landfills rather than being recovered as a nutrient within the technosphere.Safety regulations and warning labels alert us to poor designs. They each identify an opportunity to redesign a harmful product, beginning with the Hanover Principles and cradle to cradle concepts that results in a safe, elegant, and ecologically beneficial product. Think first of what’s next for each material used in the product. Use only materials that can live on as nutrients, without degradation, after they have completed their service in this product.The book goes well beyond platitudes and wishful thinking by providing many examples of designs that are successful ecologically, aesthetically, and economically. The book describes a path that transcends the false dichotomy of profit vs. environment and shows us how to have both. It tells us what to do—begin each design by asking “what’s next” for each material—rather than what not to do. We can do more good—creating a safe and healthful abundance—not just less bad.To complement the perpetual cycles of material use they also advocate obtaining renewable energy from a combination of solar, wind, and biogas sources, along with designs that conserve energy. They also describe farming techniques and municipal systems that recycle nutrients to maintain clean water and fertile soils without artificial augmentation. A letter from Thomas Jefferson written to James Madison in 1789 introduces us to the unusual word “usufruct”. Usufruct is the right to enjoy property owned by others as long as the property is returned undamaged. This is the common courtesy you would extend to a neighbor who lent you their car or lawn mower. Indeed, as Thomas Jefferson said “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living.” We can meet our obligations to preserve the earth during our visit without inflicting damage if we create each design by valuing equity, ecology, and revenue generation from the start. Quality in products and systems means they do not harm people, narrow their possibilities for life and liberty, or reduce their quality of life. We can redesign, renew, and regenerate to meet these goals. This book tells us how we can leave the world a better place that we found it. That is the upcycle, learning to improve the world through better design rather than merely striving to minimize our impact on the world. We upcycle when we create products that are more perfect, rather than less burdensome. It is only fair to future generations that we learn these lessons now.Read this book and plan for what’s next, because the future will surely come.