Upcycling: Driving sustainable transformation via the power of design  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

William McDonough (of "Cradle to Cradle" fame) has an article in The Guardian looking at progress in improving industrial production processes - Driving sustainable transformation via the power of design. McDonough and Braungart have a follow up book to C2C called "The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance".

The most successful companies embrace good design by loudly and clearly stating their positive intentions. When a CEO declares that his or her company will improve the water quality of an entire community or build a workplace that will generate more renewable energy than it requires, this statement alone can unleash enthusiasm, creativity and innovation. A statement of intention places values first. It stresses the good, such as 'we will use and generate only renewable energy,' rather than the more commonly stated less bad; 'we will reduce our use of fossil fuels.' ...

It sets an inspiring goal that tells people where the company wants to be. It signals a commitment to constant improvement, letting employees, customers, partners and shareholders know unequivocally that they are part of a creative, positive force in the world. Intention is powerful. Intention drives change. And values are valuable. Leading companies worldwide have come to understand that the damaging, often unaccounted-for repercussions of modern business – famously called externalities – such as atmospheric carbon, toxic materials and poisoned rivers, arise from design decisions and value judgements.

In other words, pollution and waste are the result of human errors; they are not an inevitable part of commerce. They signal design failure in product development, operations and corporate strategy and call for dramatic changes in how leaders think and how companies make things. That is a values-driven process, an upcycle, and it's proving to be good business. ...

Recognising that good design is about value creation, not risk mitigation, cleaning-products supplier Method made a company-wide commitment to cradle-to-cradle design principles in 2006. C2C certification recognises significant achievement in five categories of product quality: material health, social fairness, water stewardship, material recovery and renewable energy. Method already has developed 60 C2C-certified products. Not only do Method's products aspire to higher and higher C2C standards, but the company also has integrated cradle-to-cradle principles into its DNA: it's working "to create a new sector of the economy that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems."

Shaw Industries, an early adopter of cradle-to-cradle principles, is committed to making only C2C certified products by 2030. Currently more than 60% of its $4bn in total annual sales comes from certified carpet and hardwood flooring. Shaw's environmentally safe carpet tiles are separable into component materials for carpet-to-carpet recycling. Customers need only call the toll free number on each tile to have them picked up. In a marvellously convenient and cost-effective exchange, a customer can buy a new carpet while Shaw recovers the material value of a used one. It's a continuously improving system, a continuously upcycling flow of valuable renewable materials and energy.

In 1981, textile manufacturer Carnegie Fabrics introduced a polyethylene textile, Xorel, which became one of the few PVC alternatives for interior panels, wall coverings and upholstery. Soon after, Carnegie became the first company in its industry to go completely vinyl-free. Now, after a seven-year effort to redesign its signature product, it has created the world's first high-performance bio-based interior textile, Biobased Xorel. The fabric is sourced from rapidly renewable sugar cane. All its raw materials, colourants and additives are safe for human and environmental health, it's produced at a facility powered by solar and hydropower sources and it meets all the price, aesthetic and performance standards set by the original Xorel.

They have also set up a new institute to promote C2C innovation and certify products that meet their standards - Cradle to Cradle Certified.

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