“Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Eco-Efficiency vs. Eco-Effectiveness

The authors pointed out the ineffectiveness of the “eco-efficiency” movement, as characterized by the Four R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Regulate). Eco-efficiency does not halt depletion and destruction, it simply slows them down.

They propose a new system in which designs are modeled on nature, specifically, the cycles of materials in nature and services provided by the self-sustaining, self-generating ecosystems. “Imagine a building like a tree, a city like a forest”.

Cycles of  Materials

All products should be designed for disassembly. They should be separated into biodegradable materials and “technical nutrients” that can be fed back into the industrial cycle without contaminating the natural system.

“Manufactures have the permanent responsibility for storing and, if possible to do so safely, reusing whatever hazardous materials their products contain. What better incentive to evolve a design that does without the hazardous materials entirely?” You reap what you sow, literally.

Advantages of the System

1. Produces no waste; 2. Saves valuable industrial materials, resulting in savings to the manufactures; 3 Reduces the use of raw materials, resulting in enormous benefit to the environment

Limitations of the System

1. Many products either do not fit into the categories as biological or technical nutrients because they are hazardous, or cannot be confined to one cycle exclusively. 2. Systems and processes have to be implemented so that products sold globally can be retrieved.

Product of Service

Most of our possessions are in essence products of services. We don’t own the materials, we simply use their services. The houses provide service of shelter, cars provide service of transportation, etc. The responsibility that comes with ownership is to dispose of the material in a way that is not detrimental to the ecosystem, but we, as consumers, are not owning up that responsibility. It is perhaps better that the manufactures, not the consumers, be responsible for the ownership and proper disposal of the materials, because they have the know-how.

An entirely new business framework can be built upon this realization. Instead of selling products, businesses can sell services to consumers. For example, instead of selling washers, dryers and detergents, products that are manufactured and sold separately by different companies in the current framework, companies can instead provide comprehensive “laundry service” to the customers. A company can launder the clothes for the customers, just like the dry-cleaners, or a company can lease washers/dryers with detergents included (or even built-in) to the customers for a period of time, during which it is responsible for the maintenance, repair and upgrade of the machines. At the end of the lease term, the company is responsible for retrieving the machines for disassembly or reuse.

I envision that there would be companies that provide “housing services” to customers on contract basis. They would design and build houses based on customer specifications and sound engineering principles. The companies would maintain the ownership of the houses and provide maintenance, repair and remodeling services during the term of the contract. If the customer moves to another location where the company has service coverage, the customer can simply notify the company to continue the service at a new location. S/he would be freed from all the hassles of selling the old house, searching for and buying a new one, and be rest assured that the new house would meet the same standard as the old.

Musings on Relationship and Ownership

In this new framework, we gain a new perspective on ownership. Perhaps we can only appreciate what we truly own, or who we truly are, when we separate the products of services from the rest of our possessions. We are reminded that we brought nothing into this world and can carry nothing out. In stead of focusing on the accumulation of material wealth, we’ll focus on providing services and building relationships.

Businesses are no longer evaluated by the amount of products they sell, but by the amount of customer relationships they have successfully built, maintained and developed. Successful businesses are those who strive constantly and continually to provide excellent services to their customers.

Quotes:

“But how exciting is sustainability? If a man characterized his relationship with his wife as sustainable, you might well pity them both”

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