The importance of new business models like Cradle to Cradle cannot be emphasised enough. It promotes circular economy and sustainability by reducing resource drain and waste production.
The closed loop Cradle to Cradle design breaks free from the conventional linear model of production, consumption and disposal as waste.
Conventional production requires a continuous supply of new materials, whether they are non-renewable metals or renewable bio-based materials. Mining for new materials not only destroys fragile ecosystems, but metals being limited in supply will eventually diminish to a point where mining them becomes uneconomical and unfeasible. Moreover, most of the metals have no real substitute (1). Even if bio-based materials from wood or crops are used, it places additional demand on land and other resources which can compete with production of food or fodder. This has already happened due to widespread promotion of bio-fuels.
Many production processes can also be harmful to the environment or people involved in the production. Furthermore, the design used in production of goods also generates waste at the end of the product life. The life of most products can be extended by repair, reuse and recycling. Ultimately though at least part of the materials used to make a product will end up as waste and in a landfill. This is the result of the conventional linear model.
Cradle to Cradle design differs by addressing the issue of waste not as an after-thought but during the product development and design phase. Care is taken to design products so that at the end of their life, different components can be disassembled and reused to make new products. Or the separated parts can be used to make new material. So though mined metals are used they never end as waste, and biological materials are composted. Cradle to Cradle design also depends on using materials that have no or little impact on the environment, during production and use or at the end of the product life. Use of renewable energy and avoiding pollution of water during production minimize impact during production (2).
This calls for not just scientific and technological innovations, but also a well-coordinated take-back system. Thus all sectors of the business have to function towards achieving a circular economy. Needless to say the customer’s cooperation is integral to the process.
This closed-loop model of business is becoming increasingly popular, and many countries and corporations around the world are using it. Since it was introduced in 1987, the concept has come a long way. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute certifies products made by applying its principles. These products range from fashion products like nail polish, detergents, garments, furniture to building material (3).
In a world defined by consumerism and fast innovation, it is not always necessary to sacrifice convenience or turn frugal to save the environment. Business models like Cradle to Cradle design can provide sustainable and green solutions by avoiding many of the environmental problems created due to current production methods.