The Cradle to Cradle approach defines and promotes the development of upcyclable products, which means that, unlike conventional recycling, it maintains the quality of raw materials throughout the multiple life cycles of the product and its components.

It is a philosophy of eco-design and circular economy that suggests that the human species and its activities are not a problem for nature or health, and that it is possible to “do good” by aiming for a positive impact rather than just “doing less damage” by reducing its impacts.

It therefore consists in having a positive impact on health and environment by drawing inspiration from the natural model according to four main principles:

  • Everything is resource,
  • Renewable energies must be favoured,
  • Diversity and cooperation must be celebrated,
  • A systemic and holistic vision is necessary.

Finally, this means that everything can be considered as a resource and the notion of waste disappears: the right materials enter infinite cycles/metabolisms, used in the right place at the right time. That was the reason why its founders gave it this name.

Cradle to Cradle : ” Less Bad is not Good ”

c2c-book

Unlike the sustainable development approach, which aims to reduce man’s negative impact on the environment, the “Cradle to Cradle” approach aims to increase its positive impact.

It is therefore a positive approach that gives context and perspective to life cycle analysis. It is not about reducing or minimizing its footprint and consumption, but about changing direction, gradually transforming our system from the inside. Nor is it a question of managing decline, but of managing a new form of growth that integrates, from the outset, the interests of future generations.

Cradle to Cradle is thus the driving force behind the circular economy and makes it possible to set up continuous flows in both opened and closed loops, while creating value at each step of the process. To successfully carry out this eco-design, it is essential to think upstream of the product so that its design ultimately brings benefits both on the economy, social and health/wellness, but also on the environment.

Initially, the C2C approach applies to products. It thinks differently about their durability and thus foresees differently their design, materials used and flows. Knowing that all these materials and energy to which we have access are not renewable, Cradle to Cradle seeks to use them, but this time in a beneficial circular approach and no longer in a damaging linear approach. Their use can therefore continue indefinitely via 2 cycles:

The biological cycle

In a biological cycle, materials are decomposed by micro-organisms to form new nutrients. Biodegradable products are transformed into compost, thus forming a base of nutrients that can be used by new natural resources.

All products that belong to this cycle are called “consumption products”. In the C2C vision, clothing, footwear or any other products that wear out in use – such as tires – must be designed with a view to returning to the soil, with only substances that are compatible with the biological cycle. The diagram below, which shows an example of the manufacture of a biodegradable bioplastic bottle, illustrates this.

Usually, what we call “recycling” is more like “subcycling” because it is often a source of value destruction (e.g. simple energy recovery is a source of loss of precious nutrients).
Here, the cycle is closed and has a positive impact since the bottle has been eco-designed from 100% biodegradable components and can therefore return to the soil from which it is made (e. g. corn starch) to be used as compost.

The technical cycle

A technical cycle consists of flows of industrial materials, intentionally managed. The idea is to allow mass industrial products to circulate in a closed circuit, while maintaining a constant level of quality. Having a closed system is a prerequisite for creating optimal value, but also for leaving the possibility of using toxic substances when unavoidable (before finding substitutes).
The ease of disassembly and the care taken in choosing the materials for a product are fundamental aspects of the design. The products and materials in this cycle are called “use products”.
The diagram below shows the example of a television set, produced by assembling elements of defined quality and which can be reused to re-create the same material (closed loop) or participate in the manufacture of other products (open loop).
The technical loop also makes possible the principle of “functional economy”. This is the case, for example, in laundries where consumers prefer not to buy washing machines and to use them for a fee. In this approach, the equipment remains the property of the manufacturer, and is returned to him after a defined period of use. One of the advantages of this system is that the manufacturer has an interest in using materials of a higher level and quality, as well as a take-back system, to easily recover components for which he has considered, during eco-design, the next uses within economically resilient ecosystems.

Cradle to Cradle certification of products

Today, more than 10,000 products are C2C certified and nearly 500 companies are involved.

This means that they meet five conditions: non-toxicity, circularity, renewable energy, preservation of water and respect for social rules. The list of C2C products is available at www.c2ccertified.org.

Different levels of certificates (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) make possible to gradually move towards an optimal version of the product.

 

Certifications are now issued by the C2CPII public body (C2C Product Innovation Institute) on the basis of evaluation reports produced by accredited bodies. Upcyclea is the only French accredited company.

The “C2C-Inspired Building” Registry

On the basis of certified products, it is entirely possible to adapt the approach to the scale of a building. The philosophy is identical with the desire to build buildings that can be dismantled and upcycled, and be sources of value creation. The principles are specified below:

A C2C building must have a positive footprint in one or more of the following areas:

  • ① Healthy air
  • ② Healthy water
  • ③ Healthy materials & Upcycling of technical materials
  • ④ Biodiversity & Upcycling of organic materials
  • ⑤ Improved mobility and flexibility
  • ⑥ Renewable Energy & Carbon Management
  • ⑦ Quality of life & Performance
  • ⑧ Economic activity, Social innovations & Regional dynamism

Buildings inspired by Cradle to Cradle are registered by the Hamburg Environmental Institute (HUI), on the proposal of Upcyclea. The list is available on: www.C2C-buildings.net

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