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The Upcycle Beyond Sustainability Designing for Abundance Abstract William McDonough and Michael Braungart 2013


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The Upcycle Beyond Sustainability Designing for Abundance Abstract William McDonough and Michael Braungart 2013 …

The Upcycle Beyond Sustainability Designing for Abundance Abstract William McDonough and Michael Braungart 2013

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  • 1. The Upcycle Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance by William McDonough and Michael Braungart North Point Press © 2013 256 pages Focus Take-Aways Leadership & Management Strategy Sales & Marketing Finance Human Resources IT, Production & Logistics Career & Self-Development Small Business Economics & Politics Industries Global Business Concepts & Trends • Human beings are not destructive parasites – they are creative partners with the Earth. • You can’t throw anything away – there is no “away.” • Pollution isn’t the real problem behind the Earth’s environmental woes – the true culprit is flawed design. • The goal of “upcycling” is to “design or manufacture in a way that loves all of the children, of all species, for all time.” • Design can embrace the concept that everything in a product is “borrowed.” • Saying that a product has a “life-cycle ” is a misnomer that leads to destructive design. • Humans are capable of healing the Earth through thoughtful design. • Designers can build “additionality” into products so they give more than they take. • “Cradle to cradle” products nourish the planet and feed an enduring consumption cycle. • As you design and create, ask “What will happen next?” to the product. Rating (10 is best) Overall Importance Innovation Style 8 9 8 8 To purchase personal subscriptions or corporate solutions, visit our website at, send an email to, or call us at our US office (1-877-778-6627) or at our Swiss office (+41-41-367-5151). getAbstract is an Internet-based knowledge rating service and publisher of book abstracts. getAbstract maintains complete editorial responsibility for all parts of this abstract. getAbstract acknowledges the copyrights of authors and publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this abstract may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, photocopying or otherwise – without prior written permission of getAbstract Ltd. (Switzerland). This summary is restricted to the personal use of Robin Howard ( LoginContext[cu=1157892,aff=1536,subs=2,free=0,lo=en,co=US] 2013-10-09 20:12:30 CEST
  • 2. The Upcycle getAbstract © 2013 2 of 5 Relevance What You Will Learn In this summary, you will learn:r1) Why ethical design matters, 2) How innovations, creativity and common sense can reverse negative environmental trends, and 3) How some manufacturers create products that are good for the Earth. Recommendation William McDonough and Michael Braungart share the same depressing data as other environmental scientists and thought leaders, but they have a unique perspective on the world’s ecological problems. While well-intentioned innovators concentrate on “zero emission” design, McDonough and Braungart up the ante – they believe design can have zero impact on the Earth and even reverse past damage. They encourage readers to view themselves not as destructive parasites but as creative partners with the Earth. Their fascinating overview offers successful examples of how innovators who see design from a new perspective create ecologically helpful products. Even if this book slightly echoes the authors’ earlier Cradle to Cradle, a refresher course does no harm. It may well inspire you to reach higher and reconsider your approach to everyday ecology. getAbstract recommends these radical insights to activists, designers, policymakers, manufacturers and nonprofit workers concerned with global ecology. Summary           “Human beings don’t have a pollution problem, they have a design problem.”                               “People can design so that what they create does not impose itself on the tastes and needs of future generations.”               “The Design Solution” Pollution isn’t the real problem behind the Earth’s environmental woes. The true culprit is flawed design. If people created products more thoughtfully, they wouldn’t have to worry about pollution or shortages. Designers with full ecological awareness can create products that offer infinite utility and do no harm; they will help the Earth. The goal of “upcycling” is to “design or manufacture in a way that loves all of the children, of all species, for all time.” The “Cradle to Cradle Framework” Upcycling draws from “The Hannover Principles,” design guidelines written for the 2000 World’s Fair in Hannover, Germany. These principles are: • Humans and nature have a right to live side by side, flourish and endure. • Humans and nature are mutually dependent. • “Spirit and matter” share a relationship. • Humans are accountable for designs that adversely affect nature and other people. • People should create things that are not dangerous and will endure. • Nothing is wasted or thrown away; there is no “away.” • Energy moves through nature and is a source of benefit. • Design has constraints. • Sharing information helps humans stick to these principles. Items designed according to these principles fall into two categories. “Biological nutrients” are created naturally by the Earth or comprised of things created naturally by This summary is restricted to the personal use of Robin Howard ( LoginContext[cu=1157892,aff=1536,subs=2,free=0,lo=en,co=US] 2013-10-09 20:12:30 CEST
  • 3. The Upcycle getAbstract © 2013 3 of 5           “Safe and generous abundance can become intentional and replace scarcity as the defining situation of our time.”                         “Don’t let fears or restrictions get in the way of actually discovering a workable solution.”                         “Good design, with intention, with the goal of upcycling, makes things better over time.”                         “Often people become so preoccupied with making an object ‘work’ in its first cycle that they don’t look at the next picture.”             the Earth. “Technical nutrients” are “metals, plastics and other materials” not created by the Earth. In both cases, cradle-to-cradle products nourish the planet and feed the enduring cycle of consumption. Cradle-to-cradle design differs from traditional “cradle-to-grave” design in that cradle-to-cradle products have no end-of-use date; they nourish the natural system forever. Regulated substances and products with warning labels do not have the Earth or its inhabitants in mind, but sometimes cautionary language or labels indicate that an item could be reshaped to fit cradle-to-cradle principles. Often, “a regulation means here is something to be redesigned.” “Nature-Deficit Disorder” Prevalent information and marketing convey how many things are wrong with Earth’s systems. People and animals suffer and die; plant and animal species face extinction. Increased storm activity and other extreme weather pose major threats, along with pollution and loss of habitat. The human species risks impending doom. The knee-jerk reaction is that humans have to “get to zero” emissions and zero trash or waste, if we still have time. These intentions and actions encourage “nature-deficit disorder,” the idea that “Mother Nature” is a loving, nurturing, maternal entity. In fact, Mother Nature is much more brutal and destructive than human beings. For example, one of Mother Nature’s creations, botulinum toxin, is “10 million times more potent than cyanide.” Belief in Mother Nature’s benevolence fuels the idea that people exist separately from their physical world, which is “unspoiled and sacred.” This leads to the mistaken belief that human beings need to “leave a smaller footprint.” People who believe this try to “become less noticeable” and to take up less space. Bent on reducing their trash, they consume fewer products and recycle everything. The best outcome of this behavior is a reduction of the impact these few folks have on the Earth. Unfortunately, this behavior doesn’t lead to actions or ideas that heal past damage or ensure a sustainable future. Environmental efforts that focus on conserving resources are shortsighted because they concentrate action on using less and minimizing damage. This behavior, known as “ecologism,” makes quality of life a lesser priority and insists that no solutions exist that can improve life while nurturing Earth. Creating “Additionality” Environmental groups and conscientious manufacturers focus on reducing or eliminating emissions. However, emissions, per se, aren’t a bad thing: Trees emit oxygen that humans need to breathe; people emit carbon dioxide that plants require for sustenance. Designers should look for ways to harness emissions, not eliminate them. This is “additionality” – adding benefits to a product or process instead of merely eliminating its negative side effects. For example, an organization that tries to eliminate workplace accidents and to improve employees’ lives holistically would be practicing additionality. By implementing additionality, people can stop worrying about their “negative footprint” and concentrate on having a “positive footprint.” Solar energy offers an example of the possibilities of additionality. Instead of trying to “get off the grid,” people and enterprises could “contribute to the grid.” If Amtrak installed solar panels along the thousands of miles of easements along its train tracks, it could provide bonus power to the grid instead of relying on the government to subsidize its This summary is restricted to the personal use of Robin Howard ( LoginContext[cu=1157892,aff=1536,subs=2,free=0,lo=en,co=US] 2013-10-09 20:12:30 CEST
  • 4. The Upcycle getAbstract © 2013 4 of 5         “How can one design or manufacture in a way that loves all children of all species for all time?”                       “We have been in this work for decades and still...still we stop every time a company mentions a technical product as having a product life or life cycle.”                       “What happens to that glowing dress next year after being this year’s coolest fashion?”                       “If we want sustainably harvested wood, we not only need to source from sustainable forests, we need to create new sustainable forestry programs, too.”           energy costs. Similarly, the Nevada desert is a vast, untapped resource that could house miles and miles of solar collectors. Because energy dissipates in proportion to the distance it must travel, installers must locate solar panels where the energy is needed to reap their maximum impact. Light solar panels could shade existing roads, turning immense stretches of current infrastructure into energy generators. Windmills and wind turbines already stand in empty stretches of land and sea worldwide. People could also retrofit wind turbines into every existing tall structure, like radio and cell towers or skyscrapers, to deliver localized energy. The New Creative Process Designers working on reimagining products and processes do their best work when they pretend they’ve never before seen the object they are redesigning. By starting with a blank slate, people often have ideas that seem obvious in hindsight. Doing things the way they’ve always been done is the enemy of creativity. If designers commit themselves to innovative, start-from-scratch creativity, experts can stop talking about moving humans to another planet. NASA experimented with this creative process when it built a cutting- edge R&D building named Sustainability Base. Designers began by pretending they’d never seen a building. They used plentiful materials – sunlight, rain and wind – to power, heat and cool the structure. They designed systems to recycle water and engineered the building so its inhabitants would have to turn on supplemental lighting only in the winter, about 40 days out of 365. The designers considered the quality of life of the people working in the building, and so they made it nontoxic. They designed windows people could open to remind them that they are part of nature and not separate from their surroundings. The building cost the same as a toxic, consuming, closed-off building of the same size. This kind of construction ensures that everyone has safe, affordable housing that doesn’t ignore “human values.” Putting Human Needs First Designers who worked on creating new housing for Haitians affected by the 2010 earthquake came up with a cost-effective, money-saving design by utilizing materials in standard measurements. Instead of creating houses with 10-foot ceilings, they designed housing with eight-foot ceilings. The structures were habitable, but the design did not take into account whether these units would be safe or enjoyable for the people living in them. This is a significant problem with modern design: Cost comes first and human needs come second. “Designers do not have the right to inflict suboptimal design on all of us.” Innovation should begin with human values and prioritize everything else in this order: 1. Define the human values of the project. 2. Engage teams to agree on the principles to be followed. 3. Establish goals that support human values. 4. Define action plans to meet the goals. 5. Define methods to carry out action plans. 6. Define benchmarks to evaluate the process. This philosophy, which deliberately inverts the doctrines of traditional design, insists that humans come first and metrics come last. The Designtex organization used this innovative process to reinvent products. It created a beautiful fabric made of natural materials that is This summary is restricted to the personal use of Robin Howard ( LoginContext[cu=1157892,aff=1536,subs=2,free=0,lo=en,co=US] 2013-10-09 20:12:30 CEST
  • 5. The Upcycle getAbstract © 2013 5 of 5         “We don’t have a toxins problem; we have a materials- in-the-wrong-place problem.”                         “Put values right up there at the beginning of the decision making process.”                         “If human beings upcycle they can all live peacefully on one planet.”                         “Tell your children that things are looking up.” so safe to handle employees need not wear gloves or respirators at work. The new fabric is durable and so attractive that it has won several awards. Now the parent company, Steelcase, is redesigning all of its products using this system. The company also reclaimed space formerly used to house toxic chemicals. The local garden club now uses scraps from this space to compost gardens. Transforming Everything Upcycle principles encourage designers – and anyone interested in this new approach – to see everything on Earth as having potential to be something else. Realize that “you don’t have a garbage can” in your kitchen. “You have a nutrient rest stop.” Forget the concept of “trash” and consider that everything has to go somewhere. Figure out how to make everything useful. As you design and create, ask “What will happen next?” to the product. Imagine new ways to approach consumption and design. Do it now – don’t wait for a better time. Accepting failure is an important concept in upcycling. Some of history’s greatest inventions failed in their first few hundred iterations. Society tends to equate failure with disgrace, a cultural belief people must change. Failure is part of success, and innovative designers accept failure as a steppingstone on the path to great achievement. The cosmetics firm Aveda assumed responsibility for the products it puts into the world by implementing a “packaging take-back program.” Consumers return used Aveda packages in exchange for credits toward future purchases. Aveda set this forward-looking example and other companies, such as Samsung and Kiehl’s, followed. Farming with Greenhouse Strategies Addressing agriculture’s environmental problems with modified seeds and plants won’t yield a complete solution. Farmers need to care for the soil and incorporate greenhouse strategies that include hydroponics, supplementing and conserving phosphate, and eliminating the stigma surrounding the use of sewage as a fertilizer. It takes hundreds of years to create one inch of topsoil. The United States displaces topsoil faster than it can replenish it. In contrast, the Netherlands use greenhouses to harness greenhouse gases and make their small growing area “hyperproductive.” This system prevents wind damage, requires less water, and retains soil and nutrients within a “closed system.” These greenhouse systems also create heat for nearby buildings – another example of additionality. Start Where You Are Don’t be overwhelmed by the task at hand or fear making mistakes. Change needn’t happen all at once – upcycling is a learning process. Encourage designers and people everywhere to reimagine everything they do to find additionalities, and to create products and processes that nurture the Earth instead of simply not hurting it. “Speak to the world in positives.” Declare your good intentions and encourage people to create new solutions. About the Authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart co-authored Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which explains “The Hannover Principles.” This summary is restricted to the personal use of Robin Howard ( LoginContext[cu=1157892,aff=1536,subs=2,free=0,lo=en,co=US] 2013-10-09 20:12:30 CEST