Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reflection on Cradle-to-Cradle: A Closed Cycle

The essence of cradle-to-cradle is the notion of “a closed cycle”. Parts for a product come from the natural environment, and when the product reaches its end of life, its parts can be put back to the nature. Just as William McDonough mentioned in his TED talk, there is no finish line for cradle-to-cradle products, and all materials are infinitely usable. In this video he talks about the philosophy behind cradle-to-cradle design.

However, the benefits of cradle-to-cradle can only be maximized when equal attention has been paid to the end of the life cycle – recycle and reproduce – as to the start of the cycle. Unfortunately, for most companies this is not the case.

Manufacturing cradle-to-cradle or green products gives companies such as Herman Miller a great reputation for having a sense of environmental responsibility. But at the end of the day, it is customers to pay for the extra cost of producing green products. The Mirra Chair, which is mentioned in the case we read, is priced at $599. This gives companies a strong incentive to produce green product – they get a reputation, and extra costs are shouldered on the customers.

Then the question is, does merely producing green products makes the cycle complete? Obviously the answer is no. While we are cheering for those to create cradle-to-cradle products, we should see how much efforts are still needed to ensure proper recycling and reproducing. The cradle-to-cradle cycle has to be spinning to make real good.

USPS is actually putting great emphasis on achieving this closed cycle. They not only provide cradle-to-cradle packaging products (the eco-friendly boxes and envelopes), but also buy and use a substantial amount of recycled materials. About 220,000 tons of wastepaper, cardboard and other materials were recycled in 2008 through its recycling and waste prevention programs, and more than $200 million worth of products containing recycled materials are purchased by USPS every year.

Of course, it is easier for USPS to recycle and to get recycled materials. The question is, what strategies or policies can be used to ensure a closed cycle for products like the Mirra Chair?


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