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Book Report: Cradle to Cradle and Understanding Our Ecosystem

After quite a long while of hearing about and even owning a copy of Bill McDonough's and Michael Braungart's Cradle to Cradle, I finally got...

After quite a long while of hearing about and even owning a copy of Bill McDonough's and Michael Braungart's Cradle to Cradle, I finally got around to reading it this past weekend.The book is a clear and simple and yet quite profound manifesto for changing how we think about our relation to the world-and in particular the way we create and consume; in fact, those words may not even apply any longer. I highly encourage everyone who is motivated to create and imagine change in the world to read this book, but in the meantime I will offer these learnings and reflections, as they undoubtedly will color my thoughts moving forward.Here, are my big and paradigm-shifting takeaways:Sustainability is the wrong goal. Our present systems of manufacturing and consumption have been largely developed outside the workings of the natural systems in which we live. Indeed we've been trying to control nature, to separate ourselves from it, not to live as part of it. The result is that to make our systems sustainable in ecological terms is to reduce the bad they create. To follow this to its logical conclusion, we should create nothing because this would be the least bad. This kind of sustainability is uninspiring, self-defeating, and probably impossible.Instead, what if we imagine-then design and engineer-systems that do good. Not less bad, or even zero bad. But lots and lots of good. Let's not be so shortsighted and self-effacing as to imagine we are only capable of harm and thus our only successful path is that of reducing, regulating, and mitigating the harm we do. What if we create manufacturing facilities that clean rivers rather than pollute them? We never used to try to do these things; now that we have, we're proving we can.In a way, this is as boldly simple as changing our mindset and designing to solve a wider range of problems-to take a systems, or ecosystem view. It's asking "What is the system of which this [product, project, factory, etc.] will be a part?" And how can it positively contribute to it, as well as take from it?For a long time we've been taking with no thought of how we give back. But that's not because we're not capable of giving back. The world just seemed so vast and abundant that we didn't need to concern ourselves with the latter part of the equation. Now we know that's not true. The "away" where we throw things doesn't quite exist the way we thought it once did. The challenge now, is not to throw less "away," but to not throw anything "away" at all because that whole notion has proven a false concept.What we've been thinking about as waste can, or ought to be, food for other parts of the system in which it's operating. This is how nature works. There is no waste; there are cycles. Unfortunately, its not just as simple as starting to "feed" our "waste" to nature, because we've made our waste inedible to nature. The good news is that McDonough and Braungart offer repeated examples for how they have created new products and new processes that are indeed quite "edible" and even nutritious to the world around them, with no loss in the product's form, function, or price. It's simply a matter of knowing we're trying to solve that problem from the outset.Buckminster Fuller wrote: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."At present, we are too often fighting an uphill battle against the status quo, trying to change it or regulate it. Our more expedient path might be to simply replace it with something better. But this isn't going to happen until we have the viable alternative. What Cradle to Cradle does so well, is give us a place to start in the revolution. By showing how much can be accomplished by beginning with an intention of perpetuating good into the system rather than harm, by understanding the flux of things and harnessing the power of diversity and localized solutions, we can create innovation that is wholly new and truly effective on the broadest scale. We can do new things that replace the old without bothering to amend it-something that seems so much more inspiring and even possible than anything I had fully wrapped my head around before.

To buy the book through a local vendor, click here.To find it on Amazon, click here.Either way, you'll get a book that fully attempts to practice what it preaches as its made of an interesting plastic polymer that is fully recyclable an even upcyclable.

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