Ellen Macarthur Foundation


Chapter III - Putting the idea into application

Seeking to create a healthy and waste-free model, this philosophy has been advocated by American architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart, who joined forces and published the movement’s effective manifesto, “Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the way we make things” in 2002 after having set up McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC).


Ensuring the model has practical applications in reality by working as consultants for major businesses and institutions – such as Ford, the Chinese Government or Nike – McDonough and Braungart have proved the validity of the concept, which relies on the following founding principles:

Materials seen as nutrients

The model considers that all material involved in industrial and commercial processes can be seen as nutrients, of which there are two main categories: technical and biological. Technical nutrients should include only materials that do not have a negative impact on the environment (so non-harmful synthetic ones are accepted), while Biological nutrients are organic and can be returned to the soil without specific treatment to decompose and eventually become food for the ecosystem. What we need are “completely healthful products that are either returned to the soil or flow back to industry forever” say McDonough and Braungart.

At the core of the regenerative philosophy is the idea that we must challenge the fact that industrial processes inevitably damage nature, so the monitoring and banishment of toxic substances is a key element of the approach. Products, McDonough and Braungart argue, should and can be “designed from the outset so that, after their useful life, they will provide nourishment for something new.” In pragmatic terms, the two associates gave birth to the “C2C certification”, a concept owned and implemented by the MDBC firm, which has proven its validity in the business world on many occasions – rather than being a idealistic model to aspire to, McDonough and Braungart created a tool involving precise criteria (“material health” determined by a precise chemical composition assessment, energy required for production, material re-use potential etc).

Read further: Chapter IV – Just a revamped “use less and recycle” approach ?

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