Cradle to Cradle - products, but also systems

July 08, 2013

If the “closed loop” model is easy to understand from a theoretical standpoint, implementing it seems quite daunting – yet it has seduced major companies and elements of the philosophy have been adapted in the architectural and town planning fields.

Having worked with the Ford Motor Company for ten years, MBDC intervened both on the products themselves and on the production plant, demonstrating the all-encompassing aspect of the model. McDonough, through his architecture company, signed a contract with the car manufacturer to re-design the River Rouge complex in Michigan, covering 16 millions of square feet of factory floor space. He quickly recommended a green roof for the whole plant, which was met by some reluctance at first, but as the architect kept on pushing his arguments forward he started to be heard, as he recalls:

After lots of discussion and several visits to buildings with green roofs, (Ford’s) Jay Richardson’s skepticism began to give way. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developing new storm water regulations and Ford had estimated that the conventional technical controls required to comply with the new rules could cost almost $50 million. The natural storm water management system was estimated to cost only $15 million. The math was simple and compelling: the living roof offered millions of dollars in savings, with the landscape thrown in for free. Kind of gets your attention.

Bringing ecosystem services back on a site that once was the world’s biggest industrial complex   ©
Bringing ecosystem services back on a site that once was the world’s biggest industrial complex ©

As it turned out, the total cost was $18 million, including the 100 000 square metre roof covered with sedum (a low growing plant) capable of cleansing 20 billion US gallons of rainwater annually, whilst improving biodiversity and landscape in a heavily degraded environment. The green roof replaces a complex water treatment system that would have been energy-hungry, and feeds back to the soil, in the most natural way possible, a healthy nutrient whilst preventing flooding by performing a retention role. What once was the largest integrated factory in the world has benefited from C2C ideas, proving they can work even for large-scale industry.

Towards a “harmless” car?

Four years after that initial contract, C2C and Ford were back under the spotlight once more as the company unveiled its “Model U” concept car, having carried out an extensive research and development campaign with the help of MBDC. Sourcing existing materials to prove the feasibility of the idea, the team came up with a vehicle powered by a hydrogen engine and including Milliken & Co. polyester upholstery fabric, a “technical nutrient” made from chemicals chosen for their human and environmental health qualities, and capable of perpetual recycling. The car top is made from a potential “biological nutrient,” a corn-based biopolymer from Cargill Dow that can be composted after use.

The Model U concept car, and its compostable body parts   © Ford
The Model U concept car, and its compostable body parts © Ford

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