I have written about the “Cradle to Cradle” rather than “Cradle to Grave” care discussed by McDonough and Braungart in Cradle to Cradle and Upcycle. In their books, they discuss the life cycle of products from the beginning, Cradle, until they are not used anymore and disposed of, Grave. Their concept was to use products until the end of their useful life. When products cannot be used anymore, the products should be “upcycled”, not trashed, so the materials from the product could be used again. See Concept: Create More Good, Not Just Less Bad.
Overall they are referring to the organizations that extract material, then manufacture a product to sell which eventually ends up as waste. Their concept was for organizations to have responsibility for the products and all that it took to make them until the end. The end, however, should be an “upcycle” where it is used for a greater purpose or at least where it is used as recycled material for new products so more virgin material does not get extracted. While I understood this intellectually, I guess I did not understand what it meant until I was picking up garbage on our beautiful Greenways in Greenville NC.
While picking up garbage on the Greenway I realized there was no way to trace back these waste materials. Of course, many would suggest we should just more severely restrict people from dumping their garbage. That solution, however, is unlikely to work. Penalizing people is a day late and a dollar short. After all, nobody likes being told what to do to cause less bad, they want to be responsible for more good.
Hard to See Financial Benefits
At first glance, the benefits of being responsible for products from cradle to grave are hard to see. These benefits are what Kahneman & Tversky would call mental illusions. In reality, with effort, having organizations be responsible for their products through their lifecycle can be financially beneficial for them as it also benefits society, as a by-product. In a Karma-like fashion, organizations that do good for society get more business due to the good feelings generated by their efforts. This is true and has been documented by Interface, Inc., a modular carpet company (see We Must Make It Better – Saving the Planet not Enough!)
Right now we only have cradle-to-grave legislation for hazardous materials. Why don’t we do it for all materials? People are supposed to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, and since corporations are considered people, they should be held to the same standard. Upon reflection, however, this would not be a problem but a benefit. Being a better steward of their business and the materials used would yield less expensive operations, better processes, better use of resources, and a cleaner world.
In other words, seeing all the garbage in greenways showed me what happens to the cradle if it is not brought home. (ok, not a perfect analogy) I know there is more to be done – such as advocating for new laws. However, moving toward a default standard that helps organizations be responsible for their goods from cradle to grave or ideally cradle to cradle, we could begin to generate comprehensive improvements. This means we should push for legislation, laws, studies, and more that document the benefits to organizations, people, environments, and more when actions upcycle used goods, not just cause less waste.
In other words, “nudging” organizations, with better regulations, to be more responsible for their products so they do not become garbage like I saw on the greenways could help generate comprehensive improvements. These new laws would push organizations to work like Interface, Inc who has been able to create net-positive, pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, and profitable synergistic processes from which everyone and everything would benefit.
Please share information about other organizations who have learned how to bring the cradle home by following a path to generate more good and how it has made them more profitable and a better contributing member of society. I look forward to hearing from you.