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From Cradle to Cradle – A new approach to productdesign

In the face of climate change, there are many calls for changes in behavior, renunciation and the reduction of emissions. Climate neutrality is the new buzzword and companies are being called upon to do business with as little impact on the climate as possible. Some process steps and sources of resources and energy are changing – but the system behind them remains unchanged. A system that works like this: Products are manufactured, used by people and ultimately end up as waste. A product life cycle, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, based on the following principle: From the cradle to the grave- “From cradle to grave”. Valuable resources and energy are lost in this cycle and the “grave” of these products is often our nature and environment (just think of the plastic waste in our oceans).

What is behind the Cradle to Cradle principle?

The Cradle to Cradle (C2C) principle was developed by the German chemist Michael Braungart and the US architect William McDonough and stems from the idea of a sustainable circular economy. The basic idea is to take nature as an example and think in cycles. The aim is to prevent the creation of waste by designing products in such a way that their ingredients and materials can be easily returned to the cycle from which they were taken.

Sustainable products against a green background and the heading "Zero Waste"

There is no waste in nature because everything that decays is used as a nutrient for new growth. This means that no resources are lost in this cycle, as all components are reused and reprocessed. This is precisely the principle on which C2C is based:

All components of a product can be recycled and each component is fed back into the cycle and thus serves as the basis for the next product.

The C2C principle provides a positive approach to dealing with the climate crisis. The focus is not on sacrifice, efficiency and savings, but on the development of a living and diverse system that harnesses the creativity of nature and people. This approach is used to design useful products that generate added value and quality of life. The focus is no longer on efficiency, but on effectiveness. In other words, human products should actually enrich the environment. Frugality would then no longer have to be a virtue if resources are used in a regenerative way.

Two cycles

The C2C principle distinguishes between two cycles: the biological cycle and the technical cycle.

Symbol for the biological cycle
Symbol for the technical cycle

The biological cycle

The biological cycle refers to products and materials that can be biodegraded after use and returned to natural cycles. These materials are designed to be safe and environmentally friendly, without harmful substances that could be dangerous to humans, animals or plants. Examples of products in the biological cycle are biodegradable packaging, clothing made from organic fibers or furniture made from natural materials.

When these products reach the end of their useful life, they can be composted or broken down in other ways. The resulting nutrients are returned to the soil or other natural systems, where they support new plant growth and thus the entire biological cycle. An existing example of this is a biodegradable T-shirt that can simply be composted after use. The T-shirt, which is made of 100% cotton and printed with biodegradable ink, is then simply broken down by microorganisms and returned to the material cycle.

The technical cycle

The technical cycle comprises products and materials that cannot be biodegraded but are instead preserved for repeated use in industrial processes.

The materials are designed in such a way that they can be broken down after use and the individual components can be recovered in order to manufacture new products. Examples of this are metals, plastics and other synthetic materials used in electronics, automobiles or household appliances. Products in the technical cycle should be designed in such a way that they can be easily dismantled and their components efficiently recycled.

Cradle to Cradle certification

The Cradle to Cradle certification evaluates products in terms of their sustainability and environmental friendliness. It comprises five categories: Material Health, Reuse of Materials, Renewable Energy and CO₂ Management, Water Management and Social Fairness. Products are certified at the Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Basic levels, depending on how well they meet the criteria.

From product orientation to service orientation

Another consideration of the cradle-to-cradle philosophy is the following: What if you don’t sell or buy a product, but only the product service? In other words, the benefits of a product? This would mean that instead of selling a washing machine, for example, 3000 washes would be sold. If the service, i.e. the benefit, of a product is paid for, it would suddenly no longer be in the interests of the manufacturer for the product to break (keyword: planned obsolescence – deliberately planned predetermined breaking points). As a result, the quality and longevity of products would increase.


The cradle-to-cradle principle is an innovative approach to sustainable design and production that aims to eliminate waste and keep materials in endless cycles. Products manufactured according to this principle are safe, environmentally friendly and promote the sustainable use of resources. However, the cradle-to-cradle principle requires us to rethink and redesign established systems.
However, if we succeed in establishing a functioning C2C system and thus a sustainable, circular economy, this would not only have ecological but also many social benefits.

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