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Cradle to Cradle goes mainstream

During the last World Economic Forum in Davos the circular economy was a hot topic among CEO’s, world leaders and experts. A recent international study of McKinsey underlines the economic necessity. And the number of companies that work with new, circular business models increases. When talking about sustainable product development, the question is obviously no longer ‘if’ but ‘how’. Cradle to Cradle forms the basis of this new way of innovating, producing and organizing the chain of production. Are these ideas ready to go mainstream?

When chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough published the book Cradle to Cradle, their vision on redesigning the way we make things was received with enthusiasm. In The Netherlands, the translation, became a bestseller. But would the ideas stick and actually change companies and the industry? Especially the manufacturing business here is now actively seeking how stay viable and make the transformation to the circular business model. Answering questions like: How to keep our raw materials and energy costs affordable, how do we prepare our organization and supply chain on a closed-loop system? And above all: How we are going to make this a profitable business case?

Case of entrepreneurship

Looking at the Dutch market, the traditional Dutch companies play a prominent role in this development. Industries that have a hard time now, such as the paper, carpet and interior business, take the first step from talking to innovation. Auping, Desso, Van Houtum, Mosa, Brabantia and Van Swaay are a couple of these success stories. They work step-by-step making their products and processes more sustainable. In the meantime they also prove their efforts by having one or more Cradle to Cradle-product certifications.

This is rarely a case of charity, but more often one of entrepreneurship. Take Desso, producer of carpets, for example. Their first results are promising. In a difficult market they increase their value. Customers appreciate their efforts; Desso adds something to the world by making a sustainable product that people love to have.

Keeping it real

What these companies have in common? They take time to make a change, taking it step-by-step. Starting with optimizing the chain of one product, by defining conditions and realistic and achievable goals.

The change into Cradle to Cradle starts with the intention. The more you grow into the process, the higher the level of certification will be. To put it in the words of founding fathers Braungart and McDonough: "Nobody can reach perfection in one day. But people can be respected, recognized and stimulated because they started with the change."

Evidence of effort

Proving efforts is only one side of the story. A Cradle to Cradle-certificate is not just some fancy label on a product, it's also a way to improve the product chain and product(s) in a structured way. This is because certification goes far beyond the raw materials of the product. Factors such as renewable energy, dealing with water and social justice are also part of it.

It is obvious that companies, especially in the manufacturing and construction industry, are not only talking about and experimenting with circular designs. They know how to transform this into real products and business models. To me this shows we have entered a mature phase. Cradle to Cradle is ready to scale up, ready to go mainstream. "Being less bad is no good," as Michael Braungart uses to express his ideas. And he is right, it comes to designing products that add true value: that is what customers recognize and asks for.

Udo Waltman is company director of Search Consultancy, a consultancy agency for sustainable business and a part of Search. Previously, the company published the Dutch translations of Cradle to Cradle and The Upcycle. Search is one of the eight consultancies in the world that help companies getting ready for Cradle to Cradle-certifications. The certification itself is carried out by the non-profit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

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