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C2C Design Concept

Saving energy, living moderately, making production processes more efficient and less harmful - to Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart these principles of sustainability as we understand the word today do not sound attractive. In his opinion they do not go in the right direction. His vision is different, he wants to develop products and production processes, which eliminate waste. The products he develops must be completely safe for both people and the environment. Additionally, people and the products they manufacture and use will be useful for other processes. These products work in close loops, in nutrient circles, so that there won't be any waste at all, but only useful resources. The practicality of this idea is demonstrated by several hundred products all over the world, which were either developed in accordance to this prinicple or are at least optimized in the right direction. The principle is called the Cradle to Cradle® design concept, developed in cooperation with the American architect William McDonough.

While the normal strategies of eco-efficiency seek to reduce and minimize the unintended negative consequences of processes of production and consumption, the concept of eco-effectiveness presents a positive agenda based on maximizing the ability of industry to truly support the natural and human world around it. The successful interdependent nature of biological systems suggests that achieving a sustainable system of consumption and production is not a matter of reducing the footprint of our activities on this planet, but transforming this footprint into a source of replenishment for those systems that depend on it.

Central to putting this strategy into practice is the concept of Cradle to Cradle design. Cradle to Cradle design defines a framework for designing products and industrial processes that turn materials into nutrients by enabling the formation of cyclical material flow systems. Products optimized for biological cycle are termed biological nutrients (e.g. plant-based and biodegradable materials) and are intended for safe return to the environment as nutrients for living things. Products optimized for the technical cycle are termed technical nutrients (e.g. metals and some polymers) and are intended to circulate in closed-loop industrial cycles.

All products can then be divided into three categories: products of consumption, products of service, and unmarketable products. Products of consumption, such as cleaning chemicals, shampoos, and packaging materials, are made from biological nutrients and designed for safe disposal in the natural environment. Products of service, such as cars, washing machines, and televisions, are made from technical nutrients and designed to provide a service to users and then to be recycled. Unmarketable products, such as hazardous waste, cannot be consumed or used in an environmentally sound way, and should be discontinued and substituted as soon as possible.

The ABC-X List is used to determine whether a product is marketable. The X-List are substances that must be removed from all products since they are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, and/or disruptive to the endocrine system of humans and animals. The Gray List substances are not ideal but lack viable subsitutes and are necessary for continued manufacture. The Passive Positive List substances are okay to use since they have a neutral impact on the environment. The aim is to use substances from the Active Postive List, which are completely compatible with human and environmental health, and are selected for their "good" and useful qualities.

Once products have been eco-effectively optimized and fit the Cradle to Cradle framework, the Triple Top Line can be met. The Triple Top Line takes the concept of the Triple Bottom Line but reorients the view from minimizing harm to maximizing benefit. This new design perspective creates triple top line growth: products that enhance the well being of nature and culture while generating economic value. Design for the triple top line follows the laws of nature to give industry the tools to develop systems that safely generate industry forever. Value and quality are embodied in products, processes, and facilities which are so ecologically intelligently designed that they leave footprints to delight in, rather than to lament.


Cradle to Cradle Certification

Cradle to Cradle Certification provides a company with a means to tangibly and credibly measure achievement in environmentally-intelligent design and helps customers purchase and specify products that are pursuing a broader definition of quality.
This means using environmentally safe and healthy materials; design for material reutilization, such as recycling or composting; the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency; efficient use of water, and maximum water quality associated with production; and instituting strategies for social responsibility.
If a candidate product achieves the necessary criteria, it is certified as a silver, gold or platinum product and as a technical/biological nutrient (available for homogeneous materials or less complex products), and can be branded as Cradle to Cradle®.
Read more about Cradle to Cradle®-Certification:


Michael Braungart uses special terms in his scientific work. Please take a look at the following explanations. Any use of the terms listed below should give proper credit to Michael Braungart, William McDonough, EPEA Internationale Umweltforschung GmbH, and McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry LLC.

Biological Nutrient

A raw material used by living organisms or cells to carry on life processes such as growth, cell division, synthesis of carbohydrates and other complex functions. Biological nutrients are usually carbon-based compounds.

Cradle to Cradle

A model of industrial systems in which material flows cyclically in appropriate, continuous biological or technical nutrient cycles. All waste materials are productively re-incorporated into new production and use phases, i.e. "waste equals food."

Design Chemistry

Refers to the incorporation of broader scientific and ecological knowledge into existing product analysis and redesign, or into new product design based on environmentally intelligent criteria.


Cradle to Cradle Design's strategy for the use of intelligent and healthy materials, designing human industry that is safe, profitable, and regenerative, while producing economic, ecological, and social value.


The elegant intelligence of natural systems and processes (such as nutrient cycling, interdependence, celebration of diversity, solar power use, regeneration, etc.).


The practice of recycling a material in such a way that much of its inherent value is lost (e.g. recycling plastic into park benches).

Products of Service

A product that is used by the customer, formally or in effect, but owned by the manufacturer. The manufacturer maintains ownership of valuable material assets for continual reuse while the customer receives the service of the product without assuming its material liability. Products that can utilize valuable but potentially hazardous materials can be optimized as products of service.

Products of Consumption

A product designed for safe and complete return to the environment, which becomes nutrients for living systems. The product of consumption design strategy allows products to offer effectiveness without the liability of materials that must be recycled or "managed" after use.

Technical Nutrient

A material of human artifice designed to circulate within industrial lifecycles--forever.


Products which cannot be consumed or used in either an organic or an industrial cycle. Safe means of recycling these materials may be currently unavailable due to lack of demand and high cost. In the long-term, these products should not be manufactured. As existing unmarketables are discarded, they should be stored and prevented from contaminating the surrounding environment until a safe recycling process is developed.


The practice of recycling materials in such a way that it maintains and/or accrues value over time (the opposite of downcycling).

Waste = Food

The first design principle of the next industrial revolution, all products are seen as nutrients within biological (natural) or industrial (technical) cycles.