Cradle to Cradle

"Human industry has been in full swing for a little over a century, yet it has brought about a decline in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Nature doesn't have a design problem. People do."

Chapter 1: A Question of Design

Design "principles" that have done more harm than good

  • Brute Force
  • A Culture of Monoculture
  • Activity Equals Prosperity
  • Crude Products

Action: Be a part of the strategy of tragedy or implement a strategy of change.

Chapter 2: Why Being "Less Bad" is No Good

Reduce, avoid, minimize, sustain, limit, hault - some of the words central to the environmental agendas today.

Regulation is is a signal of design failure. Eco-effectiveness allows for the complete finishing of resources.

Efficiency can often come at a cost (Example: More biodiversity of Eastern Germany vs. the "more efficient" West Germany). Efficiency as the only strategy to environmental change has fatal limits.

The "be less bad" approach is fundamentally pessimistic - that the human species is only capable of designing horrible destructive, systems and there is a better way.

Some warnings from key people

  • "The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to product subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race" - Thomas Malthus' somber prediction.
  • Rachel Carson's silent spring imagined a world without birds singing and which inspired a charge against human made pesticides. Her writing was the shift in environmentalism towards more monitoring and reduction.
  • Paul Ehrlich had similar views about population as Malthus wrote a few works that said plain and simple: "Halt human population growth as quickly and humanely as possible". He made a point to say that our economic system is based on growth and not sustainability. We are on track to test the limits of the Earth. Fritz takes a philosophical hot take on how we need to change as a society - We should question that we see continuous growth as progress and prosperity and look inside ourselves to "see the hollowness and fundamental unsatisfactoriness of a life devoted primarily to the pursuit of material ends"


  • Term that spawned from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. They flew in 30,000 people including "world leaders" and left with loose commitments to make things more eco-efficient. Or in other words: Do more with less.
  • Our Common Future warns that we need to reduce pollution in order for cities to remain livable.
  • Eco-Effectiveness was officially coined by the Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Referenced Readings:

  • Population: The First Essay - Thomas Malthus
  • Silent Spring - Rachel Carson
  • The Population Bomb - Ehrlich
  • Small is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered - Fritz Schumacher
  • Our Common Future - United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development

Organizations Referenced: The Sierra Club, Wilderness Society

Chapter 3: Eco-Effectiveness

Why don’t we design for effectiveness and not efficiency? If we efficiently use our last remaining materials on earth, rather than transition to a mindset and actions of abundance then we might stop our quests to go to Mars 😂

This chapter is spot on in thinking about effectiveness vs. efficiency. They are two drastically different approaches that seriously affect how we will spend our remaining time on Earth.

Our current framework for design is destructive and we need to switch to a new one that encourages abundance.

Chapter 4: Waste Equals Food

All waste has a value!

Why isn’t there more value being recovered from electronics? Because we can get a new thing cheaper that spending the money rebuilding it with reclaimed materials. That cheaper product generally comes at a cost - supporting unjust labor conditions at a far away plant.

Products should be redesigned for a positive impact going back into the soil and water ways.

Chapter 5: Respect Diversity

Diversity is getting the corporate spin because it improves workspaces. It encourages different thoughts. We need the same approach to building and growth with architecture and design. These are the keys to solving our sustainability challenges of the future.

Design should include the diversity of nature and the natural flows. Instead of mimicking design trends, we should seek buildings that will incorporate diversity and become a net positive because of it!

Chapter 6: Putting Eco-Effectiveness into Practice

Feeling inspired by the Ford Plant example. Designing for eco-effectiveness means an all-hands on deck. From procurement to engineering, to get it “right”. Additionally, there is no “right” in this case! It is a journey that we are continually on and are striving toward to reclaim the Earth as natives.