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The Cradle To Cradle Framework For Sustainable Fashion

Cradle to cradle an approach to sustainable fashion design is the third post in a series that aims to discuss the different methods and framework for sustainable fashion design.
The first post How to approach sustainable fashion design and second Biomimicry as nature builds it. The Cradle to cradle framework is the Swiss Architect Walter understanding of sustainability, by advocating “service-life extension of goods.”. His ideas were made accessible in 2002 with the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by Michael Braungart and William Mc-Donough. The impressive background of Michael Braungart and William Mc- Donough (one an architect, the other a materials engineer) seems to prove that more complex design solutions work better when different views meet.

From Eco-Efficiency to Eco-Effectiveness

Their focus is simple; paradigm shifts from eco-efficiency (do less harm) to eco-effectiveness (do better) is one of their most important messages. The previous ways of designing, manufacturing and consume since the industrial revolution has failed our increasing appetite for shopping has made people renting storage space simply because we buy too many things. These low prices, poorly shaped, built to break products has created a fast consumer culture, which causes tremendous environmental damage

Consumer Culture Tremendous Damage on The Environment

  • The exploitation of global natural resources, cutting down trees, burning forest, erodes diversity of animals, insects, and plants.
  • Billion tons of toxic waste from materials almost impossible to break down in nature release yearly into the air, water, and soil without control.
  • Gigantic amounts of waste whereof, more than a million people around the world live on landfills
  • Leaving valuable materials, silver, gold in holes all over the planet, where they can never be retrieved

Zero Wastes Do Not Exist In Nature

Earth is a closed system with respect to the matter; matter and energy can only be transformed. (Newton’s 1st law of Thermodynamics-Conservation of Matter and Energy), Earth has the same mass of 4.5. Billion years ago, and for example, carbon, fuel in your car or energy from the sun doesn’t disappear, when the radiation of the sun enters the system as solar energy, it leaves as heat radiation, i.e. transformed.  Zero wastes as a concept make no sense approaching the “cradle to cradle” framework.

Nature play game

Nature doesn’t understand zero as its non-existing, and therefore, it’s better talking about environmental balance. Raw materials fed into the manufacturing system leaves transformed into another form; income-outcome=zero. 2500 years ago, Buddha lectured a concept named the middle way, which can remind us that what we regard as the original theory has been conceptualized long before.
We can learn from history as much as from nature. In Buddhism philosophy, the middle way is a great source of wisdom, Buddha said enlightenment can only be obtained through balance. When using a cradle to a cradle framework, the manufacture process waste = food makes the difference from human production clearly visible. Mostly, we deposit waste without any idea of reassembling or reuse, sustainability can merely happen without balance and harmony.

Cradle to Cradle in The Garment Industry Graphics

Biomimetic approach to design

Cradle to cradle is biomimetic copying nature, read the second post in the series “Biomimicry as nature builts it”) approach to the design of products and systems and look closely on how nature efficiently design, materials, processes and handle recycling without waste vs human way designed products. The model is based on a system of life cycle development of which Cradle to cradle design that gives specific details of how to achieve the model.

Cradle to cradle framework talks about four processes

  1. Elimination of toxic materials, remove or replace processes
  2. Waste = food. Elimination of waste, nature uses everything
  3. Elimination of non-renewable sources of energy, use the only current solar income of energy
  4. Elimination of material down-cycling instead uses “up-cycle able” material process

The process

  • Elimination of toxic materials, remove or replace processes. The Cradle to cradle (eco-effectiveness) framework requires a significant change for the better and therefore, represents a high bar to reach for any organization. Their solutions, particularly in manufacturing focusing on materials and process selection, sharply reduce toxicity (throughout the product life cycle) has surprised many. In cases of whom aim of the factory manufacturing process was to reduce water contamination, it’s now a system for cleaning and restoring the water (cleaner water than before) after the following Cradle to cradle principles. The framework emphasis on reduction and remove of unnecessary toxic steps in production keep biological and technical materials separates and focuses on a natural cycle.

  • Waste = food. Elimination of waste, nature uses everything. Nature is efficient, uses nothing more than it needs; energy, materials made, and finally, it consumes everything (waste = food). The framework stress focus on efficiency; this requires us to ask a question and eliminate (reduce drastically) toxic materials. Therefore, using the word why seems like a good idea. During the process, certain steps in production might become unnecessary (reduce), technological progress can replace before toxic materials (remake) and so on. Finally, the changes must prove that consumers regard product re-design as better and more desirable and less harmful and profitable by the company owners.

  • Elimination of non-renewable sources of energy, use the only current solar income of energy. Cradle to cradle the third principle require renewable energy for fueling the closed-loop, the term named “current solar income,” defined as biomass, the hydro, wind, geothermal and photovoltaic. Furthermore, photosynthesis builds materials and nutrients throughout the biological cycle.

  • Elimination of a down-cyclable instead uses “upcycle-able” material process. Since the moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy, Adam Smith (the invisible hand) environment has been viewed as infinite, however, the famous phrase that we live on a planet with finite resources getting acceptance among more people than ever. The economic model of which GNP indicates nations wealth has never included nature capital as an asset. We treat. Therefore, environmental resources as never-ending and without cost, the results are devastating. The solution to the enormous waste problems is recycling. The concept has excellent acceptance from a broad audience. However, most people forget that recycling adds energy-consuming processes not always good for the environment. Besides, the recyclable material can be used in some other form; it’s often only reusable in a degraded, less valuable way because it has lost important aspects of its quality, purity, and structure. The unique material that is 100 per cent recyclable is glass. Recycling has also limited our ability to think differently. Cradle to Cradle emphasizes the importance of materials that can be recycled as in nature where everything is consumed.

The material cycle and the biological cycle

  • Technical materials limited non-toxic, synthetic no negative used the same continuous cycles as the identical product without losing integrity or quality. The biological material is organic once used to be disposed of in any natural environment. The Cradle to the cradle framework acknowledges the need to look at the entire life cycle of production, transportation, use, and disposal; as in nature, the framework differentiates between biological nutrients and technical nutrients.

Technical cycle

  • Technical nutrients are materials not found in nature that should not be put back into, whether benign or not. Instead, they should be recycled into other technical nutrients. Likewise, biological nutrients should be put back reverse engineered.

Biological cycle

  • Cradle to Cradle highlights the importance of not mixing two in one material (monstrous hybrid) since the combination makes it hard to recycle into either system. An example is the modern packaging of milk and juice boxes the mixture of aluminium foil, plastic laminate, and the paper carton is practically impossible to separate.

Model strength
  • Proven effective and successful implemented in many businesses.
  • Processes easily adaptable to similar industrial manufacturing systems
  • Easy to address the development process.
  • Easily combined with other frameworks such as LCA.

Model weakness

  • Cradle to cradle is not a complete framework.
  • Favour, mostly big organizations as it requires a high grade of commitment, change, and investment.
  • Effects and efficacy are promoted and cradle to cradle does not give any preferences, whether a substance or process is “natural” or not.
  • Many materials that aren’t healthy for humans or the Eco-system consists of the biological community that occurs in some locale, and the chemical and physical factors that make up its abiotic or non-living environment.” (such as uranium and arsenic) is not accounted for.
  • The framework, therefore, often leads toward technological solutions, instead of traditional approaches for a bigger audience.
  • The framework cradle to cradle does not integrate product consumption or discuss how to reduce consumption, as a result, measuring the process is impossible as embodied energy of materials is missing.
  • Doesn’t cover social and financial issues (only as a part of the certification system)

Sources and useful information


  • Biomimicry in chemistry reverse-engineering nature edited by Gerhard f. Swiegers
  • The cradle to cradle concept – is it always sustainable? Anders Bjorn, and Maria Strandesen; Environmental technology at the technical university of Denmark
  • C2C summary and design tools by Bram van der Grinten – 2008
  • An evaluation of cradle to cradle design as a solution to the Chinese environmental crisis an undergraduate honors thesis by Adam N
  • The design is the problem. The future of design must be sustainable by Nathan Shedroff
  • Cradle Design SM Framework by McDonough Braungart, design chemistry
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