Eco Design Basics on Cradle to Grave vs. Cradle to Cradle

Two of the most basic terms in the Eco-Design field are “Cradle to Grave” and “Cradle to Cradle”. They relate to the product life cycle from the raw materials (Cradle) to disposal (Grave).


A term used in life-cycle analysis to describe the entire life of a material or product up to the point of disposal

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.” [Michael Braungart, William McDonough, EPEA]

The famous three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—are steadily gaining popularity in the home as well as the workplace. Reduction, reuse, and recycling slow down the rates of contamination and depletion but do not stop these processes.

Recycling is more expensive than it needs to be, partly because traditional recycling tries to force materials into more lifetimes than they were designed for. Very few objects were designed with recycling in mind. If the process is truly to save money and materials, products must be designed from the very beginning to be recycled or even “upcycled“—a term we use to describe the return to industrial systems of materials with improved, rather than degraded, quality.

The notion of ‘Cradle to Cradle’ conveys a message of “Do good” instead of “Do less bad.”

Here’s an experiment. Choose any of your favorite blogs/websites and skim their latest articles. How many of them are all about how to do less so it will have less of an effect on the environment?

The environmental message that consumers take from all of this can be strident and depressing: stop being so bad, so materialistic, so greedy. Do whatever you can, no matter how inconvenient, to limit your consumption. Buy less, spend less, drive less, have fewer children — or none.

Aren’t the major environmental problems today — global warming, deforestation, pollution, waste — products of your decadent Western way of life? If you are going to help save the planet, you will have to make some sacrifices, share some resources, perhaps you can go without. [Michael Braungart, William McDonough, EPEA]

With ‘Cradle to Cradle’ you don’t try to design a bottle from less plastic but rather design a bottle from materials that can fully enter a new life cycle either back to nature or back into the design process as a new product.

Biological nutrients will be designed to return to the organic cycle—to be literally consumed by microorganisms and other creatures in the soil. Products composed of materials that do not biodegrade should be designed as technical nutrients that continually circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles—the technical metabolism.

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4 thoughts on “Eco Design Basics on Cradle to Grave vs. Cradle to Cradle”

  1. michael says:

    we should use the 3 r’s more why arnt you encouraging it as much anymore?

  2. Ken Alston says:

    You can see a list of Cradle to Cradle certified products and learn more about the certification program at:

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