Provo/Orem Energy Source

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Book Review and Thoughts: Cradle to Cradle: remaking the way we make things

I recently finished reading Cradle to Cradle: remaking the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002). I would highly recommend this book to anyone. I bought the book and read it based on an interview I heard with McDonough on NPR a while ago and then a recent discussion in a Utah Republican email group I'm a part of. What brought me to the book was the authors optimism with regard to natural resources, including energy. It was easy to read, more like a management book focusing on concepts rather than numbers and research. The book references research in the notes, but the text is mostly free of it; instead it has lots of ancedotes and examples. I would suggest reading Natural Capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution by Paul Hawkin, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins (1999) for a more numbers/reseach based approach to the same subject. I'm in the middle of that book now.

The basic philosophy of Cradle to Cradle as I saw it was that the design of nature does not include waste. The apparent waste of one animal, plant or process is the food for another. As the ecosystem grows it becomes healthier and the resources for the ecosystem are multiplied, not deminished. In short, waste equals food (chp 4 see pgg 103-104). This is a closed loop cycle (with the exception of the sun's energy). Natures abundance is provided by the sun's energy which nature uses day to day; paying expenses with current income instead of a savings nest egg to use a financial analogy (pg 32). Diversity is nature's tool to accomplish this closed loop abundance. In nature, growth betters the ecosystem (environment).

As people we rarely mimic nature's closed loop system. From companies to farms, we generally take raw/virgin resources and transform them into products we buy and then send to the landfill or incinerator. Instead of our valuable waste feeding back into the system, closing the loop, we stuff it in holes in the ground, wash it down rivers, or burn it (pg 27). We call this consumerism, but in reality we actually consume very little of what we make and buy (pg 27). For instance, a load of wash "consumes" about 5% of the detergent that we put into the wash, the rest is sent down the drain to that magical place we call "away."

This linear cradle-to-grave system has wasted vast amounts of resources, including those "non-renewable" resources of stored energy in the form of gas, oil and coal (pg 32). As we give so little back to the the environment, our ever increasing taking from it will not last. We need to change to a cradle-to-cradle cyclical system that mimics and uses nature's systems. We need to redesign our way of making things so that we don't just more efficiently do the wrong things, but we effectively do the right things, so that our growth multiplies nature's resources.

We need to value the ecological services natures provides us of clean air and water, soil production, heating and cooling. So often we use brute force to accomplish the same things, but at huge costs, because we have altered and destroyed nature's ability to provide them to us for "free." Think of the money spent on water treatment plants, storm drainage, fertilizers, heating and cooling of buildings, cleaning of air, etc (and note that many of these things are services that the government provides or regulates). We can and should be designing our systems so that nature once again provides these services for us.

Our products need to become food instead of waste. To do this, products must be designed with this in mind. Products need to be made to become food for the biological sphere and composted, or for the technical sphere to be recovered and reused. Bioloical nutrients must be able to be separated from technical nutrients; toxic ingredients ideally should be eliminated and at least isolated.

The authors expanded my vision of what our future could be like and helped show how we can get there. They gave five incremental steps for working toward the end goal of eco-effectiveness in addition to a frame work for decision making to balance economy, equity and ecology. The ancedotes we relavent and motivating.

I found it helpful to look up some definitions, WIKIpedia was a great source for the chemicals discussed in the book. Belwo is a list of links that will hopefully be helpful:


Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Hi, Matthew

Upon your recommendation I have located copies of "Cradle to Cradle" and "Natural Capitalism" at the local libraries and will pick them up today. I will post my opinion of them after I read them.

I have set up an email address for energy related pm.

8:18 AM  

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