Michael Braungart: designers are way too modest when it comes
to cradle to cradle
Together with Bill McDonough, Michael Braungart wrote the book
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Increasingly
more organisations are realising that they can benefit from Cradle
to Cradle (C2C) ecologically as well as financially. But what
is the role of C2C in the current economic crisis? And what can
designers do to help? Diana den Held sits down with Michael Braungart
for a candid interview.
In a crisis,
besides hoping for change, there is always much fear and uncertainty.
People quickly fall back on some medieval behaviour. And then,
they arent creative, funny or innovative. They just keep
doing what they were doing before the crisis.
Only when you see
that going down the same road is not to your advantage do you
go looking for solutions, and only then can you overcome your
fear. Im not trying to say that this will inevitably lead
to innovation, but it has happened before, explains Michael
With the implementation of Cradle to Cradle, have you already
seen changes due to the crisis?
We have mostly
noticed a positive movement. Many companies and organisations
now see how important it is to make clients loyal by collaborating
with them and addressing their needs. At Desso, a Dutch carpet
manufacturer that has made the switch to Cradle to Cradle, we
can see that theyve increased their profits in a declining
And that cant
just be consumers being environmentally conscious all of a sudden
in such times
No, but they
are more aware of quality. As a consumer you are more careful
with spending and actually nobody wants a carpet that stinks and
is toxic for you and your environment. So much is going wrong
now that people want to make the right choices. As a manufacturer
you can bring about change.
Are you saying
that the financial crisis can bring out the best in us?
is a good reason to be afraid of what is happening now. But if
you realise that fear paralyses you and delays the possibilities
of change, then you know you have to take action.
It is on this point
that architects, designers and developers should see the crisis
as an opportunity. Of course, sometimes you cant move as
fast as youd like, but you can pick up the pace by collaborating.
Creativity and collaboration take over the main role from capital.
Even in the traditionally conservative chemical industry Cradle
to Cradle is now high up on the agenda.
What role can
designers play in this turnaround?
are often seen as having an enormous ego, I think they are much
too shy when it comes to the environment and raw materials. They
arrange a collection of toxic materials a little differently and
call that design. Its time to show some ambition. At the
moment, we need designers who can make good things, who can get
other people organised and change processes, people who want to
be a part of it, and not just make things a little nicer.
often make their first designs by hand, as a prototype. But then,
their idea is successful and mass production is just around the
corner. They could easily fall into the old processes
of the big production companies. What do you recommend?
first design is always a great phase. But then, you have a relationship
with your design and get a deeper connection, which is vital.
Only then can you have a romantic affair with a first product
design and move on to a serious relationship. Here as well there
is a question of ambition. Do you want to continue to act like
a teenager where you pick something up and drop it quickly or
do you want to grow up? I think designers are happier when they
dont just take part in a small part of the process.
THAT REAL INNOVATION ALWAYS CAME FROM TEAMS, NOT FROM INDIVIDUALS."
- Michael Braungart
Does the design
world need a different attitude?
is major pressure on designers much is expected from them.
They want to be artists. They want to be creative. They have to
be entrepreneurs, managers and be able to deal with clients. And
then there is also their ego enough factors to make anybody
This is why I think
we need a change in studies. We need different types of designers.
For example, communication design is already a separate discipline,
but more qualifications are needed, such as material flow
designers who can form a team with the artists, design managers,
etc. A more diverse group is needed. Competing, as a designer,
on way too many different levels basically generates mediocrity.
be just one hero that everyone worships. Then you get a person
who tries to overcompensate for all their shortcomings. Focus
on your strengths, discover your shortcomings and find people
who can help you with them.
Many young designers
feel that they lack knowledge to work with Cradle to Cradle. You
often hear questions, such as I know that the right materials
are there, but where can I find them? How should I work with biologically
degradable plastic?, etc. What do you recommend
ask these kinds of questions, express the desire to holistically
make good design, they already have 50% of what they need. I cant
emphasise often enough that they dont have to do everything
themselves. History shows that real innovation always came from
teams, not from individuals. You sometimes saw an individual in
the foreground, but there always was a team standing behind them.
This mechanism also holds true now: on your own at a certain point
youre only working on changing existing things.
For designers already
more into the design stage, much more C2C material knowledge can
be found in the database at
Connexion in a.o. Milan. But again, dont
take types of materials as a starting point in your concept phase,
as it hinders your thinking. What is not available now will be
there in a few years, especially if you ask as a designer.
Is that the top
tip for designers who want to design in a more Cradle to Cradle
by being more arrogant and ask questions about the stuff youre
working with. Just say, I dont want to use that material
and get a movement going. For example, if you look at brands such
as Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani, what comes out
of the plant and goes into the shops is just hazardous waste.
Almost every famous
design brand is due for some serious innovation. Designers have
influence there. Ask for materials that you can wear on your body
that are suitable for people. Design products for a house or workplace
where the indoor air is actually healthy. As a designer, you are
a user of materials developed by others. Put them to work.
But how do designers
obtain alternative materials?
Why would you
let your designs be influenced by the availability of a certain
type of material? It is a form of expression of design, not the
key. State your wishes and requirements with your design. Point
out the shortcomings it doesnt need to be 100% perfect.
By wanting to have it perfect the first time around youre
just blocking and delaying yourself. As long as you mention when
and where you want to introduce changes you can have a look at
it together with others. Take intermediate steps, but dont
compromise your vision.
can influence the development of the right materials. But what
can they do themselves now concretely also considering the crisis?
As a designer
you dont just shape things, you can also influence the material
flow. That doesnt mean that everything has to go back into
the biosphere per se. You can also use materials that arent
degradable as long as they can go back into the technosphere.
This means making your design so that it can be taken apart.
For example, building
a television set without copper is impossible nowadays, but building
a television set thats easy to get the copper out of can
be done. Copper is rarer than oil, which you really dont
want to lose in a garbage dump. You want to be able to get it
back to the plant and get it out of the device as easily as possible.
To do so you need a good design. It isnt that difficult
to calculate how you can profit from that.