Why The Cradle to Cradle Philosophy Should Be On Every Architect's Mind

There are plenty of sustainability and 'green' acronyms around these days - LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) and GHG (Green House Gases), anyone? However, one acronym that is proving of interest to architects, in particular, is C2C (Cradle to Cradle).

And the reason for that is C2C is actually a pretty exciting design philosophy. It's leading to plenty of impressive innovation, cheered on by both designers and environmental scientists alike. That's because C2C embraces the notion of the circular economy, i.e. where nothing is sent to landfill.

This means it encourages designers to look at growth as good in the sense that C2C promotes eco-effectiveness. The ultimate goal of the C2C movement, according to its founders, Professor Michael Braungart (EPEA) and architect William McDonough (MBDC), is to launch a new industrial revolution that ensures production and manufacturing have a positive impact on society, the economy, and our planet.

C2C and its Effect on Construction

A C2C architectural philosophy means turning away from materials that can prove toxic to human health and air quality. This means no more PVC plasticisers, carcinogenic metals, or volatile organic compounds found in some paints, solvents, carpets and textiles.

Energy-inefficient buildings are out too. Not only do these encourage dampness and mould by sealing in air, but their basic design of steel and glass boxes also make people feel "divorced from their surroundings."

Unlike many of today's architectural philosophies, C2C design doesn't look at material for buildings as a waste management problem but rather a closed-loop cycle where there is no waste in the first place. In other words: the whole effect on the environment, human health and our communities is positive.

Beautiful buildings which can produce oxygen, isolate carbon, distil water, use solar energy and provide habitat for animals and wildlife is the aim. And that means using natural materials for interiors too. This includes reclaimed wooden furniture, sustainable ceramic tile surfaces and natural textiles such as linen and silk. All of these are free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), which are so harmful to human health.

As the C2C philosophy puts it:

Clearly understanding the chemistry of natural processes and their interactions with human purpose, architects can create buildings that are delightful, productive and regenerative by design.

C2Cs founders and fans admit this is a huge change – going from inanimate, one-size-fits-all structures with plug-in power and mainly toxic materials, to buildings as life-support systems.

And C2C principles are being adopted by some of the big corporate players around today. For example, the Ford Motor company are switching to electric vehicles and more 'thoughtful' practices, while in China, there is now a China-US Center for Sustainable Development.

All adopters of the C2C philosophy make sure to keep a close eye on the following cycles of production, use, and re-use:

The Five C2C Assessment Categories

For a building to become Cradle to Cradle Certified®, the C2C Assessment Scheme marks a building against five different categories:

1. Material Health,

2. Material Reutilization,

3. Renewable Energy and Carbon Management,

4. Water Stewardship, and

5. Social Fairness.

Material Health. This looks at how 'healthy' a product is by the materials it is composed of. Ideally, that means fewer chemicals that prove problematic for humans and the environment.

Material Reutilization. The ideal is to do away with waste altogether. That means using material that can be used over and over again, missing out on landfill completely.

Renewable Energy & Carbon Management. Products must be manufactured using renewables and other forms of energy which won't affect climate change. That's because the eventual aim is for no greenhouse gases to be emitted at all.

Water Stewardship. This is about recognising water as a valuable resource and ensuring that clean water is always attainable – both for humans and other life forms.

Social Fairness. The manufacture of products must respect all people and natural environmental systems worldwide.

Cradle to Cradle Design in Practice

There are plenty of examples of C2C design in practice around the world. We take a look at three that Dutch tile manufacturer and C2C certified company Mosa has contributed to.

The Eco Retailer

The handmade cosmetics and toiletries giant, Lush, is already renowned for its recycling and 'green' product credentials. So why wouldn't they continue that philosophy with their building design?

Using Mosa's sustainable ceramic tiles in more than 40 of their outlets worldwide, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics were able to continue their desire to be environmentally responsible and use raw materials in their building design. Their stores also include reclaimed wood for shelving, wood panels, desks and furniture in general.

An excellent example of the C2C philosophy in practice is Lush's reusable containers. Store design buyer Nick Gumery of Lush said: "We produce and recycle our black pot containers in the UK, encouraging customers to bring them back so that we can wash and re-granulate them to then make more black pots; closing the loop."