oikos St. GallenChapter-NewsArticleCradle to Cradle® (C2C): Raising the Standards of Corporate Sustainability

Cradle to Cradle® (C2C): Raising the Standards of Corporate Sustainability

12 July 2017 | Article, Chapter-News

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Elise Amez-Droz | elise.amezdroz(at)duke.edu

MA Candidate (2018) Duke University – BA (2017) University of St.Gallen

What is Cradle to Cradle?

Cradle to Cradle (C2C) was born from the ambition of Michael Braungart, a German chemist, and William McDonough, an American architect, to solve the problem of waste and achieve true sustainability through design. When they first met in 1991, they realized that they shared a common belief in the potential of corporate growth objectives to be a force for good toward the environment. Their goal was to design industrial activities for abundance, and doing so by eliminating the concept of waste. They wrote their first book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, in 2002 and started working with companies that wanted to implement those ideas into their processes.

How Does It Work?

The key is to build products within a system of either biological or technical components. A product needs to be either fully biodegradable (biological cycle) or built in such a way that, at the end of its life cycle, it can be dismantled so that its parts can become part of a new product (technical cycle). Braungart and McDonough called their concept Cradle to Cradle, as opposed to Cradle-to-Grave which implies turning natural products into waste. The corresponding C2C certification has been awarded to many products in various industries around the world. Obtaining the certification demands significant changes along the value chain and in terms of stakeholder relations, yet many companies have certified products and chosen to pursue C2C concepts as their strategy. What are their motivations? This is the question I sought to answer in a research project I conducted in the spring of 2017.

Profile of Companies that Adopted Cradle to Cradle

Through interviews, I garnered insights into three different industries – hardwood flooring, commercial printing, and textile – and the factors that led three companies to undertake the certification of some of or all their products. A variety of motivations emerged, and no single variable constituted a decisive reason for companies to adopt C2C. Rather, a combination of motivations can explain the move, including the following: the certification acted as a differentiator and activated storytelling capabilities; it shielded the companies against ever stricter environmental regulations and NGO scrutiny; and it was in alignment with the decision-makers’ values and with corporate objectives. The executives contrasted C2C with other sustainable labels, highlighting how C2C was not simply a matter of money and advertising, but of action and commitment as well. The certification ultimately enabled them to create the best possible offer for the customers, their business, and the environment.

C2C Certification – A Worthwhile Endeavor?

My research focused on the motivations of companies in their initial years of implementation. Time will tell if the certification will yield the expected benefits and help the companies reach the desired positioning. In the meantime, the waste reduction and technological progress achieved through those endeavors will indisputably contribute to worldwide environmental protection efforts, which is, in and of itself, a praiseworthy outcome.

If you wish to further discuss sustainable design, please get in touch with me via email at elise.amezdroz(at)duke.edu.