This book constitutes an entirely new vision of how to conceive of design so that it encompasses the afterlife or "upcycling" of a product. William McDonough and Michael Braungart divide industry into two categories, technical nutrients and biological nutrients. Technical nutrients are materials that can be returned to the technical cycle, and safely reused. Biological nutrients are materials that can be returned to the biological cycle, and naturally broken down.
So much of our industrial design is under the premise of "cradle to grave" inventions, that is, items that are made to fulfill their purpose for a period of time and then they become burdens of waste, i.e. we have to pay to have it dumped, burned, or "gotten rid of". The problem with this is that our landfills are full of a large amount of technical and biological nutrients, that when mixed together, become devalued as neither a technical nor a biological nutrient. This book holds a vision for a modern world that "upcycles" such that "waste equals food" within all aspects of production.
Beyond this primary issue this text also, by citing personal examples, seeks to showcase new business environments, workplaces, and methods for achieving financial goals that begin with the questions of biological prudence and end with a stronger life span for the companies themselves. This is included but not limited to, making "buildings" more like organisms that respond, adapt with, and contribute to the ecological make-up of its surroundings. The idea of making a building like a tree that nourishes the soil, provides habitat for local species, and integrates the fauna of its surroundings seems largely unconventional, but McDonough and Braungart found that after having designed a company that way, with large naturally lit indoor spaces, grass roofs that cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter, are not only economically sound investments, but statements for the true symbiosis of industry with ecology. The largely positive upswing of such an approach is that "industrial buildings" need no longer be equated with "cultural eye sores." On top of this the guilt which usually accompanies working for or purchasing from a company that doesn't heed the ecological solutions of today's market palate, is replaced with a genuine sense of purpose both within one's natural environment/local community and throughout the materially globalizing world.
Cradle to Cradle is both a theoretical weigh-station for the innovative design of tomorrow and a literal prototype, "This book is not a tree. It is printed on synthetic "paper" and bound into a book format developed by innovative book packager Charles Melcher of Melcher Media. Unlike the paper with which we are familiar, it does not use any wood pulp or cotton fiber but is made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers. This material is not only waterproof, extremely durable, and (in many localities) recyclable by conventional means; it is also a prototype for the book as a "technical nutrient," that is, as a product that can be broken down and circulated infinitely in industrial cycles - made and remade as "paper" or other products." (pg.5 - Chapter 1 - This Book is not a Tree).
This piece of literature reads more like an ecologically industrious manifesto than a lab report, though it retains a hue of the latter. Anyone interested in furthering their appreciation of the technical and biological nutrients around us, which interweaves between our public and private lives, could do well to peruse its pages. Primarily directed towards businesses, the ideas contained within here are paradigmatic frameworks for a bourgeoning environmentally aware industry across the planet, offering routes to improve the health of many generations to come. The 'telescoping of tomorrow' is never an easy endeavor. Hopefully, within the realms of Architecture, Design, Industry, Business and Economics, Cradle to Cradle has given us a partial view through that lens.
Not a dry read at all. You can take in the bathtub!