Lauren Heine


The current prosperity of the Western world is largely a product of the Industrial Revolution. While the industrialization of the past two centuries produced enormous benefits, it has also left us with a legacy of unintended, negative effects. Among its many impacts, the conventional "cradle-to-grave" model of the Industrial Revolution - with its "take-make-waste" pattern - produces vast quantities of waste and broadly exposes people and ecosystems to toxic materials. In the past few decades we have begun to address the deficiencies of this unsustainable model. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences calls for creating and maintaining material flows accounts for developing sound public policy (Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, 2004). But we cannot wait until these resources are in place before taking action.

One practical approach to what has come to be called "sustainability," is a new paradigm for positive industrial activity known as "cradle-to-cradle" design. As we consider millions of years of nature's biological and ecological activity, we see astounding and prolific creativity. Cradle-to-cradle proposes a model for human industry based on principles gleaned from these natural systems. The key "design principles" cradle-to-cradle adopts from nature's example include the following:

• Use current solar income. With very few exceptions, life on Earth is ultimately fueled by energy from the Sun. We are only beginning to learn to harness current solar energy, directly and indirectly, to human purposes.

• Celebrate diversity. Natural systems thrive on richness and diversity. Likewise, industry should promote development of diverse products that are fitting for different cultures and ecosystems.

• Waste equals food. There is no "waste" in nature. The product of one organism is food or structure for another. Human systems can also be designed to circulate materials productively, eliminating the concept of waste.

By redesigning industry based on nature's principles, economic activity can reinforce, rather than compromise, social and environmental prosperity.

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