The Cradleto Cradle Model

At the heart of cradle-to-cradle practice is the design of safe and effective materials maintained in productive, cyclical flows. The key principles of cradle-to-cradle were first systematically outlined as the Intelligent Product System (IPS), developed and articulated in 1992 by Michael Braungart and colleagues (1992) (see also www. epea.com). The IPS provides a framework for cradle-to-cradle product conception and material flow management. Just as in natural systems one organism's "waste" becomes nutrients for another, IPS applies effective nutrient cycles to the design of human industry. It recognizes two metabolisms within which materials are conceived as nutrients, circulating safely and productively - the biological metabolism and the technical metabolism.

The biological metabolism is the system of natural processes that support life. These processes are cyclical, ultimately fueled by the energy of the sun, and include the biodegradation (and possibly other forms of degradation) of organic materials and their incorporation into organisms. Materials that contribute to the productivity of the metabolism are biological nutrients that are rapidly renewable, biodegradable, and ecologically safe. Products of industry made from biological nutrients can be integrated into the biological metabolism via organic processing techniques such as composting or anaerobic digestion, leading to soil amendments and potential energy production.

Industry can be modeled on natural processes to create technical metabolisms that productively cycle industrial materials. These materials, valuable for their performance qualities and typically nonrenewable, are technical nutrients, designed to circulate safely through product lifecycles of manufacture, use, recycling, and remanufacture. Some companies engage in leasing programs whereby valuable components made from technical nutrients can be recovered and reused in new products. Technical nutrients can also be designed to be shared over an industry or multiple industries, depending on the application and the value of the material. Products made from technical nutrients should be recoverable at their highest value with minimal expenditure of energy and cost.

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