Michael Braungart: Designing "Eco-Effective" Solutions

Article excerpt

Michael Braungart, a professor at Germany's University of Luneburg, is co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (Northpoint Press) with green architect William McDonough. He was a founding member of Germany's Green Party in the late 1970s and later directed Greenpeace's chemistry department. In 1987, with the help of his Greenpeace connections, he founded the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA).

Together, Braungart and McDonough wrote the Hannover Principles in 1991, a set of guidelines for sustainable design created for the 2000 World's Fair in Hannover, Germany. In 1995, McDonough and Braungart teamed up again to found McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, which promotes "eco-effective" solutions, and works with corporations, universities, governmental agencies and cities.

In one of MBDC's most famous projects, it helped DesignTex produce a compostable chair fabric safe enough to eat.

Cradle to Cradle, published in 2002, has raised awareness of lifecycle design around the world. In keeping with the firm's philosophy, the book is made of plastic resins and inorganic fillers, is completely recyclable, waterproof and durable.

E Magazine: What is Cradle-to-Cradle design, and how does it differ from recycling?

Braungart: Cradle-to-Cradle design means that, instead of minimizing damage, we create positively. Instead of waking up in the morning and apologizing for being human, we ask how can we be beneficial for other species.

It's really sad how many people believe that humans are innately flawed.

Yeah, it's amazing. But when you think that way, you end up trying to be less bad. But less bad is not good. There are far too many people on this planet to just be less bad.

What is downcycling?

Downcycling is what happens when things are not designed for recycling. For example, the print chemicals for making paper were never designed for recycling, so when the paper is recycled the quality is deteriorated.

So many things have already been designed and manufactured without their next use in mind. Are they doomed to become waste?

We need to see that our waste management systems just perpetuate waste. So we talk about eliminating the very concept of it, and about "waste supermarkets," where you could buy and sell used materials. …