"You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the World around you. What you do makes a difference, and you decide what kind of difference you want to make".
Jen Gale, Author of The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide
Jen Gale champions the idea that every day we vote for the type of world we want to see. We make consumption choices, companies make governance choices and the government make policy and regulatory choices. Each of these decisions, no matter how seemingly insignificant, make an impact on the World around us.
In this blog post, I will be meandering away from the 'techy-side' of things to take a more philosophical look at the corporate and consumer landscape, delving into the notion of Cradle-to-Cradle design and probing into the concept of Circularity.
The circular economy is not a new term, and is one that most of you will be familiar with. It is a concept which challenges the take-make-waste paradigm and introduces a more cyclical model, where end of life resources are transformed and reused as feedstocks or valuable inputs once again.
Cradle-to-Cradle design is crucial to the concept of circularity. Gazing beyond Cradle-to-Grave, which terminates at the point of being discarded, Cradle-to-Cradle does not stop when we fall out of love with a piece of clothing, throw out the rest of that toothpaste tube, or take our old washing machine to the incinerator. The founding vision behind cradle to cradle is about eliminating waste by creating products that can be "endlessly cycled, and produced in ways that respect humans and the environment" (Thijs Maartens).
Mimicking Mother Nature, Cradle-to-Cradle design is "biomimetic", which means that products and systems are designed in such a way that replicate nature's processes. In biomimetic design, materials are viewed as "nutrients" or "food", and in doing so, waste is eliminated all together. All materials can be split into either the biosphere or the technosphere whereby the same biomimetic ideology is applied within the technosphere, however, components and products are broken down, recycled and re-built through a manufacturing process instead of naturally decomposing.
A Business of Fashion podcast: 'The Earthshot: A New Sustainability Mindset for Fashion Retail' provided part of the inspiration for this blog post. In the podcast, Cradle-to-Cradle is introduced by its founding father, William McDonough, who asserts that we can't continue to go forward with a "one eye closed mentality". Instead, he proposes that infinite value can be realised when we eliminate the concept of waste and start viewing the world through a biomimetic lens.
However, the real 'aha' moment came during a Sustainable Design Thinking workshop I attended last week when this statement was brought to my attention:
"80% of a product's environmental impact over its life cycle is determined during the design phase"
When we see statistics like this one, it becomes blindingly apparent that forethought is much more impactful than afterthought. What I mean by this is, in order to truly make headway where sustainability is concerned, companies must adopt a sustainable mindset right from the start.
Sustainability should be baked into design - not a last-ditch attempt once a product has been ideated, sourced, built, marketed and sold. Until companies really start to think in this way, the sustainable prospects remain curtailed by the unsustainable design of the products, digital systems, infrastructure and services they provide.
The Business Case for Cradle-to-Cradle
Put bluntly, consumers care... Even if you don't just yet.
Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the societal and environmental implications of their purchases.
"73% of consumers are willing to modify their consumption habits to limit the impact they have on the environment; and in this context, 46% of that same population say they would forgo a brand and switch to an eco-friendlier alternative"
This shift in consumer behaviour has created a call to action for companies and brands, forcing them to rethink their business models and take a long hard look at their supply chains. Among other benefits, Cradle-to-Cradle design improves supplier relationships, future proofs companies from regulatory pressures, refocuses attention on material health and input quality and ultimately reduces the cost of resources and production.
Circularity in Action
As I said earlier, circularity is not a new concept by any stretch. Spearheaded by Industry 4.0, we are seeing circular innovation being applied more and more regularly, agnostic of industry or sector.
"Almost one in 10 companies have already built their business models on circular design principles"
Roxy Nucu, 2020
Substantial R&D investment has driven the rest, helping BMW to effectively re-use and recycle their battery cells. Going one step further, BMW have established contractural agreements with their fifth generation battery cell manufacturers vowing that green electricity will be used to produce these battery cells and have promised to expand their EV range to over 25 models by 2023.
Stella McCartney has been on a mission to prove that luxury can be sustainable. Positioned as a mid to high-end luxury fashion brand, Stella McCartney has bravely dared to be different, while simultaneously restoring our planet and redefining the materials which we view to be 'luxurious'.
"We believe that the future of fashion is circular – it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love never end up as waste."
Leaps and bounds ahead of the sustainable-luxury curve, Stella McCartney is reimagining luxury fashion as we know it today. Guided by altruistic principles and biomimetic design, her naturalistic, raw website compels customers to join her mission, in a way which is congruent to the look, feel and dream of luxury.
Awarded with the Cradle to Cradle Certified Standard for materials like wool and cashmere, and using 100% recycled packaging, circularity and cradle-to-cradle design sits at the forefront of her brand. Stella McCartney's partnership with 'Bolt Threads' is just another exemplar of her brands progressive work, creating materials using fibres based on proteins found in nature, closing the loop once more and redefining the fabrics we use in luxury apparel.
“On a personal and professional level partnering with Bolt Threads is so exciting, because it feels like everything is finally coming together and the dots are being connected between fashion, sustainability and tech innovation,”
Aveda are an ethical, cruelty free cosmetics company who have founded their brand on transparency and symbiosis - working with nature, hand-in-hand, to produce products customers love and want.
Aveda's Cradle-to-Cradle journey is a big part of their brands identity, embarking on the road to Cradle-to-Cradle back in 2002. Applying a "Waste = food" concept, Aveda work under the philosophy that the materials they use will operate in continuous cycles, in either the biosphere or the technosphere. Having this "endlessly cycled" mentality helps the brand maintain safe and ethically sourced materials, water stewardship, carbon management, material reutilisation and social fairness.
Aberdonian craft beer company BrewDog has made a global household name of itself through its quirky marketing, trendy products and savvy brand mission.
BrewDog's sustainability strategy is founded on the realisation that, if we continue to progress without sustainable change, there may not be a planet to make beer for in the future. The company have since introduced a scheme whereby customers can trade in 50 empty BrewDog beer cans for an equity stake in the business and earn the rights to become a ‘BrewDog Equity Punk' - now that's pretty cool... and smart.
The company have promised that no beer will go to waste, and any beer that does not meet BrewDog's quality standards will be distilled into vodka, eliminating waste, and creating a valuable, resalable product once again.
In a further attempt to eliminate waste, the byproduct grains from the brewing process are refined and made into 'green gas', which can be used as renewable fuel for vehicles, or turned into organic fertilisers to grow crops and grains which end up back in the craft beers we know and love...(she says as a non-beer drinker). And they don't stop there, BrewDog are also tackling the huge issue of pre-consumer food waste from supermarkets to make one of their own product lines 'Overworks':
"We are working with our retail partners to find innovative solutions to food waste. The Overworks Cosmic series is now going to be made with fruit which has been rejected from our supermarket partners"
At the crux of it all, a question raised during the Business of Fashion podcast replays in my mind - Why do we tax companies on what they make - instead of what they take from our planet?
When this is flipped on its head, and we think about taxing companies on what they take, the reward lands with players who are serious about environment-first design. This provides both a financial and planetary benefit, reducing the extent to which finite resources are stripped from our planet, and reducing the ever-increasing waste burden.
Alike all policy changes there is no straightforward route. Theres no denying that taxation is a powerful tool for levelling the playing field, and in countries like the UK, taxation becomes a platform for equality and distributing welfare among society, however, if we are serious about halting the climate crisis, policy changes, including the way we tax our corporations could be a critical element to this. Cradle-to-Cradle design has never been more important, logical, nor lucrative.
We've got this,