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Cradle to Cradle Certification

Can it do for products what LEED does for buildings?

Posted by Eileen Kraus-Dobratz

Listening to Bill McDonough on Commonwealth Club/Climate One/NPR in November inspired me to share with the rest of the team some exciting developments around his launching of the nonprofit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute during 2010. McDonough is trying to do for products what the US Green Building Council did for buildings when it developed LEED: promote green and sustainable practices by providing a clear, rigorously-based and recognized rating. evolveEA was early to see the promise of LEED and has managed dozens of LEED certification projects across the country and internationally. Yet as McDonough noted, there is nothing close with regard to products — which poison our bodies and the environment even more than the buildings we create and live in. “Where have the product designers been?” he mused, “brain-dead from all the toxic chemicals in their products?”

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute seeks to develop a comprehensive rating system for measuring and recognizing the sustainability of products. As he and co-author Braungart note in their best-selling book Cradle to Cradle, products frequently bear a label proclaiming that they are free of the toxic-chemical-of-the-year, but there is no way for a consumer to know if an even more toxic substance or process has been substituted to achieve that goal. The C2C certification standard [PDF] includes five criteria: (1) material health (2) material reuse/design for environment (3) energy (4) water (5) social responsibility. It’s guided by the stunningly simple yet profound notion that products should be designed to eliminate waste—that all its elements can be re-usable at a high level in a continuous cycle.

What will the new Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute actually do? Somewhat mirroring what USGBC does for LEED, it expects to administer the C2C certification standard, provide training materials, certify assessors, and oversee evolution of the next generation protocol. In addition, it will develop and administer a much-needed database of positive alternative chemicals, materials and processes, to supplement the Toxic Information Clearinghouse being developed by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, and also administer a public database of certified products. There are now more than 90 companies and more than 300 products that have gone through the process. Their goal is to have 100 assessors and 1000 products by 2015.

One of the things that brings a sparkle to the eye of evolve folks is the C2CPII’s emphasis on innovative design as the basis for the product revolution they are hoping to bring about. Design is our thing.