Sustainability is the minimum

Although premiering in 2007, the ideas in the documentary Waste = Food continue to be implemented today with more and more companies getting their products “cradle to cradle” certified, creating hope that our global industries will continue to lessen their impacts on the environment and mitigate the causes of climate change. The documentary focuses on the efforts of the German ecological chemist, Dr. Michael Braungart and the American designer-architect, Bill McDonough. They formulated the idea of cradle to cradle, which emphasizes the use of nonhazardous, reusable materials in products that can be easily disassembled in order to allow easier reclamation of parts to be used again. This idea comes from the notion that all waste produced by humans should be able to be returned to the earth, benefiting the biosphere (or should at least be able to be reused or become new raw material in the technosphere).

The pair has worked with major companies including Ford, Nike, Unilever, and Herman Miller to create environmentally friendly buildings and apply processes that create environmentally friendly products. For both Ford and Herman Miller the duo turned the companies’ factories and business complexes into what are essentially industrial nature parks. These parks purify waste water and harvest energy. Green roofs create habitat, act as insulation, and cut down on regulatory costs that are usually incurred from having to treat rainwater that is now filtered naturally. Nike is now making products whose materials have come from old shoes as well as reducing toxins in those materials and using alternatives to the toxic adhesive glue that usually bind the sole. Unilever now has biodegradable packaging for some products.

A major emphasis in this documentary is that implementing this waste = food idea is actually economically beneficial. So much of the time, the emphasis of sustainability is on the environmental and social aspect and rarely touches upon the economic side. Global economics run this world, and it can be disheartening because a lot of companies are out to make a profit rather than lessening their environmental impact for altruistic reasons. However, as seen in this documentary, creating products and work environments that benefit the world around us, is actually economically beneficial as well, which will hopefully inspire more industries to follow this path.

In 2013, cradle to cradle certification was added as a requirement to gain LEED certification. In 2014, Ecover, Mosa, Trigema, and I:CO won the Cradle to Cradle product award. Ecover makes cleaning products that are ecologically safe and bottles them in plastic collected from the oceans, a policy implemented in 2014. Mosa manufactures sustainable building products. Trigema is Germany’s largest sportswear manufacturer and was one of the first companies to use Braungart and McDonough’s design. I:CO ensures that unwanted textiles are collected and reused on a global scale. As more companies in more industries get onboard with this waste = food idea, the consumer world we live in will hopefully have less of an impact on the one resource we have in limited supply, this planet. Braungart said it well, “sustainability is the minimum.” It is not something we should strive for; it is the baseline we need to start from. With the continued application of cradle to cradle, we are headed in the right direction.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s