Cradle-to-cradle is the way forward for design

It was great to see more high-profile coverage of sustainable design in your recent issue (Sustainable Design supplement, DW 18 June). If only we could get away from this word ‘sustainable’.

You rightly include Professor Michael Braungart in your list of ‘good guys’. But he’s hardly an ‘advocate for sustainability’ – in fact, he’s scathing about the term.
For Braungart (and his ‘cradle-to-cradle’ partner, William McDonough), sustainable is about being ‘less bad’ rather than being ‘good’. As he said in his Do lecture at Howies last year, it’s like saying you beat your child less, but you’re still beating your child.

Sustainable is also a term lumbered with associations of austerity: stop doing this, have less of that. It sounds drab, bureaucratic and stifling. ‘What do we want? Sustainability! When do we want it? At a reasonable time to be mutually agreed by a committee of our peers!’ This is not the stuff of revolution.

Cradle-to-cradle is inspiring because it’s about doing, making and enjoying more, not less. It’s about abundance – intelligent abundance, like that of trees.
Abundance which feeds itself, as materials are returned either to nature or to industry for reuse.

The language we use matters. Changing the way we speak can change the way we think. ‘Do’ is more inspiring than ‘don’t’.

As we’ve seen on this page recently, replacing the word sustainability isn’t easy. But it’s vital. Cradle-to-cradle is the place to start.
Mike Reed, Reed Words, by e-mail

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  • Emily Wilkinson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Yes! Another good term is co-sustainment (John Wood, Goldsmiths) to describe when things are co-dependent or hold each other up. Sustainability as a term doesn’t open us up to change or help us to see that completely different ways of living are possible and attainable.

  • Max Mills November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Everyone seems more content in discussing the way we label the issue rather than (positive) competing in finding a progressive solution. As a young designer am I being naive or is simply reducing the destructive process the best we can achieve? Do further solutions exist?

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