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Measures productivity by how few people are working

I’m reading a really great book right now that my brother Tom thoughtfully gave me for my birthday. It’s called “Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things“. Amazon has labelled it as a “Paperback”, but it’s not your typical “Paperback”. The book is printed on synthetic “paper” and it’s made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers. The book is waterproof and extremely durable and it is recyclable by conventional means. It is also a prototype for the book as a “technical nutrient”. In other words, it’s a product that can be broken down and circulated infinitely in industrial cycles.

The book is written by William McDonough and Michael Braungart: an architect and a chemist by trade, whom met in New York City in 1991. In the book, they are suggesting a revolutionary way of making products that are harmful to neither humans nor the environment. “Products can be conceived as “biological nutrients” that will easily re-enter the water or soil without depositing synthetic materials and toxins. Or they can be “technical nutrients” that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials within closed-loop industrial cycles, rather than being “recycled” — really, downcycled – into low-grade materials and uses.”

In the first chapter, they ask you to imagine you were given an assignment to design the Industrial revolution; except you would be doing it retrospectively. With respect to its negative consequences, the assignment would read something like this:

Design a system of production that:

  • puts billions of pounds of toxic material into the air, water and soil every year
  • produces some materials so dangerous they will require constant vigilance by future generations
  • results in gigantic amounts of waste
  • puts valuable materials in holes all over the planet, where they can never be retrieved
  • requires thousands of complex regulations – not to keep people and natural systems safe, but rather to keep them from being poisoned too quickly
  • measures productivity by how few people are working
  • creates prosperity by digging up or cutting down natural resources and then burying or burning them
  • erodes the diversity of species and cultural practices

These guys have some great ideas, so I strongly urge you to read the book to enlighten yourself with an entirely different perspective on the environmental issues we face today. Reducing and recycling will not be enough, so these guys have appealed to manufacturers to look at alternative designs for their products that make them truly sustainable.