Water's Place in Cradle to Cradle Thinking

Oakland, CA —  Most of the stone products that Las Vegas Rock creates are Cradle to Cradle certified thanks to a closed-loop water system that reuses the same water over and over.

Las Vegas Rock extracts stone from a Nevada quarry and turns it into landscape and home products. The company uses water instead of typical chemicals to cut and polish the stone, and by collecting the water and keeping it in a settling tank, they lose only a small amount of water to evaporation.

Water is one of the key points in the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) philosophy, which advocates for designing products with safe materials and ingredients that can be reused in closed loop systems while using energy and water efficiently.

Two main points that companies must work towards in achieving and moving up the ladder of C2C certification are water efficiency and water quality.

In the best C2C situation, companies would have no or a positive impact on the quality as well as the availability of the water they use.

"Ideally, at the philosophical end of the spectrum, you'd see water coming out of manufacturing facilities that is cleaner or as clean as the water that comes in," said Jay Bolus, VP of technical operations for McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), which administers C2C certification.

But, he says, that ideal is only possible and realistic in a few limited situations. Instead of trying to push all companies to that ideal, MBDC works with businesses in different ways depending on their operations, where they are located and what level of C2C certification they seek.

"Water is really a local or a regional thing," Bolus said. "We ask manufacturers to do a little research on their local watershed, how they are viewed as a user, and what the quality of discharge from their facility is."

Sometimes the focus is on what companies do that contaminates water and what they can do to minimize that impact instead of focusing on cleaning up the water when its done with.

"I think it's a little bit extreme to expect that manufacturers will clean water on-site and then discharge it directly into the biosphere without having to go through a cleaning plant," Bolus said. "By improving just the quality of your chemistry and your material selection, you are going to have an impact on the quality of water leaving the facilities."

Beyond quality, companies need to be aware of how they fit into their watershed, who else uses water in their area, if they are in a drought-prone location and other considerations.

Companies working towards C2C certification must meet stricter and stricter requirements for higher levels of certification. At the basic level, MBDC asks companies to adopt a water stewardship program and other water-related guidelines like the Hannover Principles.

For gold certification, companies need to show their water footprint, identify how much water they take in and discharge, detail the water quality, show that they have not had a discharge violation within two years, and more. At the platinum level, which no company has achieved yet, they must create and develop their own innovative strategies for improving the quality and sustainability of water.

How companies approach water is obviously affected by how they use water. "Some manufacturers don't use any process water, so the focus is what they are doing with sanitary water," Bolus said. "For others, water is part of the product."

Method's new 8x concentrated laundry detergent earned C2C silver certification because it vastly reduces the amount of water that goes into each bottle of detergent and also works well in cold water.

Herman Miller, which has a number of C2C certified chairs, storage systems and furniture, found that most of its water consumption comes not from manufacturing processes, but from landscaping and the use of sanitary water.

With strategies like rethinking its landscaping and using natural wildflowers and native plants that need less water, Herman Miller was able to reduce its water use and maintenance.

But no matter the approach, changing the way companies interact with water requires a fundamental shift in thinking about a resource that has traditionally been viewed as cheap and plentiful.

Water pipe -http://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/ / CC BY 2.0