Cradle to Cradle Enters Public Domain, Eyes Mainstream Acceptance

OAKLAND, CA — [Editor's note: The Green Products Innovation Institute has since been renamed the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.]

Cradle-to-Cradle design is going into the public domain and worldwide with the launch of the Green Products Innovation Institute (GPII), a nonprofit that will develop standards for individual products, intended to accelerate the transition to safer materials and advance California's Green Chemistry Initiative.

"We're hoping this will be an innovation engine for companies," said William McDonough, co-founder of the GPII, in an interview in advance of the nonprofit's launch today.

McDonough, an architect and designer, and Michael Braungart, a chemist and co-founder of the GPII, developed the revolutionary principles of Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) together, calling for products to be made with safe ingredients that be returned to nature or industry, by companies that are socially responsible, commit to renewable energy, and safely use water.

The duo's McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry firm has been handling all certification for C2C products, a list that now numbers in the hundreds and includes a range of office furniture, personal care, building materials and packaging products.

In creating the GPII, McDonough said, they are donating to the nonprofit all of their C2C intellectual property developed over 20 years, including their 10 years of certifications.

"This will become an open system that is subject to public discussion and improvement," he said. Previously, all of the details of how to achieve C2C certification was intellectual property of MBDC, and any companies wanting to move to that level of design had to go to MBDC for consultation and product assessment. Now all of that information, along with lists of safer, positive chemical choices, will be available publicly.

The GPII will develop standards for products based on the five principles of C2C design: safe materials; materials that can be reused (recycled, composted, etc.); use of renewable energy; efficient water use, coupled with production of safe water ("We want water coming out of factories that is safe to drink," McDonough said); and social fairness.

Each sector and product type, McDonough said, will end up with different details for their standards based on the entirety of their supply chains, but they will all be signals for where the GPII wants to see product development go.

The GPII, in taking over the bulk of the work that MBDC performed, will train assessors that will work with companies to look at their products and see if they meet C2C certification, as well as advise them on ways to either meet certification or move up in the different levels of certification. Assessors could end up being employees within companies, third-party groups and MBDC itself.

The GPII, McDonough said, will then focus on larger fundamental issues, such as investigating chemicals and materials. The group will inform assessors about topics that are being researched and discussed, and also take feedback from assessors about issues they run into while looking at products and processes. All such topics, he said, will be open to public debate, with encouragement to hear global input.

And the transition of C2C to the GPII will also free up McDonough and Braungart to work on their own passions of design and chemistry.

"On a personal level I am interested in moving back to design fulltime and working on products," McDonough said. "We've always wanted to do this. We've always felt that C2C was a discovery and not an invention, and it really belongs in the public domain."

But first, he said, C2C needed to be tested, needed to be manifested in a way that it could be fully understood before going into the public domain.

"It's been a very steady growth with really serious clients that take time to do things right," McDonough said. "We finally got to the point that our enterprise is vigorous and experienced enough that it is worth releasing. (C2C) is a teenager now. It can go out in the world and carry its own weight."

In addition, the development of the GPII was pushed forward by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to act as part of the state's Green Chemistry Initiative.

One of the six Green Chemistry Initiative policy recommendations by the California Environmental Protection Agency is to move toward a Cradle to Cradle economy.

While the GPII will be headquartered in San Francisco and have that initial focus on California's Green Chemistry Initiative, the intent is for it to have global reach, McDonough said.

Along with having worldwide discussions on materials, the non-profit will also have more clout, he said, in pushing for safer chemical alternatives that do not exist yet by challenging industry and showing how much of a demand there is for safer materials.