“Being less bad is not good.” This is a major theme of Cradle to Cradle, written by architect William McDonough and former Greenpeace chemist Dr. Michael Braungart back in 2002.
The book arrived like a tidal wave on the green movement and exposed the categorical deficiencies and uselessness of tags like, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The problem highlighted in the 2002 book is not that we need to simply damage the environment less but, even worse, we lack the entrepreneurial creativity and innovation to design products that actually make the natural world better after their initial use. Eleven years later, McDonough and Braungart move the conversation forward and provide a framework to think differently in their new book, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing For Abundance.
There isn’t space here to review the entire book but the introduction and first chapter alone are enough to challenge the ongoing hegemonic perspective that sees human action as an environmental liability rather than seeing human action, as McDonough and Braungart suggests, as an asset to the flourishing of all life. First, the authors challenge readers to see the world as space teaming with abundance instead of finite resources. Just as plant and animal waste are actually complimentary nutrients in an ecosystem we should begin to think creatively about how the by-products of our manufacturing processes can become “technical nutrients” to other processes. Human action creates opportunities for positive cultivation.