The Circular Economy Wiki
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Although a phrase first introduced by Walter Stahel, the notion of producing within a ‘cradle to cradle’ framework as opposed to a ‘cradle to the grave’ framework, which has dominated industrial society, is largely the work of William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Their book Cradle to Cradle; Remaking the way we make things (2001) is a seminal publication and, a decade after it was first published, it still represents thought leadership within the more generic notion of a circular economy. The Wikipedia entry states that cradle to cradle is an ‘holistic design philosophy’. Cradle to Cradle is a registered service mark owned by MBDC.

An excerpt from the MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) website


The industrial framework that dominates our lives now is fairly primitive. It is conceived around a one-way manufacturing flow – what is known as a “cradle to grave” lifecycle. This cradle to grave flow relies on brute force (including fossil fuels and large amounts of powerful chemicals). It seeks universal design solutions (“one size fits all”), overwhelming and ignoring natural and cultural diversity. And it produces massive amounts of waste – something that in nature does not even exist.



Consider looking at the industrial revolution of the 19th century and its aftermath as a kind of retroactive design assignment, focusing on some of its unintended, questionable effects. The assignment, according to William McDonough might sound 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 to keep people and natural systems 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



Does this seem like a good design assignment? Even though none of these things happened intentionally, we find this “design assignment” to be a limited and depressing one for industries to perpetuate – and it is obviously resulting in a much less enjoyable world.

Source: EPEA

A new design assignment[]

  • We are proposing a new design assignment where people and industries set out to create the following:
  • Buildings that, like trees, are net energy exporters, produce more energy than they consume, accrue and store solar energy, and purify their own waste water and release it slowly in a purer form.
  • Factory effluent water that is cleaner than the influent
  • Products that, when their useful life is over, do not become useless waste, but can be tossed onto the ground to decompose and become food for plants and animals, rebuilding soil; or, alternately, return to industrial cycles to supply high quality raw materials for new products.


  • Billions, even trillions of dollars worth of materials accrued for human and natural purposes each year.


  • A world of abundance, not one of limits, pollution, and waste.
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