In this episode…
As climate change becomes more obvious, resources and energy are more expensive, and consumers demand more sustainable products, many manufacturers want to find a way to design more environmentally-friendly products. With this in mind, Renaud and Adrian discuss Cradle To Cradle design and manufacturing. Instead of becoming waste, C2C products are designed to be reused as materials for new products or harmlessly biodegrade. Manufacturers are also encouraged to reduce their environmental impacts by conserving water, energy, reducing pollution, and more.
Even taking steps towards Cradle to Cradle will reduce your environmental impact and make you a greener manufacturer which is better for the planet and business in many cases!
Before we explore C2C, though, China & Hong Kong are suffering from multiple Covid outbreaks, so we start by checking in on how this could be affecting your supply chains and what the situation is like on the ground here right now…
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00:00 – Greetings & introduction to the topic.
01:47 – The Covid situation in China and Hong kong.
There are numerous outbreaks around China in significant cities. The authorities are doing targeted lockdowns of certain areas and mass testing to bring them under control. But if an area where your supplier is based is locked down, it could disrupt your products’ supply.
Hong Kong is suffering from a very serious outbreak right now that they’re struggling to get under control. It goes without saying that suppliers in Hong Kong may well be disrupted as many people are told to work from home.
07:45 – How we got from unsustainable (take/make/waste) to more sustainable (cradle to grave) manufacturing.
From the 1800s up to around the 1970s manufacturing worked on a ‘take-make-waste’ principle where sustainability wasn’t a key focus. After that, experts and scientists started to warn that lack of resources, climate change, pollution, overpopulation, and environmental damage were starting to take effect.
This led to today’s dominant thinking where manufacturers focus more on reducing waste, designing products to use fewer materials (especially harmful or unsustainable like palm oil, lithium, etc), and manufacturing more efficiently in order to reduce products’ impact on the environment. Overall, the focus is on doing ‘less bad,’ but it only delays the consumption of finite materials, pollution, etc, because waste is still created. Lifecycle assessments (LCA) are often done now to calculate a product’s impact from its creation through to the point that it becomes waste and is disposed of and make efforts to reduce it where possible – this is also known as a ‘Cradle to Grave’ assessment. However, reduction of impact is good (less bad), it’s still unsustainable.
15:08 – The move to fully sustainable (cradle to cradle) manufacturing due to the failure of recycling to be sustainable.
Product designers are at the forefront of the move to sustainable products and two industrial designers (McDonnough and Braungart) developed a design and manufacturing methodology known as ‘Cradle to Cradle,’ where products produce no waste at the end of their lifetimes as they’re designed for their lifetimes to never actually end. Either they will be fully reused as material for new products, or, at least, harmlessly biodegrade in the environment.
Recycling is popular now, but it’s still really C2G in many cases when using recycled materials in products or designing them to be recycled once their lifetime is over. Recycling is not as green as one thinks. Often more resources are used to recycle materials than creating virgin materials, not to mention harmful additives etc used to make recycled materials perform acceptably. This is at odds with C2C which advocates for no waste, no harmful materials and chemicals used, and no negative impact on the environment and health.
A lot of recycling is actually downcycling anyway, where the materials can’t be remade into something as good, but are used to make an inferior product as their performance or properties degrade during the recycling process. Clothing made from recycled bottles requires a lot of additives that are unhealthy, car tires can be ground and made into floor tiles…either way, these eventually become waste as they can no longer be recycled/downcycled.
20:22 – C2C’s main features.
The key idea with Cradle to Cradle design and manufacturing is to be part of the circular economy. Products don’t go to landfills, and materials don’t need to be endlessly obtained from the planet. Existing products are reused instead. Unharmful materials should also be chosen. Energy used in manufacturing should be renewable. People working for the business should be treated legally and humanely, too. C2C is an ideal, maybe not immediately achievable for many companies, but steps towards it will help the environment.
25:18 – How much can manufacturers do to increase their use of renewable energy?
Aside from the power grid which may not be renewable energy, manufacturers can reduce energy use, improve insulation, install solar panels on their roofs, etc. Reducing, reusing, and recycling is a good start here and should lead to cost savings for manufacturers, too.
27:20 – Cradle to Cradle certification.
C2C is one of many eco certifications and is a standard for certifying products based on the Cradle to Cradle book. Products are assessed on 5 points:
- Material health
- Material reutilization
- Renewable energy & carbon management
- Water stewardship
- Social fairness
Their scores are provided by an independent auditor and the product will be graded from bronze to platinum level depending on how close to being totally sustainable it is. Bronze will be closer to C2G, where you are taking steps to reduce the negative impacts or products, but there still may be waste and other negatives at this point.
As with other certifications, you are expected to continually make progress and get closer to C2C’s ideals as time passes. Also, auditors will scrutinize your entire supply chain and assess material producers, sub-suppliers, etc, as you move further up through the C2C grades, making it stricter and more challenging to obtain higher grades such as gold or platinum.
33:54 – Cradle to Cradle product examples.
C2C products on the market include sneakers that can be 100% reused to create more sneakers without additional materials, to cleaning products with no negative environmental impacts, to office furniture designed to use recycled and recyclable materials only, there are lots of good examples out there.
36:55 – What do product designers need to keep in mind when designing a C2C product?
Industrial designers focused on Cradle To Cradle design and manufacturing still need to focus on aesthetics, functionality, safety, and compliance, as normal. However, if circularity and sustainability are key, consumers will often forgive less importance being given to aspects like aesthetics ( a good example is the Toyota Prius which is not a very attractive car). Durability and reliability may also be less important if the product is very easy to reuse as manufacturing materials. Assembly and disassembly can be more important with recycling or reusing in mind, whereas it didn’t matter much for products destined for landfills. Material choice is important, as non-harmful or even recycled materials will be preferred, as well as selecting biodegradable or compostable materials in the event that products are disposed of.
41:15 – Benefits of C2C.
- Products have a lower environmental impact or are even negligible with totally C2C products.
- Costs can be saved – reducing energy and resource use can reduce companies’ costs, but implementing processes where existing products are reused to manufacture more of the same could be less costly than buying in virgin materials, too, in some cases.
- You’re able to claim that you have a green product and you have the certification to prove it – this could gain you business from consumers (often more affluent) who are interested in buying less harmful products.
- Your company’s image is improved accordingly, too, in comparison to less green competitors.
- Holding a C2C certification can facilitate raising money from investors who will evaluate the environmental impact of companies in their portfolios.
- C2C is less likely to be used as greenwashing as it is independently audited and is less open to abuse than ‘honor-based’ certifications.
44:55 – Drawbacks of C2C.
- Product design is more difficult and will take longer to get to the market, requiring more effort and, necessarily, being a riskier project.
- Obtaining the higher level C2C certifications can be difficult for SMEs. The barrier for entry is high and requires a high investment in time and money. Specialist consultants may be able to help guide you to put systems and processes in place to obtain it, but there is still a cost.
49:16 – How Sofeast can help your businesses become more sustainable.
This depends on if you are interested in genuinely reducing a product’s environmental impact or are just interested in greenwashing.
We can facilitate customers to really reduce their environmental impacts by:
- Trying to source manufacturers who are closer to your market
- Switching to greener packaging
- Selecting suppliers with less harmful materials, such as TPU instead of PVC
- Consulting about improving energy efficiency in the factory
- Providing industrial design support to design products with better durability and reliability resulting in less waste
53:22 – Wrapping up.
Here are some posts related to sustainability and cradle To cradle design and manufacturing:
- 15 Key Eco Certifications For Green Manufacturers
- Minimizing a Product’s ‘Cradle to Grave’ Environmental Impact
- Designing New Products With A Cradle To Cradle Cycle In Mind
- Sofeast Oil Based Plastic Alternatives whitepaper
- The Benefits Of Silicone As A Production Material And How It Compares To Common Plastics
- What Items Are Recyclable?
- What does biodegradable mean in the context of manufacturing?
- Sustainable Manufacturing
- What Does ‘Eco-Friendly’ Mean?
- What does compostable mean in relation to manufacturing and packaging materials?
- What Is Recommerce?
- 9 Types of Packaging (Benefits, Costs, Sustainability, and more)
- Advantages of Bioplastics vs. Disadvantages: Memo for Product Designers
- 7 Negative Effects Of PVC And Other Environmentally Harmful Plastics
- How Can Poor Quality & Reliability Products Affect Your Business? [Podcast]
- C2C product certification – official site
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