Cradle-to-Cradle Is an Idea, Not a Trademark

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This phrase, cradle-to-cradle (C2C), is a nicely put way of capturing the idea of material loop closing, a central theme in the field of industrial ecology. (Disclosure, I am the Executive Director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology) The phrase is used as a trademark by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), a firm certifying "eco-friendly" products according to a scheme the firm developed. The firm has recently come under fire for trying to limit use of the idea, says an article in FastCompany:

Last November in my article "The Mortal Messiah" I chronicled the tragedy of McDonough, the star-studded green designer who keeps short-circuiting his potentially world-changing C2C concept. Well, it turns out the very limitations we highlighted--McDonough's inability to relinquish control--are again coming back to bite him. Cox informed me that he's just posted a letter on Duurzaam Gebouwd, an influential sustainable building blog in the Netherlands, pleading for McDonough to open his small private firm up to a public private partnership with the Dutch government. As others have before him, Cox has finally concluded that the Davos-trotting architect doesn't have the resources or the scale to to seize on the C2C mania that's been bubbling throughout his country.

It is a shame to see a controversy erupt over an idea that is basically available to all, and already being practiced world-wide under a variety of names. Those who are enamored by the idea and the way MBDC has packaged it can look beyond this one instance of an important general principle. The concept also has roots in the policy framework of extended producer responsibility. One of the key features of the original proposal was that if firms were required to close their product's loop, they would seek new and innovative designs that reduced environmental burdens.

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