Book Review: Cradle To Cradle

Cradle To Cradle:  Remaking The Way We Make Things, by William McDonough & Michael Braungart

There are times where writers forget the sort of audience that they are writing to with serious consequences and such is the case with this book.  This is at the heart of this book a very sensible call for businesses to change the way that they design their processes and materials for less waste and for a much higher degree of recycling (or even upcycling), but that very sensible and worthwhile message is buried beneath a lot of progressive environmentalist virtue signalling that is quite offensive to those readers who come from the right-of-center (like myself) and who have a much higher respect than these writers do for the value of industrialization and the benefits that resulted from providing mass production that met the needs of the general people rather than expensive and custom artisan production that only met the needs of the selfish elites to which the readers and their target audience belong.  It is easy when reading a book like this to be so offended at the snobbery and contempt that the readers have for mass producers and the need to build the well-being of society through addressing mass audiences that one neglects the design viewpoint that they are trying to promote, and that would be a shame.

The authors begin with an introduction that states that the book is not a tree and engage in some virtue signalling about the sort of material that was used to make this book to demonstrate their ecological bona fides to their target audience.  After that the authors look at the issue of design to note why it is that recycling is less effective than it could be based on what is or is not designed into material with plans for its full life-cycle (1).  This leads to a purist discussion that makes the best environmental practices the enemy of the good or at least less bad (2).  After that there is a chapter where the authors talk about eco-effectiveness and what that means and what sort of tradeoffs are involved in various processes (3).  After that the author talks about waste and how in well-designed processes it provides the food for further cycles of growth (4), and then some more virtue signalling about the value of diversity and hostility to monoculture (5).  Finally, the authors offer some well-meaning advice on how to put eco-effectiveness into practice (6) after which there are notes and acknowledgments, with the total being less than 200 pages.

Bless their hearts, the authors are trying really hard not to be too biased against businesses, but they really fail badly at trying to appeal to an audience outside of their narrow political worldview.  The authors come from a tradition of elite design as well as Green politics, and the results are obvious in their lack of understanding of how to appeal to those who are concerned about the state of God’s creation and the mess we often make of it but who are also bothered by the approach that the authors take to virtue signal to progressive political talking points.  There is at the core of this book some very sensible advice about how one can design for less toxic or non-toxic materials and plan for how waste from the desired item is going to be used in some productive way so as not to be waste at all in a negative sense, but something more akin to manure that becomes fertilizer for further crops in a virtuous cycle.  But one has to be a very patient and gracious reader in gathering these points.  The authors really need to improve their approach and recognize that there are people who would listen to an eco-friendly message so long as it was not packaged in an offensive and contemptuous fashion.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Cradle To Cradle

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    It seems as though this book is a reflection of the state of communication–or lack thereof–in our country. One is either pro-industrial, big business with all the trappings, or a complete, on-the-edge tree-hugger who envisions a future without cows and airplanes. We could all do more in taking care of our planet and most of us would embrace that knowledge when it is given in an informative yet nonjudgmental way. That is what the left has such a difficult time with. And we can dispense with its more outrageous proposals.

    • I agree; it is disappointing that our current world has so much in the way of false dilemmas between two options and then asks people to select what they view as the lesser of the evils instead of working towards reasonable and fair-minded approaches that would deal thoughtfully with the constraints that we are under.

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