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The Upcycle: Beyond…

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance

by William McDonough, Michael Braungart

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Waste does not occur within natural systems. The materials expelled by one organism are precisely the nutrients needed by some other organism. This creates a complex web where materials are reused endlessly, without degradation. There is, of course, an unfortunate exception to this, that being modern humans’ expenditure of materials. The upcycle challenges us to learn from nature and design products and systems that recycle materials endlessly without degradation while they derive energy from renewable sources.

“The goal of the upcycle is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world with clean air, water, soil, and power—economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed.” This book builds on and extends the authors’ previous work, including their book Cradle to Cradle and the Hanover Principles prepared for the 2000 world’s fair in Germany.

Although achieving the upcycle goal requires extensive hard work, we can each begin now by stating our intention: “We will be renewably powered as soon as it is cost-effective, and we will constantly seek it out.” Design for abundance, proliferation, and delight.

The authors contend that “Human beings don’t have a pollution problem; they have a design problem.” We need to learn to design for an endless cradle to cradle cycle, not a one-time trip from cradle to grave. Design so the materials live on indefinitely, rather than being lost in landfills forever. Design is the first signal of human intention, and why should designers intend to inflict harm?

When materials are designed to differentiate between the biosphere and the technosphere they can live on as nutrients forever. Materials native to the natural world can cycle throughout that world without harm or degradation. But metals, plastics, and other materials not continuously created by the biosphere are essential to manufacturing electronics, industrial products, and many consumer products. These materials can cycle throughout the technical world without degradation. The key to upcycling is to design products so that technosphere materials and biosphere materials are not mixed. This eliminates the often difficult process of separating them at the time of disposal.

Consider the simple example of a juice box constructed of aluminum, plastics, and raw paper. Because biosphere and technosphere materials are combined, the box cannot be recycled until these materials are separated. Separation of these materials after product construction and use is very difficult. As a result, valuable aluminum is lost to landfills rather than being recovered as a nutrient within the technosphere.

Safety regulations and warning labels alert us to poor designs. They each identify an opportunity to redesign a harmful product, beginning with the Hanover Principles and cradle to cradle concepts that results in a safe, elegant, and ecologically beneficial product. Think first of what’s next for each material used in the product. Use only materials that can live on as nutrients, without degradation, after they have completed their service in this product.

The book goes well beyond platitudes and wishful thinking by providing many examples of designs that are successful ecologically, aesthetically, and economically. The book describes a path that transcends the false dichotomy of profit vs. environment and shows us how to have both. It tells us what to do—begin each design by asking “what’s next” for each material—rather than what not to do. We can do more good—creating a safe and healthful abundance—not just less bad.
To complement the perpetual cycles of material use they also advocate obtaining renewable energy from a combination of solar, wind, and biogas sources, along with designs that conserve energy. They also describe farming techniques and municipal systems that recycle nutrients to maintain clean water and fertile soils without artificial augmentation.

A letter from Thomas Jefferson written to James Madison in 1789 introduces us to the unusual word “usufruct”. Usufruct is the right to enjoy property owned by others as long as the property is returned undamaged. This is the common courtesy you would extend to a neighbor who lent you their car or lawn mower. Indeed, as Thomas Jefferson said “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living.” We can meet our obligations to preserve the earth during our visit without inflicting damage if we create each design by valuing equity, ecology, and revenue generation from the start. Quality in products and systems means they do not harm people, narrow their possibilities for life and liberty, or reduce their quality of life. We can redesign, renew, and regenerate to meet these goals.

This book tells us how we can leave the world a better place that we found it. That is the upcycle, learning to improve the world through better design rather than merely striving to minimize our impact on the world. We upcycle when we create products that are more perfect, rather than less burdensome. It is only fair to future generations that we learn these lessons now.

Read this book and plan for what’s next, because the future will surely come. ( )
  lbeaumont | Jun 27, 2013 |
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William McDonoughprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Braungart, Michaelmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0865477485, Paperback)

From the authors of Cradle to Cradle, we learn what’s next: The Upcycle

The Upcycle is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Cradle to Cradle, one of the most consequential ecological manifestoes of our time. Now, drawing on the lessons gained from 10 years of putting the Cradle to Cradle concept into practice with businesses, governments, and ordinary people, William McDonough and Michael Braungart envision the next step in the solution to our ecological crisis: We don't just use or reuse resources with greater effectiveness, we actually improve the world as we live, create, and build.
     For McDonough and Braungart, the questions of resource scarcity and sustainability are questions of design. They are practical-minded visionaries: They envision beneficial designs of products, buildings, and business practices—and they show us these ideas being put to use around the world as everyday objects like chairs, cars, and factories are being reimagined not just to sustain life on the planet but to grow it. It is an eye-opening, inspiring tour of our future  as it unfolds in front of us.
     The Upcycle is as ambitious as such classics as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—but its mission is very different. McDonough and Braungart want to turn on its head our very understanding of the human role on earth: Instead of protecting the  planet from human impact, why not redesign our activity to improve the planet? We can have a beneficial footprint. Abundance for all. The goal is within our reach.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:17 -0400)

In this follow-up to Cradle to Cradle, the authors draw on the lessons gained from ten years of putting the Cradle to Cradle concept into practice with businesses, governments, and ordinary people and envision the next step in the solution to our ecological crisis: we don't just use or reuse resources with greater effectiveness, we actually improve the world as we live, create, and build.… (more)

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