I recently finished reading Cradle To Cradle, by William McDonough & Michael Braungart which raises some wonderful concepts of design and ways of thinking about how we do things that address really broad issues including:
- Energy consumption
- Waste and how we deal with it
- Design in harmony with nature
- Designs that model natural systems
The authors propose a really different way of thinking about things. In the beginning, they assert that programs based on conservation only delay the inevitable, and seem to say that recycling, reuse, and so on are wrongheaded endeavors — seemingly worse than nothing. They propose a radical approach that would obviate the need for such things, and argue (strongly and well, in some cases) that many of our recycling efforts are indeed worse than nothing.
One example is recycled glass: the raw material being conserved (glass) is not rare, but the cost of reclamation, transportation, melting and recomposing results in less landfilling, which is good, but can release many dangerous substances into the environment, and may end up costing as much or more than making virgin glass. They have a number of compelling arguments that certainly dampen one’s enthusiasm for recycling.
But don’t despair, they eventually acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong with conservation as long as it is done as a means towards the ends they argue for. The book can be a little over the top in places, and indeed they are proposing and have started a movement that will require a great deal of rethinking in almost every aspect of our lives.
One of the more surprising points they make is, to my mind, one of the most powerful: the changes they propose must be in harmony not only with the environment, but with efficiency and economics. Said another way, the kinds of changes they propose make sense not only because they are sensible, but because they often save money, both in the short and longer terms. This makes the proposition palatable to constituencies like business and government that are often seen as antagonists.
In the end, the authors propose what can only be described as a manifesto for a movement. It is a far reaching set of goals, and will require a great deal of thought and change. But the thesis is sound, and this book is very well worth reading.