The Time is Right for Cradle to Cradle Certification
While we have long been fans of Bill McDonough’s work and the design philosophy espoused in the book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”, we’ve had our reservations about fully embracing Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Certification as the eco-label of choice, but NO MORE! Over the past two years, C2C Certification has quietly transformed into a non-profit, third-party verified, multi-attribute assessment that rewards exceptional design for sustainable and healthy materials.
The catalyst of this change was the creation of the non-profit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute with the mission of exponentially increasing the number of certified products through education, training independent assessors, administering a process for third-party auditing and issuing certifications.
This is timely given the materials revolution happening in the green building industry. The USGBC has recently revamped the Materials and Resource section for LEED 2012. While still in draft form, a few things are clear. There is a move towards greater transparency, multi-attribute assessment vs. single attribute, closed-loop recycling, and a more comprehensive approach to valuing certifications according to depth, transparency, and rigor. These changes move LEED a little closer to the process involved in Cradle to Cradle Certification.
The first stage of Certification requires companies to define every ingredient in their product down to the parts per million. This might seem simple enough, but when you consider the layers of a supply chain and concern about proprietary ingredients, this can be a time consuming task. However, the market is demanding this level of transparency as evidenced in the Healthy Product Declaration Forum and the new LEED 2012 MR credit: Material Life Cycle Disclosure and Assessment. This first step in C2C Certification meets the demand for transparency.
Once the product ingredients have been fully defined, each ingredient is assessed for its risk to human health and the environment. This takes a chemist/toxicologist type expert but the outcome is a full assessment of the product down to the parts per million. Just knowing if the ingredient is harmful is not enough. If there are persistent bio-accumulative toxins present in the product, it cannot be certified. Eliminating “Chemicals of Concern” is a mantra being advanced by several organizations including: LEED 2012 MR credit: Disclosure of Chemicals of Concern and MR credit: Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern, Perkins + Will’s Transparency initiative, the Living Building Challenge Red List and the ongoing work of the Pharos project to name only a few. At this stage, in addition to human and environmental health, products are also assessed on multiple attributes involving manufacturing and organizational processes including material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship, and social responsibility.
Once the product and manufacturing processes have been fully defined and assessed, the manufacturers work towards optimizing their processes and product by increasing their efforts to ensure material reutilization, renewable energy, clean water, and social responsibility as well as by eliminating or replacing undesirable ingredients with safer alternatives or redesigning products to eliminate the need for the chemical altogether. As they achieve greater optimization, they are granted higher and higher levels of certification (Basic, Silver, Gold, Platinum).
The level of rigor embodied in Cradle to Cradle Certification is unprecedented in the marketplace and requires companies to make a serious investment in innovative sustainability strategies. As such, it is time to revisit Cradle to Cradle Certification as a standard for measuring sustainable materials.
Full disclosure: Stacy Glass is serving as an Executive in Residence for the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and is advising on accelerating certified products for the built environment.