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Cradle to Cradle 406

Posted by timothy
from the integration dept.
Logic Bomb writes: "Human progress since the Industrial Revolution has been one big design error. Really. In 'Cradle to Cradle,' architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart have crafted a compelling explanation for why humans need a completely new framework for how we interact with the world around us. Our model of technology and development is completely counter to the natural cycles and principles that worked for millions of years to create the environment we so cleverly manipulate. Sound like typical 'environmentalist' rhetoric? Not by half. This book actually contains reasonable explanations and practical solutions." Read on for the rest of Logic Bomb's review.
Cradle to Crade: Remaking the Way We Make Things
author William McDonough & Michael Braungart
pages 186 plus notes
publisher North Point Press
rating 10/10
reviewer Matt Rosenberg
ISBN 0-86547-587-3
summary Changing how humans relate to our environment

According to the authors, current human technology is a product of "cradle to grave" design. We pull resources from the Earth, shape them into a product, use it, and throw it away. The problem, we've noticed as we've spread all over the planet, is that there really isn't any "away." This is certainly not the first time our endless cycle of resource destruction and waste creation has been brought to light. But the whole point of this book is to show why the usual responses we've developed are useless, and what to do instead.

Consider the typical "recycling" program. What is presented to the public as a way to endlessly reuse raw materials is in fact a downward spiral of degradation in material quality until, just as before, it becomes unusable. Sometimes the recycling process itself produces additional toxic waste. Most Americans have probably heard of "the 3 Rs": Reuse, Reduce, and Recycle (to which the authors add a fourth, Regulate). These are measures that only aim to slow the destructive cycle. In the end, the result is the same. As the authors put it, Less Bad is No Good.

McDonough and Braungart's proposed strategy is called "eco-effectiveness". It revolves around the idea that in nature, waste equals food. Other than incoming energy from the sun, our environment is basically a closed system. Whenever (non-human) life on our planet uses a resource, it is left in a form readily useable to other life. Humans must do the same. The authors envision a world where, when a material item gets worn out, you simply throw it on the ground to decompose. Buildings should produce more energy than they use. Eliminate the concept of "waste" entirely.

The authors put their money where their mouths are. In 1994 they started a design firm that puts these principles into practice. Examples of their work are downright astonishing. The firm was once hired to design a compostable upholstery fabric. According to their principles, not only did the finished product have to be environmentally neutral, so did the production process. In the end, an entire line of fabrics was put into production using a total of 38 chemicals (selected from a list of almost 8,000 commonly used in the industry). Water leaving the factory, originally drawn from the local water supply, tested cleaner than when it went in. And the fabric, of course, could be readily disposed of by tossing it onto the ground where it would decompose back into the soil without leaving toxic chemicals behind. They include plenty of other cases that illustrate how eco-effectiveness can both improve the quality of life and make for a more profitable business.

We live in a complex world, and it is absurd to think that every product and production process could be converted to produce similar results overnight. What about items that consist of metals and other elements that organic life doesn't usually process? There is a whole section of the book to address such issues. The authors also go beyond pure chemistry and physical health to discuss how environment affects the intangible quality of human life, and how applying these same philosophies to architecture and urban planning can produce amazing results. Unlike many environmental advocates, McDonough and Braungart both acknowledge the difficulties and provide a clear path for reform. They include a framework for eco-effective planning and decision-making so their ideas can be implemented as much as is practically possible at any given time, always with an eye for continued improvement down the road.

The writing in this book is extremely clear and articulate. The authors provide explanations of their ideas from historical, scientific, and business perspectives. They even manage to rip apart typical corporate and environmentalist thinking without pushing blame on anyone. And of course, the book is far more detailed and comprehensive than I could cover in a short review. It's hard to read it and not come away convinced, and I think that's a good thing.

One final note for anyone thinking it hypocritical to waste trees so these ideas could be distributed: the book is not made out of paper or printed using a conventional process. It's plastic -- waterproof, resilient, eligible for recycling in most locales, and an early step towards what the authors hope will be infinitely recyclable synthetic book-making materials.

Links: McDonough's architectural firm; the design firm mentioned in the review; a webcast of NPR's National Press Club at which McDonough talked about their ideas far more eloquently than I have."



To go through your own hard times, you can from Crade to Cradle from bn.com Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to submit yours, read the book review guidelines, then hit the submission page.

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Cradle to Cradle

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  • Yes, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceejayoz (567949) <cj@ceejayoz.com> on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @11:42AM (#3645312) Homepage Journal
    In 1994 they started a design firm that puts these principles into practice. Examples of their work are downright astonishing. The firm was once hired to design a compostable upholstery fabric. According to their principles, not only did the finished product have to be environmentally neutral, so did the production process. In the end, an entire line of fabrics was put into production using a total of 38 chemicals (selected from a list of almost 8,000 commonly used in the industry). Water leaving the factory, originally drawn from the local water supply, tested cleaner than when it went in. And the fabric, of course, could be readily disposed of by tossing it onto the ground where it would decompose back into the soil without leaving toxic chemicals behind.

    Wonderful... but people aren't going to jump for it unless it costs the same or less. Look at how hard factories fight things like filters on smokestacks, because it'll raise prices a few cents per item.
    • Energy.. or thermodynamics.

      I'd like to see an energy comparison on which process is more efficient and what the total energy consumption from each was - including, for example, all the energy used to make those chemicals in use.

      The point these people miss is that it isn't raw materials and gargage that does us in. It's going to be the supply of energy.
      • by OwnedByTwoCats (124103) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @11:52AM (#3645399)
        Why is energy an issue? We get lots of energy every day... from the sun.

        It's the chemistry that's important; the material cycle must be closed.

        I quibble with a couple of the reviewer's (or maybe the author's) points: life has not evolved so that waste products are inputs to other reactions; it's the other way around. Life has evolved to make use of whatever resources are available; frequently, another creature's waste is exploitable somehow. And recycled paper, even if it degrades, is still part of a closed cycle: eventually, someone or something burns (or metabolizes) the cellulose back to CO2 + H2O, and trees photosynthesize that back into "high grade" cellulose.
        • replenishable energy (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Alien54 (180860)
          Why is energy an issue? We get lots of energy every day... from the sun.

          actually, there is some evidence that oil reserves may be self replenishing [radiofreenation.net] if you wait a reasonable period of time.

          The source would be microbes buried deep in the hot rocks of the earth.

        • I can't believe that got modded up. Anyone who thinks that solar energy can provide energy at anywhere near the current consumption rate is insane. Look around you. Oil is millions of years of stored solar energy - current theories about bacteria in the earth's core aside - consuption of oil is exceeding discovery of new reserves 4:1.

          Solar energy in it's current form is not concentrated enough. Nobody has proposed a solution that can change that, and ALL environmentalist solutions don't discuss potenital yields vs. current consumption.

          The planet is BIG. There is near infinite room to put garbage and waste, and there's so much aluminum and silica on this planet it will never come close to being all used. What will run out is the energy to process that material. Of course, it's easier to toss that can in a bin than it is to give up a car, now, isn't it.

          Everything! is about energy. How much energy does X consume. If it takes less energy to throw something away, we should do that instead - because it's the energy consumption (oil, coal) that's ruining the environment.

          The real environmental saviour is safe nuclear (fission and fusion) power. The lobby did a good job on that on in the 70's, though.


          • The planet is BIG. There is near infinite room to put garbage and waste, and there's so much aluminum and silica on this planet it will never come close to being all used. What will run out is the energy to process that material. Of course, it's easier to toss that can in a bin than it is to give up a car, now, isn't it.


            Everything! is about energy. How much energy does X consume. If it takes less energy to throw something away, we should do that instead - because it's the energy consumption (oil, coal) that's ruining the environment.


            The real environmental saviour is safe nuclear (fission and fusion) power. The lobby did a good job on that on in the 70's, though.


            These points need repeating because most people just don't know this. Most people have the few that resources are scarce and getting scarcer. In fact, resources have become more plentiful and cheaper throughout recorded history and there's no end in sight to this, as long as we have cheap enough energy to process them.


            Garbage is, for the most part, an economic problem, not an ecological problem. The only pollution problem that's both ecologically significant and hard to solve (carbon dioxide) again involves energy.

          • The planet is BIG. There is near infinite room to put garbage and waste.

            Dude, our planet is not "near infinite", and spelling "big" in all caps does not make it any more so.
          • I can't believe that got modded up. Anyone who thinks that solar energy can provide energy at anywhere near the current consumption rate is insane.

            Sure it can. Solar energy flux (at peak generation) is 1 kW/m2. You get a gigawatt per square kilometre. Even with a 10% duty cycle, the area of (ideal, perfect) solar arrays needed to power a city is much less than, say, the farmland required to feed that city.

            The best photovoltaic panels currently in the laboratory are about 15% efficient. Commercial panels are 5%. Photovoltaics will be a lot more practical in the next 20 years or so, when thin-film photovoltaics reach high enough efficiency (thin film cells also require far less energy/materials to produce, before you bring up those arguments).

            For a more practical solution, you can build arrays of aluminum or steel mirror-troughs to focus light on pipes and use a conventional heat engine to extract energy.

            This isn't even touching space-based solar power generation, which has the potential to be a lot cheaper (you can make big concentrators very thin and light, as structural stresses are far less).

            IMO, we're likely to go with fusion instead of solar, but solar is still capable of running the world (it's just cheaper for the time being to use fossil fuels).
            • Other important methods of harvesting solar energy that I forgot: hydroelectric power and wind power.

              Both are manifestations of the weather system, which is a giant solar-driven heat engine. While it's doubtful that wind power could provide a reasonable amount of energy on a continental scale, hydroelectric power certainly can. Both of these forms of solar energy harvesting are quite efficient, because you get a lot of the energy concentration for free.
    • Cost is a means of allocating scarce resources, as I'm sure you've heard. Some of this plan requires specific, scarce resources, and thus will raise costs; others, though, will effectively reduce scarcity in other resources, and will thus be useful to the people needing them.

      The ethical part of the argument needs to be heard, of course; but pragmatically and immediately, this plan makes sense.

      -Billy
    • Re:Yes, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeffrey Baker (6191) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @11:59AM (#3645458)
      The key solution to your proposed problem is to properly account for externalities like pollution and waste. It is cheap to use toxic chemicals in manufacturing because the manufacturer doesn't have to pay to dispose of the wastewater. They usually just dump it. The cost is payed by society as a whole. Obviously, if we had a way to account for the cost of this waste, the cost of the manufactured good would also increase.

      People must understand the complete cost of their actions, as this book tries to point out. If you harvest a tree, you have gained some wood and removed from the world some habitat and a carbon sink. You should have to pay to harvest that tree, because a cost is incurred by society. The same principle applies to clearcutting 100 acres, except the cost is much greater. The same principle applies to polluting bodies of water, paving land, taking game, etc.

      If you carefully consider my point, you will see that it actually fits best with libertarian free market philosophy. The market is the best system, but our current market is imperfect because it cannot account for externalities.

      • [...complete costs ...]

        If you carefully consider my point, you will see that it actually fits best with libertarian free market philosophy. The market is the best system, but our current market is imperfect because it cannot account for externalities.

        It fits with the philosophy, yes, but implementing it in reality would be pretty tricky. How do we prevent market players from "externalizing costs" whenever possible, given that it's to their benefit to do so? It's done right now (when it's done at all) by badly-designed and poorly-implemented government regulations, but it seems like anything other than that would be subverted even faster than Whitman subverted the EPA.

        • Well that's the problem with the libertarian philosophy on the environment; they very reasonably insist that companies be responsible for pollution they create, but then they put "pollution" into an extremely narrow category, leaving out most of the harmful things industry creates.
    • Look at how hard factories fight things like filters on smokestacks, because it'll raise prices a few cents per item.

      That is because the people doing that bitching are only concerned with their own immediate interests, and nothing more. If your eyes do not look beyond the next quarter's financial statements, effective and intelligent planning for the future is next to impossible. "Why implement Kyoto? It will have a negative effect on our profits - and our stock options".

      It would be in everyone's best interest to maybe look at the big picture once in a while. I suspect that if you take the long term view, the question is no longer "How much is this going to cost us?" Instead the question becomes "What is the cost of not doing this?" In that case, the filters on the smokestacks should be a slam dunk because their relatively trivial cost more than offsets the enormous costs of not cleaning up the environment.
  • Hmmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Black Aardvark House (541204) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @11:49AM (#3645370)
    One final note for anyone thinking it hypocritical to waste trees so these ideas could be distributed:

    Actually, I thought trees were a renewable resource, and when disposed of properly, paper can be biodegradable.

    The only problem I see is the bleaching in some papers.
    • Re:Hmmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DennyK (308810)
      Trees are renewable, but it takes a *long* time to renew the amount of tree that goes in to a reasonably successful book printing run... ;)

      DennyK
      • Re:Hmmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Bearpaw (13080) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @01:16PM (#3646089)
        Trees are renewable, but it takes a *long* time to renew the amount of tree that goes in to a reasonably successful book printing run... ;)

        [nod] Yup. Unfortunately, a good possible alternative -- hemp -- makes the people who benefit from the War on Some Drugs freak out. And given that some of them have used the WoSD to get and/or stay in power ...

  • Finally someone makes a book it is safe to read in the bathtub.

    I wonder how a plastic book would stack up against a paper book for longevity?

    And just to keep on topic here, I think that looking at the way we manufacture things with an eye to increasing the potential for recycleability is a good thing. Landfill space is finite and we definitely don't want to wind up living in a sea of disposable diapers, plastic 6-pack holders, discarded hot-dogs and stale twinkies.

    • Sure a plasitc book would be nice, but look at it this way:

      Plastic (at least most plastics) do not biodegrade. There are exceptions to this, such as plastics made from corn/soy/(and if many people would pull thier heads out of their collective arses)hemp which can biodegrade.

      Also, most plastics are petroleum based, so when the oil runs out, so does our gross overuse of plastic (back to the basic conservation of resources debacle...).

      To make a general point, maybe we should be more concerned with auditing our resource usage and pollution than with creating a book one can read while wasting water by taking a bath.

      (I'm just bitter because I live in a desert and people waste water which they shouldn't. These people in the hills with their lawns and swimming pools are going to be sorry when they have a pretty lawn but nothing to drink...)
      • by Kintanon (65528) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @12:28PM (#3645694) Homepage Journal
        Just think of all of the plastic as a way to store petroleum resources for your grandchildren. Some day people will be mining landfills for plastic to recycle! Just imagine it....

        "Hey Jim! We hit the motherload, there's diapers from here all the way through! We're RICH!! RICH!!"

        Kintanon
      • Plastic (at least most plastics) do not biodegrade. There are exceptions to this, such as plastics made from corn/soy/(and if many people would pull thier heads out of their collective arses)hemp which can biodegrade.
        That's not entirely true. Plastics that were thought to out live us by several lifetimes have turned out to be rather fragile. Bakelite and the plastic they made Barbie dolls out of leap immediately to mind. See googlechached article here [216.239.37.100] (no comments on the slimy PVC residue that's leaching out, only that what we thought would last forever DOES decay)
  • Hmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TweeKinDaBahx (583007) <tweek.nmt@edu> on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @11:50AM (#3645382) Homepage Journal
    Maybe a book like this could get people who live in places like New Mexico to look at how we use our EXTREMELY limited resources.

    Not to mention how wasteful the rest of the world is...

    Now I don't want to come off as some Tree-Hugging Hippy, but there is a lot of substance to this whole conservation thing. Just look at LA. If they don't find another way of getting water, there are going to be a lot of thirsty people in the near future. (This is the case with much of the west/southwest US).

    There is more to be said for clean technologies too. They may be more expensive to implement initially, but in the long run not only do they save money, you're saving the planet so future generations don't have to clean up you mess (fuel-cells and fusion anyone?)...

    *Glares at the baby boomers...*
    • I live in LA, and the water tastes so bad I consume nothing but the bottled type. When I go to the market, there are about twenty different brands of the stuff, so I don't think I'm going to be thirsty anytime soon.

      Smelly, maybe, but not thirsty. I believe that bathing and irrigation take up the bulk of water use.

      D
      • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by iuyterw (255460)
        You're assuming that once the water runs out, the thirsty hordes of less fortunates who can't get bottled water are going to let you drink yours.

      • How do you wash your dishes or take a shower?

        Things would get awfully expensive very fast.

        --
        Garett
        • by jafac (1449)
          It will simply be factored into the cost of living. (or hidden somehow by some apparently well-meaning politician in search of votes). But in the end, it will simply cost more to live there, and people who can't afford it will move somewhere else. (Ask the folks in Denver, CO, who have seen a huge spike in property values in the last 10 years as people fleeing California moved in).

          So in this way, the invisible hand continues to jerk us off.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Funny)

      by Slurms (144553)
      Just look at LA. If they don't find another way of getting water, there are going to be a lot of thirsty people in the near future.

      No worries, when the sea level rises, I expect the people in the LA basin will have plenty of water.
  • The firm was once hired to design a compostable upholstery fabric.

    Just think of what your unwashed geek body would do to this one.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @11:52AM (#3645396)
    People rarely change their behavior unless a clear signal tells them to do so in one discrete visible event.

    The affects of environmental damage are incremental, so it will take an enlightened authority to force these changes on society.

    • The affects of environmental damage are incremental, so it will take an enlightened authority to force these changes on society.

      There's no need to "force" changes on anyone, in fact that's probably the surest way to garner further resentment and skepticism toward your cause. In fact, I don't think you can find a single example of an authoritarian government with a good environmental track record. Russia's littered with toxic mistakes, China's building the world's largest dam project depite lots of protests, and the formerly communist and socialist countries of eastern Europe are only now recovering from the messes they made. Abuse and neglect are the inevitable result of granting that kind of power to anyone, no matter how "enlightened" they might allegedly be.

      You simply can't force people to do anything really worthwhile, at least not for very long. Yes, businesses can be regulated, but the costs of each regulation have real-world impact that must also be weighed.

      You have to use persuasion. The only enlighted authority that will make individuals change their behavior for the better is good old fashioned enlighted self-interest.
    • The affects of environmental damage are incremental, so it will take an enlightened authority to force these changes on society.

      Our society being what it is, I think it's a question of profitability rather than enlightenment. Enlightenment (in regards to environmental well-being) generally means nothing to anybody's bottom line and thus, in terms of capitalist society, is meaningless.

      Corporations and / or government will do something about environmental damage when it becomes profitable, or when it becomes too expensive NOT to do anything about it, or when it's too late. Not before.
  • And the fabric, of course, could be readily disposed of by tossing it onto the ground where it would decompose back into the soil without leaving toxic chemicals behind.

    What's to stop the fabric from decomposing in my living room? It doesn't matter whether I leave a steak outside or in my living room, the steak is going to decompose.

    What seems to be a missing point is durability. I would think that something that easily decomposes would be less durable than something that "lasts forever", almost by definition.

    • What seems to be a missing point is durability. I would think that something that easily decomposes would be less durable than something that "lasts forever", almost by definition.

      Not really a departure from the status quo, fabric furniture nowadays still need to be reupholstered every decade or so.

    • by nhavar (115351) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @01:13PM (#3646067) Homepage
      Cotton, hemp, wool, etc. are all natural fibers that decompose easily when left to the forces of nature. Yet when those same materials are used for durable goods and cared for or left in the right conditions they can last for thousands of years without decomposing. Therefore assuming that the couch will decompose in your living room the same as it would outside exposed is incorrect. Likewise the steak you have would decompose much differently inside than it would outside because of the lack of external forces speeding it's decomposition. A steak left on the floor of your living room might just dry up, get hard and become a peice of jerky, whereas a steak outside would attract wildlife, flies, and other insects that would convert the majority of it's mass into fuel for themselves.

      Some people have also scoffed at the idea that eco-friendly could be cost effective. But if you look at just the one example above - taking a material that could be made from thousands of chemicals and producing a similar product with only thirty eight - couldn't it easily be argued that the manufacturing equipment, cost of supplies, cost of training, cost of development, etc. would all go down using this methodology. While initial retooling and design costs might be up the end result is a product that costs less to produce and therefore provides a quick turn around on the initial investment.

      What's the lifecycle of the average polyester shirt? While I know that thrift stores are filled with 20 year old polyester shirts and pants, how many more went into landfills and are still there relatively intact today? We have the knowledge today to create buildings that use the environment itself to create a comfortable work and living environment inside - lessening the need for electricity and other utilities, yet most companies continue to build the same old environmentally unfriendly and people unfriendly buildings they always have. Twenty years later (sometimes only a year later) people end up gettng sick because of poor ventilation, carpet fumes, ceiling tiles, what have you. What's the cost when that happens?
  • So I should just drop down my pants and take a dump when and where I feel like it?
  • by bravehamster (44836) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @11:57AM (#3645438) Homepage Journal
    . It revolves around the idea that in nature, waste equals food. Other than incoming energy from the sun, our environment is basically a closed system. Whenever (non-human) life on our planet uses a resource, it is left in a form readily useable to other life. Humans must do the same.


    Personally, I think it would be easier (and much cooler!) to gengineer bugs that do eat our waste. Of course there is that whole risk of mutation and the bugs eating all the plastic around us, sending our civilization into chaos and disorder, eventually collapsing, but that always seems pretty cool in the books too. Then I can become a warlord and get my harem. Warlords get a harem, right?

  • These are measures that only aim to slow the destructive cycle. In the end, the result is the same.

    Entropy wins again.
  • Everyone likes environmentally safe/clean engineering designs, but they are usually last on the list, and nearly never on the "need" portion of the list; very similar to how everyone likes secure software, but that feature is neearly never above usable, cheap, and quick.
  • This is not how nature works. Nature is not a harmonious system where all waste is designed as "food". There is no intelligent design in nature. Rather, evolution uses fundamentally random changes, with negative modifications being discarded, and positive modifications being kept, through survival of the succesful. Efficency is important. Not minimal environmetal impact.


    Environmetal impact only matters if it threatens the survival of the species. Thus, locusts can not do their thing unchecked. This is the same with most other species. There are checks and balances against everything. Except us, but if we can determine most environmental externalties and associate them with economic production costs, our economic system will 'weed' out net (environmental/economical) producers.


    The Problem, of course, is correctly analyzing externalities. This is what needs more work, and even with more work, will probably prove impossible in some cases.

    • can you give some examples of what waste products in nature do not become "food" for some other part of the system?
    • Why is the typical evolutionary arguement, "Man descended from lower creatures through natural selection, but man is completely different than all other creatures, by some divine mandate or whatever"

      It's one or the other. you can't have it both ways.
  • by pubjames (468013) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @12:00PM (#3645464)

    This review reads like a Wired article - "visionary thinkers with groundbreaking ideas set to revolutionize the world!", whereas in actual fact these type of ideas are fairly mainstream in some parts of Europe.

    I don't want to start off a USA vs Europe thread, but it's true that in some countries in Europe (not all) the level of environmental awareness and recycling is extremely high in industry as well as the government and public spheres.
    • Isn't Europe the place that went into a panic and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of animals when symptoms of a benign disease was "detected" that they hadn't bothered to check for before the panic. Several times in the past few years.

      I'm not saying common sense and a rudimentary understanding of biology are directly tied to environmental awareness, but there could be at least some correlation, couldn't there?
  • by fruey (563914) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @12:06PM (#3645508) Homepage Journal
    Buy now, pay tomorrow. Do now, pay tomorrow... procrastination and put off until tomorrow.

    Anyone earning large amounts of money exploiting other people, materials, chemicals that are bad for the environment... they're all doing it

    Anyone consuming the cheapest product, without any care for production... they're doing it

    Nobody calculates the REAL cost of anything any more. Look at the dot com crash. Before that there were investors buying in to exploration trips on ships that would never get a crew and sail. It comes back again and again.

    This book sounds like a great read. Will you read it? Probably not. Will you buy more expensive, eco friendly stuff? Probably not.

    And who is most to blame? World leaders. Corruption. You name it. But the only person you can really blame is yourself. For that, indeed, is the only thing you can really change.

    Global attitudes have to change. These things are possible. Stop chasing the money dragon, and get into a more zen life.

    Or you could just say bollocks to it, and get run over by a bus tomorrow... you can't be a finite being in a (to all intents and purposes) infinite world and still contribute to the greater good, really, can you?

    • zen seems to be doing pretty well, monetarily speaking, these days.
  • From the write up...

    "Other than incoming energy from the sun, our environment is basically a closed system."

    You can't just discount the sun's influence when describing the earth. The sun drives photosysthesis, the production of ozone, climate, evolution of species, etc. These are hardly minor events and only happen because of the virtually inexhaustable, free energy we get. If earth WAS a closed system (ie no parent star), then the only energy to work with would be that produced by lunar tidal effects. In that case, you'd only get enough energy for simple organisms such as bacteria (if that).

    Also...

    "Eliminate the concept of "waste" entirely.
    The authors put their money where their mouths are. In 1994 they started a design firm that puts these principles into practice. Examples of their work are downright astonishing. The firm was once hired to design a compostable upholstery fabric. According to their principles, not only did the finished product have to be environmentally neutral, so did the production process."

    Excuse me, but how much MORE energy was spent to make the production process neutral? Sure, you get "clean" by-products, which is an admirable accomplishment. But you had to use more energy to drive the pollution prevention measures (ie at the water treatment plant). Somewhere, a power plant produced a little more electricity to do this and as a result, a little more toxic waste (from the power plant) was released. Sure the production process is enviromentally friendly, but it's NOT a free lunch. There is ALWAYS waste somewhere.
    • First of all, he's not discounting the influence of the sun. You even quote the part where he says that :) And he's right: the only input to the system we call earth (with it's system boundary at, let's say, the upper startosphere) is the energy we get from the sun. For the rest, the system has no input; heavy elements only get input into the system when stars go nova :) Secondly, the fact that the water came out cleaner was a result of the process itself, not because they tagged an extra water purification plant to the end. The only extra energy expended was smart process design. As usual, it pays off to spend some time and energy in the design phase. And as we all know, implementing something like this later on would entail a lot of money and effort. You should have read and thought before you quoted something which disproved your own point :)
    • You can't just discount the sun's influence when describing the earth.

      I highly doubt that was what the authors were doing. Of course the sun is important... it's the reason we have so much life on the surface of this planet. When they mentioned the closed system, they meant it as the waste products aren't discarded somewhere out of the system, but instead used up again.

      If earth WAS a closed system (ie no parent star), then the only energy to work with would be that produced by lunar tidal effects. In that case, you'd only get enough energy for simple organisms such as bacteria (if that).

      most of the energy would be at the bottom of the ocean where there are numerous vents of hot gas/water/lava. That's how plenty of organisims live: totally independent from the sun. There also are many organisisms that live in dark caves that have no contact with the outside world. They just rely on the heat which could easily come from the planet's core. These caves are complete closed systems that only need an outside heat source.

      Excuse me, but how much MORE energy was spent to make the production process neutral? Sure, you get "clean" by-products, which is an admirable accomplishment. But you had to use more energy to drive the pollution prevention measures (ie at the water treatment plant). Somewhere, a power plant produced a little more electricity to do this and as a result, a little more toxic waste (from the power plant) was released. Sure the production process is enviromentally friendly, but it's NOT a free lunch. There is ALWAYS waste somewhere.

      Wind power? Geo-thermal? ...solar power from that all-important sun that gave us all the power nature uses? Extra energy usage does not mean extra waste....
  • There is a world summit coming up (a 10 years later follow-up to the Rio Summit) in which many issues related to this topic will be discussed.

    I've been working as a contractor on a website project recently for a UK university. The site uses the Slash code, and is aiming to focus discussions between special interest groups in the time before the summit (groups like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc).

    The site is called Earth Summit for All [open.ac.uk], and there is quite a lot of background information there relating to sustainable development in general and the summit in particular, as well as the discussions powered by the Slash software which are only just starting to take shape...

    Regards,
    Denny

  • by Anomolous Cow Herd (457746) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @12:10PM (#3645546) Journal
    Buildings should produce more energy than they use.

    In this house, we OBEY THE LAWS OF THERMODYNAMICS!

    • I guess you don't use solar power then.

      Down in Austin (I think, but am not certain, I saw it on the news about a week ago) there is a business that sells solar power equipment; they also use solar power for their shop. They produce more power than they use, which leaves the power company owing them money. Apparently the power company replaced the power meter a couple of times thinking there had to be something wrong with it.

  • Is made out of leather, wood, and cotton (and some little metal bits, but not a significant amount).

    Am I an enviro-God?

    Are couches really the pinnacle of achievement in terms of bio-safety? Wouldn't a naturally produced, biodegradable television be a little more impressive?
  • Damn, I wanted to review this book. Oh well, I'll just say that while anyone can enjoy reading it, it is clearly aimed at the designers of products, not merely at consumers. The whole premise is that we can't solve the problem by just consuming less -- we need products that behave as nature does.

    Take textiles. Many textiles contain unwanted materials such as heavy metals or pesticides, what the authors refer to as "products-plus". Why are they included with the product? Did you the consumer ask for them? Such products can't be safely decomposed or recycled. The only safe place for them is a landfill (hence the term cradle-to-grave). Take the long, long-term view and it is clear that, if this cradle-to-grave model continues, we'll fill the planet with landfills.

    However, if you model the product on nature, then the waste from the textile production process and end-of-life product itself can be used safely as mulch: cradle-to-cradle. The challenge for the designers is to distinguish the biological nutrients from the technical nutrients, and provide a way for these nutrients to be reused, the way nature reuses them. This is not hypothetical: the authors provide many examples of companies that are doing this type of work.

    If you are a scientist, engineer, or designer, you will need to be familiar with the techniques these guys espouse. The MBA's willl need to recognize the value of this approach, but it's up to the designers to select the materials and techniques that achieve the results.

    Also, I was very impressed with the example the authors provide of Bill Ford at Ford Motor Company. He is transforming the ancient River Rouge plant into a model of these principles, and saving as much as $35 million in the process.

    In short, this is a really thought-provoking book.
  • Of course, Neal Stephenson had a pretty good idea of the impact of practical nano construction is.

    One of the coolest parts of the book was how eco friendly the designs were, and not by intention. Because when you have the ability to build at the same level nature does (molecule by molecule) you can make extremely simple designs, which are easy to break down. The whole idea that the water intake system for the raw materials plant was not a gigantic intake duct, but instead, thousands of little tubes which could do a better job because of its ability to act as a wick. The side affect of this design was that it was almost identical to clump of reeds, and after like it.

    And items could be broken back down easily, however if they were made pre-nanotech, it took longer, because their patterns were chaotic.
    • The whole idea that the water intake system for the raw materials plant was not a gigantic intake duct, but instead, thousands of little tubes which could do a better job because of its ability to act as a wick.

      Actually, that passage specifically states that it would have been easier to do a big pipe, or something ugly, but they didn't precisely because they cared about aesthetics. That was just part of being a Victorian.

      And items could be broken back down easily, however if they were made pre-nanotech, it took longer, because their patterns were chaotic.

      But they didn't do so, by and large - makers would only break down stuff that was tagged as a made item.

  • by trb (8509)
    In other words, we want more things made out of meat. [216.239.33.100]
  • Energy Entropy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nukeade (583009) <<moc.liamtoh> <ta> <11tnepres>> on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @12:43PM (#3645796) Homepage
    There is indeed a lot of wasted energy as far as the Earth is concerned. We choose to use the most convenient and cheapest to harvest forms, i.e. fossil fuels. The big issue seems to be that we need some total amount of cost to do things. Therefore, I propose that

    Cost = Entropy used + Energy Used

    Saying that, for example, you could use a very fast process to extract oil from the ground that uses minimal energy (what you pay for) but increases entropy (makes a big environmental mess). At a greater energy cost, you could make it a lot cleaner. Fortunately, we have a saving grace:

    The sun provides us with an almost unlimited amount of energy.

    The problem here is that we choose to use the more inexpensive forms of energy, but if we did use forms that come from the sun rather than toxic entropy-increasing forms or non-renewable forms (possibly the same, considering the toxic by-products of fossil fuels, which I understand did come from the sun, but are toxic nonetheless. The sun's energy was expended so that these toxins could be trapped.)

    What a lot of people whose posts I am reading are forgetting is this:

    Plants (wood, food) = Solar, their energy to grow comes mostly from the sun, and what doesn't goes back to Earth
    Wind = Solar, pressure is due to heat from the sun
    And of course direct solar energy.

    Therefore, it is not hypocritical to make a book with paper. Paper is solar energy. Considering the vast amount of this energy that goes unharvested and unused, it is therefore not impractical to harness a virtually unlimited and safe energy source.

    ~Ben
  • plastic book (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oliverthered (187439)
    "the book is not made out of paper or printed using a conventional process. It's plastic -- waterproof, resilient, eligible for recycling in most locales, and an early step towards what the authors hope will be infinitely recyclable synthetic book-making materials. "

    Isn't that kinda against the opening few paragraphs of your review, isn't recycling degrading the materials, where as paper can be thrown on the ground....

    Anyhow, I'm a bit of an anti-wood pulp man, and think they should have printed the book on hemp paper, which will last a few hundred years, be recycleable, use less chemicals etc...
  • Someone wrote:

    > people aren't going to jump for it unless it costs the same or less


    I disagree. A huge segment of the population, possibly even a majority, is willing to pay extra for environmental benefits. The question is not "if," but "how much?"


    There are two problems: First, there is the "raw" cost difference (how many extra dollars for the biodegradable upholstery), and second, there is the "hidden" cost difference (difference in life span -- longer or shorter -- or difference in net energy cost from using the "environmental-friendly" product)


    I'd gladly buy an electric car, for example, if the cost were 20% more than the cost for a regular car (alas, the difference is more like 60% currently, and the environmental "advantages" are not entirely clear since the batteries are not biodegradable).


    Alas, there is an economic battle going on: the automobile and oil industries are fiercely resisting any change, and they are cleverly pricing alternatives so that they will appear "unaffordable" or to defend their false claims that "nobody wants electric cars" etc.


    I'm planning to buy this book today.

  • Buildings should produce more energy than they use.

    See? All he wants is for us to invent a perpetual motion machine. It's not so much to ask, we're just thinking about it wrong.

    mark
  • In the future, our present-day garbage dumps will be gold mines of resources. With nanotech we will be able to recycle and recover all the resources that are there - metals, hydrocarbons, polymers. All can be converted to useful form, in many cases in higher concentrations than played-out natural ore veins.

    It's pointless to spend expensive resources today on conservation when in a few decades we will have infinitely more powerful and cheaper abilities to fix the problems. Better to divert our efforts into speeding the progress of the advanced technologies which will let us re-green the earth cheaply and easily.
  • First, for those whining about cost, durability, etc., please listen to the webcast. The buildings designed for major companies (SONY, Norman Miller, Ford, et. al.) end up costing much less in operating costs and increasing productivity. The plant they are building for Ford will cost $13M more than a standard comparable plant, but will remediate $48M worth of ecological damage Ford was required to fix by the government. 1 factory, out of the box saved the $35M.

    Which brings my question -- how do I help. I do what I can. I'm a homeowner, so I avoid using chemicals where I can (no turfbuilder!), drive an efficient car, etc. Can someone suggest practical ways to implement on an individual or household level these very forward-thinking ideas?
  • by markmoss (301064) on Wednesday June 05, 2002 @05:31PM (#3648525)
    What is really needed isn't decomposing upholstery, it's a lot fewer ideas like this. [beyond2000.com]

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