Cradle to Cradle Certified®: A framework for safe, circular and responsibly manufactured products

The Cradle to Cradle approach is essentially a tool for designing and manufacturing more sustainable products. However, multiple benefits are unleashed when companies base their entire business strategy on the concept. That’s according to Dr Christina Raab, President & CEO of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

In 2022, it will be 20 years since the seminal book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things was published. Behind the book were the German chemist Michael Braungart and the American architect William McDonough, and both writers argued for a break with the single-use, throw-away approach to product development – but also with the idea that ‘less harmful’ products are good enough.

“It really was a seminal book because it argued holistically for a circular economy. At the same time, it became clear that if industry and commerce were to rethink the way they designed products, they would need a concrete and actionable tool,” says Christina Raab, President & CEO of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. 

The institute was established in 2010 to translate the book’s ideas into action and help companies develop in the direction of a circular economy.

“The first companies to embrace the design concept came from the construction industry and the personal care products sector. One of the authors has strong links with the world of architecture, which probably goes some way towards explaining why the construction industry embraced the concept so eagerly,” says Christina Raab.

Increasing demand

Since then, many new sectors have come on board, and today more than 700 companies are working with the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products programme. About half are connected to the construction industry.

“Progressive developers and clients are increasingly stipulating requirements for Cradle to Cradle certification in their tender documents, but it’s also increasingly common for the demand to come from the world of finance and investors who want to invest according to ESG criteria,” says Christina Raab.

In the longer term, she hopes all new buildings and public tenders will require Cradle to Cradle-certified solutions.

The major building certifications such as DGNB, LEED, WELL and BREEAM have also helped boost demand for Cradle to Cradle certifications in recent years. The schemes recognise Cradle to Cradle-certified materials and products and award points for the certification.

Benefits for companies

According to Christina Raab, only a small number of companies like Troldtekt have to date based their entire business strategy on Cradle to Cradle principles, but she hopes many more will follow suit:

“Working with Cradle to Cradle Certified as a framework tool increases a company’s credibility substantially. The requirements are very strict and comprehensive, and it’s a third party-verified certification, too, which investors, among others, are increasingly asking for,” Christina Raab explains.

“At the same time, it gives a company like Troldtekt the opportunity to show leadership and brand itself as a leader of the sustainability agenda. The Cradle to Cradle Certified requirements are generally seen as the most stringent requirements out there,” she adds.

Finally, she points out that companies that work with Cradle to Cradle Certified get a very practical framework tool for developing their business:

“It can really spark a company’s development because it’s such a concrete tool for translating commitments into real and measurable action. At the same time, Cradle to Cradle Certified means the company is continuously improving and evolving, and so companies like Troldtekt are able to stay ahead of the competition,” she says.  

Five critical challenges

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Products standard focuses on five critical areas that must be considered when companies develop new products. In the new version 4.0 of the certification, the headings are:

  • Material health
  • Product circularity
  • Clean air & Climate Protection
  • Water & soil stewardship
  • Social fairness

According to Christina Raab, the construction industry has traditionally given priority to some categories over others, but in the future she expects to see a more holistic approach to sustainability – embracing circularity, climate action and social sustainability.

“Especially when it comes to the construction industry, product circularity is important. The Earth’s resources are finite, and Cradle to Cradle certification requires an assessment to be made of whether a product is designed with circularity in mind – whether it can be disassembled and whether the materials can become part of new cycles. But we also look at the raw materials used and production,” Christina Raab explains.

She also points out that the certification takes into account which systems are in place to further exploit the materials when their useful life is over.

FACTS: About the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

  • Founded as a non-profit organisation in 2010.
  • The institute currently consists of a key team of 20 employees, and has offices in both the USA (San Francisco) and Europe (Amsterdam).
  • More than 700 companies worldwide are working with the Cradle to Cradle Certified framework tool so far.
  • The companies are distributed across Europe, North America and Australia.

FACTS: About Cradle to Cradle

  • This design concept was inspired by the cycles of nature.
  • Ideally, the products can be disassembled after use, and the materials can either be broken down into biological nutrients (biological cycle) or recycled into new products (technical cycle).
  • The Cradle to Cradle Certified standard is continuously being updated, and requirements are becoming increasingly strict. The latest version (4.0) was published in March 2021.

Christina Raab, President & CEO of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.