Cradle to Cradle Design:
An Essential Perspective as We Begin to
Technologically Enter God’s Inner Temple
We are at a tremendously exciting threshold of human development. As a species we have loved, since the time we lived in caves, to “build a better mousetrap.” The discovery of fire, the invention of the wheel, and a host of other innovations mark watershed moments in our ability to impact the world around us and improve our quality of life.
However, never before have our new technologies placed us at the door step of God’s inner sanctum. When we accelerate particles to the speed of light, crack the human genome, genetically modify plants and animals, engineer things so small it is beyond imagination, generate enormous amounts of both high- and low-frequency electromagnetic radiation (think cell phones and sonar), we are tampering with the most delicate stuff of Existence.
Up until now, most industrial and product design employed the “cradle to grave” design modality. You gather up some materials, put them together into an end product, use the product until it breaks, and throw it out. You don’t pay much attention to how much energy you use to create the product, whether or not the catalysts and intermediate chemicals are toxic, and so forth. This is more or less how a three-year-old functions in the world: with no regard to his effect on his surroundings. And given the fact we have only been creating technology on a large scale for roughly 200 years (fire and the wheel notwithstanding), we truly are children in this game.
However, because of the deep impact of our technology on the world today, it is imperative we become adult-technology-makers, and do so quickly. A company called MBDC has defined and articulated a scientifically rigorous process called “cradle to cradle” design. Rather than attempt to describe it here, I provide their web address:
(For the bulk of the essay, I will assume you have spent a bit of time and energy perusing the MBDC web site. In my opinion, it is time well spent.)
I would suggest it is time for all of our technology, but particularly those technologies which place us at the threshold of God’s inner sanctum, to begin the somewhat costly move toward C2C design. As I stated above, it is time that we become tech-adults, and move into version 2.0 of technology development. What does this mean? To begin with, if you make something, be sure you first do no harm. Another basic axiom: be sure you know how to clean up after yourself.
If one makes a plastic container that doesn’t biodegrade, the worst that will happen is we end up with a beach-full of dirty plastic. One is working here at a macro-molecular level. The dirty beach is not a great thing, but it is likely not planet-threatening. However, if you deploy a network of low-frequency sonar devices under the Earth’s oceans, and it turns out that the sonar waves interact in a negative way with the bioelectrical fields of various animal and plant lifeforms, then you’ve made a big boo-boo. Wipe out a strata of organisms, factor in food-chain ecology, and pretty soon we humans do not have anything to eat.
Do we have the consciousness to be working in these depths, at these heights? Have we transformed all of the ambition, hatred, greed, lust, fear, and other darkness inside of us into compassion, patience, wisdom and love? A human who has attained to deep inner awareness, knowing that every gesture creates waves in the universe, when moved to create a new product will be thrilled to know that a process such as C2C design exists to help guide her.
I understand that we are tremendously dependent on our current technologies. I also know that changing over to C2C devices is costly and time-consuming. I am not suggesting that we stop everything, and only deploy C2C technologies tomorrow. However, I am suggesting that each and everyone of us begin to integrate C2C into our lives.
The new technologies, and it bears repeating, penetrate the inner sanctum of God’s temple. Genes, quarks, photons, buckyballs, tremendously high (and low) frequencies of electromagnetic radiation — we have, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the tools to force our way into the inner sanctum and muck around a bit. However, do we have the tools to fix what we may break there? Would we notice if we broke something in the first place? Do we have what it takes to move with grace and intelligence there? Is our knowing of grace “grace-full” enough to meet the inner sanctum’s standard?
Some argue that others will not use C2C design, and therefore we will fall behind if we take the extra time and energy needed to do so. This, they argue, is especially dangerous with regards to defense technologies. My response is this: I can only be responsible for what I put out into the universe. If someone else makes a big mess, it will be on their karmic tab, not mine. It is all I can do to make sure, in this enormously complex world, that I do not make a major misstep. I believe what goes around comes around: if someone else gets ahead by cutting corners, eventually they will have to pay for the unconsciousness of their actions.
We have enough experience with cradle to grave design (enormous car junk yards, the exportation of huge amounts of waste, and so forth) and incomplete testing of new technologies (Vioxx, asbestos, dioxin, PCBs, saccharin, silicon breast implants) that we have run out of excuses.
With regards to the defense issue: if I have to create a global toxic waste dump in order to make the tools to protect myself, then what good is this new national security I’ve bought myself — all I’ve done is created a really secure mess. It may be that the guy wearing a Kevlar vest, when it stops a bullet aimed at his chest, could not care less about how you are going to dispose of the vest later. But if an ingenious scientist could come up with a new way of making nylon fabric (true story) such that at the end of its life it is possible to break it down into its constituent chemicals, and then reuse the chemicals again, then why not look into doing the same thing with Kevlar?
Again, I am not suggesting we stop making Kevlar vests today. I am suggesting we look into the life cycle of all of our technologies, and begin the move to the C2C design modality as soon as possible.
Perhaps becoming a master of these new technologies also means finding new ways to resolve conflicts. Maybe the price of fighting wars has become so high, on so many levels, that we simply have to grow into the next level of consciousness, where fighting to resolve our differences is not an option, no matter what. Perhaps God will simply not tolerate violence within his innermost shrine.
I see this clarion call to C2C design as a thrilling, positive impulse. It is not about shaming humanity for its past unconsciousness. No — it is about appealing to humankind’s highest, most delicate, most intelligent, most beautiful nature. It is about throwing down a gauntlet, issuing a challenge to scientists, businesspeople, engineers, and product designers everywhere: who will step forward and lead us into the remaking of our technological landscape? A landscape we can all feel comfortable calling a heaven on earth.