Andrew Michler

BOOK REVIEW: William McDonough and Michael Braungart expand on Cradle to Cradle With The Upcycle

by , 01/05/14

The term “upcycle” – used to describe the process of turning something old and used into a new and useful item – has rapidly grown in popularity over recent years. The term was popularized by Cradle to Cradle pioneers Michael Braungart and William McDonough, and in their new book The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability — Designing for Abundance they take the concept beyond the simple reuse of materials and propose a world in which everything we do improves the environment. The much-anticipated follow-up to their breakthrough book Cradle to Cradle, The Upcycle will hit the shelves on April 16th, and we got a chance to check the book out ahead of its release – read on for a first look!


upcycle, upcycling, McDonough, Cradle to Cradle, green design, book reviewPhoto © MBDC

William McDonough often suggests “we don’t have an energy problem, we have a materials-in-the-wrong-place problem.” Carbon for instance, should be used where it is of value, not in the atmosphere where it acts as a toxin. Upcycling is about using materials and energy to give us the most benefit without compromising future needs, appreciating that abundance in the natural world is the starting point.

When Cradle to Cradle was introduced in 2002 it helped spur a revolution in manufacturing design, in which—in certain industries—it became unacceptable to load homes and offices with toxins, and in turn encouraged the use of safer products that are eventually broken down to become the source materials for new products. Braungart and McDonough envisioned that the reuse of the materials would actually improve their quality chemically as less toxic products are “upcycled,” rather than degraded and difficult to reclaim—known as “downcycled” items.

The Upcycle takes that basic premise and expands it into almost every aspect of the built and designed environment. They start with the concept that “upcycling eliminates the concept of waste” by exploring the way materials are classified as technical nutrients for recycling, or as biological nutrients which can then be safely returned to the earth.

The narrative swings from philosophical heights to practical applications, many which are highlighted in Braungart and McDonough’s years of accomplishments in the development of materials, products, and buildings. The principle focuses on how to gain a deep understanding of causation and incorporate that knowledge into practical everyday design.

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