Cradle of life

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:
Lewis Perkins, president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute
As usual, a highly comprehensive and self-explanatory piece of vision by Lewis Perkins. We're ...

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The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute’s president, Lewis Perkins, tells Geraldine Faulkner about the C2C Certified Product Standard, the history and mission of the group, and the work it is doing to make its philosophy as widespread as possible

Is it possible to change the world with a certification system and a methodology strategy?

Lewis Perkins, head of the rather cumbersomely named Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, seems to think so. Indeed, Perkins and his team are going so far as to talk about creating a new industrial revolution.

The certification system at the heart of the anticipated revolution is the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard that is administered by the Institute.

“The standard provides designers and manufacturers with criteria and requirements for continually improving what products are made of and how they are made,” explains the head of the not-for-profit organisation based in San Francisco which also boasts two satellite offices in the Netherlands.

“We were founded in 2010. Indeed we were created to be the owner of the C2C methodology and the programme which previously resided with William McDonough and Michael Braungart so we were established by the founders as a non-profit organisation,” explains Perkins.


The term ‘cradle to cradle’ was originally coined by Swiss architect Walter Stahel in the 1970s, while the Cradle to Cradle concept developed by green architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart aims to merge intentional design, chemistry and products for industry.

According to the Institute: “Cradle to Cradle is a beneficial design approach integrating multiple attributes: safe materials, continuous reclamation and re-use of materials, clean water, renewable energy and social fairness.”

Fast forward to 2002 when Braungart and McDonough published a book called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

“While I was employed at Mohawk Industries [an American flooring manufacturer] as a sustainability strategist, my CEO gave me a copy and encouraged me to read it,” recalls Perkins. “Several of our competitors were heading in this direction, which basically is a guiding philosophy as opposed to simply a certification programme.”

According to the Institute, the C2C model can be applied to almost any system in society. This includes urban environments, buildings, manufacturing and even social systems.

Before you discount this as well-intentioned airy-fairy mumbo jumbo, other research bodies obviously think it is a philosophy worth pursuing. Two certifications which award credit for use of C2C Certified products include Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a green building certification programme used worldwide, and BRE’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

Mission control

So what does C2C aim to achieve?

“Our mission is to guide product manufacturers and designers in making safe and healthy products for our world,” is Perkins’ immediate response.

The Institute, using the C2C framework, works with leaders from academia, the NGO environmental community, government and industry to establish a rating system for the assessment and constant improvement of products based upon five categories:

1. Safe and appropriately sourced materials

2. Material reutilisation (which of course is where the waste management sector comes in)

3. Renewable energy

4. Clean water stewardship

5. Social fairness

In the C2C model, all materials used in industrial or commercial processes – such as metals – fall into one of two categories, namely “technical” or “biological” nutrients such as organic materials. Technical nutrients are materials that are designed not to degrade into the biosphere; instead they can be used in continuous cycles through dismantling of a product at the end of its use and mechanically or chemically transforming the material back into its raw form for use in new products.

In this manner these materials can be used over and over again instead of being ‘down cycled’ into other products and ultimately becoming waste.

Examples of products where the C2C model has been used include shoes made through the Nike Considered project; Biofoam, a C2C alternative to expanded polystyrene; and Ecovative Design packaging and insulation made from waste by binding it together with mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony.

“It’s about renewable energy in addition to a product’s biological nutrients,” comments Perkins, who joined the Institute in 2012 and was appointed its president in October last year. My role is to bring more industry partners into collaboration with the Institute,” explains the former sustainable strategist, whose clients before he joined the Institute included The Coca-Cola Company and The Recording Academy (Grammys).

“I used to serve as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability strategist for Fortune 500 and mid-size companies, developing and implementing visionary strategies, using video, digital and social media campaigns to achieve target results.”

While he still continues to work with industry, Perkins points out: “We don’t want a conflict of interest so we are working with industry, but at the same time we mandate the use of third-party-accredited assessors to evaluate products. That is what makes the Institute’s work unique.”

Nor are things standing still at the Institute.

“We are in the process of revising the standard that will be released in 18 months’ time. We have 80 different experts working with us and are in the process of creating a strategy for building products,” explains Perkins with evident satisfaction before emphasising: “We are not looking at ‘one size fits all’. We examine the intended use of a product and the cycle it will go into and which use it will have.

“Our standard has the ability to look at the hazard and risk as opposed to operating just from a banned/restrictive materials point of view.”

Gaining accreditation

Currently the Institute is also working towards acquiring ISO 17065 accreditation for certification bodies. “In the process, it’s made us improve our processes and the way our standard is applied,” adds Perkins.

Now that the foundation of the C2C product standard has been laid, the head of the Institute says his team is turning its attention to two guiding principles: stakeholder participation and increasing its engagement from a marketing point of view. “It’s a path to a positive result and we help companies make the journey to certification. It is very exciting as this journey is filled with tough decisions and a lot of commitment on the part of the people we work with. Our standard has been created as a continuous development model so it means businesses have achieved a significant improvement when they have achieved a silver, gold or, better still, a platinum certification,” continues Perkins.

With regard to the waste sector, the head of the Institute says: “We would love to help the waste management industry redesign their business model. When we start to look at the world through the C2C framework, we can start to turn secondary materials into virgin quality. Producer responsibility will be extended to everything in a strategy where materials are plugged into the system.

“ I also think we shall be looking at closed loops and circularity and how to carry materials from one industry to another. We will be encouraged to think creatively. For instance, second-generation polyester is better off inside building materials.”

Perkins pauses before saying: “We can almost look to volume pooling, intelligent pooling and creating a marketplace.”

After all, when you are a president, you can aim high.

Five things I can't live without...

My son Amon: He is certainly the most important thing in my life and inspires me to do the work I am doing so he and his children can have a better world

My tribe of amazing friends: They are also on a similar journey of making our world a better place

Peet’s Coffee - Major Dickason’s Blend: Roasted near my home in California, I start every day with a cafetière for home consumption and the ‘to go’ cup

Music: It’s a passion I share with my son who at two and a half already has the same love for music, particularly the guitar, and can repeat a tune back to you note for note

My signed copy of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things: Bill [McDonough] and Michael [Braungart] gave me a copy when I first met them in 2009

Case study: Targett aims high

Tarkett, a specialist in sustainable solutions for flooring and sports surfaces, has announced that iQ One, its new generation, homogeneous, non-PVC flooring product, has been awarded Cradle to Cradle Gold level certification by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Considering that people spend on average 90% of their time indoors, the Gold certification recognises that iQ One has been designed to have a positive impact on the environment and human health.

According to Tarkett, iQ One’s hard wearing design makes it particularly suitable for high-traffic areas such as public spaces and education or healthcare facilities. The patent-pending flooring comes with a non-PVC formula.

Rob Peters, vice-president of marketing EMEA, says: “iQ One is a part of Tarkett’s vision to move towards a circular economic business model based on Cradle to Cradle principles where products are designed with good materials and can be safely reused and recycled.”

The new iQ One offers the following features: Phthalate-free, low VOC emissions, 100% recyclable and no biocides.

To find out more about the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and the C2C framework, visit

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As usual, a highly comprehensive and self-explanatory piece of vision by Lewis Perkins. We're colleagues and friends, and we share the vision to create the right context for the manufacturing industry to thrive in the context of a sound groundbreaking Circular Economy with a positive impact on people, planet and business profitability alike. While we need to make it easy and affordable, there's no shortcut path to it.

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