One of the more interesting emerging areas of co-creating social and economic value is the cradle-to-cradle movement: making goods that are never thrown away because they are continually reused, repurposed, or recycled. The future lives of a product and its components are considered from the beginning as is their impact on the full range of stakeholders. In a recent podcast, Center Executive Fellow Doug Wilson interviewed Bridgette Luther, co-founder of the Cradle-to-Cradle Institute. Together, they explored what it means to fundamentally rethink how things are produced and consumed:
For example, Larry Page from Google, is committed to insuring no harmful products are inside any Google office building. He personally has a spectrometer to measure VOC off-gassing in a Google office. VOC stands for a volatile organic compound. The new car smell that seems so fresh is actually the smell of VOC off-gassing. That new carpet smell is VOC gas coming both from the carpet fibers and the glue used to put down the carpet. These gasses are made up of particulates that lodge in your lungs and your brain – often permanently. Not good for any person’s health! Larry Page is actually protecting himself and his employees with that little spectrometer. In one case, he was assured a room was free of VOC’s. He did a check and his meter registered all clear. The contractor then did a final coat of plaster to finish off the room. Larry checked again and sure enough the spectrometer went nuts. It turned out there was lead in the plaster and the plaster contractor missed it. Lead, as we all know, is not good for the brain! Thank goodness Larry checked.
Higher Ambition leaders think about the “long now“–an understanding that short-term efforts should build toward positive long-term value creation, not come at its expense. What happens today inevitably affects tomorrow. A range of interests must be balanced. When approached with a Higher Ambition mindset this challenge drives creativity and innovation. The consideration of full spectrum impact is still in its early stages. The Cradle-to-Cradle Institute and the companies with which it works are demonstrating that this approach makes market as well as ethical sense–from cleaning products to building materials to body treatments and more.