Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Cradle to Cradle” Is Revolutionizing Human Design

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” is a book that was cowritten in 2002 by William McDonough, an architect in sustainable development, and Michael Braungart, a German chemist. Instead of demonizing the human footprint, the book celebrates it saying “humans don’t have a pollution problem, they have a design problem.” The idea is that instead of trying to be “less bad” with design and innovation by reducing carbon output or by limiting chemicals used, humans should just design things better from the start. “Cradle to Cradle” (c2c) is regarded as one of the most influential ecological manifestos since “Silent Spring,” a book written in 1962 by Rachel Carson which exposed the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment and led to a nationwide environmental movement in the United States. The ideas in the book “Cradle to Cradle” are quite simple, but truly change the way one thinks about human design.


In the c2c process, the full life cycle of a product is considered starting with the materials out of which it is made, all the way to what happens to the materials after a person is finished using the product. It is a process of “upcycling,” with the optimal goal of endless recycling of all the materials in a product. The phrase ‘cradle to cradle’ came from the idea that many current products go from ‘cradle to grave,’ or they are in a sense “downcycled” from their original purpose. An example of ‘downcycling’ would be recycled plastic bottles that become non-recyclable synthetic fibers, so after their second use the cycle ends and they enter a landfill. McDonough’s philosophy is that design is the first signal of human intention and therefore we must design with an intent to be good to the planet in mind.

The first way to successfully design in the c2c manner is to design using biomimicry, or copy designs presented in nature itself. For example, the authors discus in the sequel to their book “Cradle to Cradle,” called “The Upcycle,” the vision of houses designed like trees, in which they use sunlight for pure energy, clean their own water, and take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen and McDonough strives to design his buildings in this fashion. The second way to successfully design a product in the c2c manner is to use materials that are also nutrients and the authors describe the two nutrient cycles they invented within their books. The first one is the biological cycle in which organic material can be taken from the earth used in a product and then returned to the earth after its use in an endless cycle. The second one is the technical cycle which consists of non-toxic, synthetic materials that can be endlessly used and reused in products without losing their integrity. An example of a successful technical cycle created using the c2c method is one in which yarn is recycled to carpet, which is then recycled into plastic pellets, and finally back to yarn. Not only do both of these cycles repeat endlessly on their own but they can also combine (and most often do intermix) to create endlessly recyclable products with both technical and biological nutrients. An example of this would be the Nike Considered line. Each shoe is comprised of an infinitely recyclable polyester outside and a biodegradable sole and the line demonstrates the success and possibilities of designing with the c2c design ideology.


Nike Considered Boot


Nike Considered Slip-on

There are five principles that govern whether a product becomes Cradle to Cradle Certified and to what degree it becomes certified. There are five achievable levels ranging from Basic to Platinum (depicted in chart below) depending on how well the product ranks in each of the categories, but the goal of c2c certification process is not for a company to settle for any one ranking, but better yet to continually improve their product and processes. The first requirement is material health meaning the materials used are safe “nutrients.” The second one is material reutilization, so the product should try to achieve the endless cycle of biological and technical nutrients. The third requirement is the use of renewable energy to power all operations. The fourth is water stewardship, meaning it is expected that water is conserved and or cleaned during the production process. The last principle is social fairness because the product should celebrate diversity in nature and in humans and be applicable and effective wherever it is meant to be used.

Scorecard of c2c certification process

Scorecard of c2c certification process

There are to-date over 2000 certified c2c products as well as many companies adopting the c2c methodology in their processes. “The Upcycle” discussed the many ways McDonough and Braungart had put c2c into practice over the last decade and the experiences they had implementing their idea into companies business plans. The c2c design philosophy is one that allows people to envision an attainable and happy green future rather than one full of holding back great designs and tiptoeing around climate change. By always starting at the very core of designs and using the “Cradle to Cradle” ideas, society as a whole can one day surpass the idea of sustainability and thrive harmoniously with nature.

The Effects of Automobiles on the Environment

Cars are essential to everyone’s life, but they cause so much damage to the environment. The areas that we need to focus on are: air quality, production and fuels

Air Quality

Photo courtesy of

Automobiles create about 33% of all U.S. air pollutants in the forms of carbon dioxide, smog and several other toxic chemicals and gases. These air pollutants are released from the tailpipes, which means that humans immediately breathe in the contaminated air now compromising human health making it a more crucial issue to address. It has now become more a health concern than air contaminants released from an industry’s massive “chimney.” However, the world has been much better about attacking this issue – probably because it directly affects them. Even though we have increased the number of cars on the road, the air quality is much better because of the Clean Air Act from 1970. According to HomeGuides, apparently we have almost gotten rid of lead emissions completely.

Production & Disposal

Cartoon courtesy of


The energy footprint that the production of a car leaves on the environment is because of the materials needed to make them. According to National Geographic, these materials include steel, rubber, glass, plastics, and paints. This makes me question the supposed beneficial effect that hybrids have on the environment because they require much more scarce materials to create, and the amount of energy that car’s production could cancel out their beneficial effect. says “the average U.S. vehicle (in 2007) required 1129 gallons of gasoline to produce…equivalent to two years worth of gas.”

When cars are disposed, their remains of plastics and toxic lead battery acids are thrown into landfills instead of being recycled resulting in harmful effects directly onto the environment. However, this is another issue that the U.S. has done much better with over time. Fun fact from National Geographic: three quarters of a car can be recycled. The website actually expressed this fact as a positive thing, but this fact means that a quarter of a car ends up in landfills, and automobiles are not exactly the smallest object ever, AND humans buy a new one about every decade. What makes up for this startling detail is that 80 to 90% of the environmental damage that a car causes occurs before the car’s “death”.


Photo courtesy of

Automobiles use petroleum products that require much energy to extract them from the ground damaging the world’s ecosystems. There are also other little details that we tend to ignore. Fuel comes from particular concentrated locations in the world so shipping the oils itself actually requires a sacrifice from the environment as well. Shipping the oil on airplanes, ships, trucks or trains just means that these machines also need to expend scarce resources and release toxic gases in order to ship them to every part of the world. We also can’t forget the risk of an occasional accident in which the oils could spill into the ocean or the road and directly effect a delicate ecosystem.

How do these factors affect the environment?

Percentage of greenhouse gases Photo courtesy of


According to the EIA, greenhouse gases allow sunlight to enter the Earth’s atmosphere more than it naturally should. Sometimes sunlight is reflected off the surface as heat, which greenhouse gasses absorb and trap in the atmosphere that we live in. This in turn causes the overall temperature of the Earth to increase as well. These greenhouse gases include: benzene, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and sulfur dioxide. Fun fact from CarBusters: almost 0.009 metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced for every GALLON of gasoline burned, which means that the average American makes about 11.7 tons of carbon dioxide each year from their cars alone

Other ways that it can affect the environment at a smaller scale is that particulates and pollutants released by cars can be inputted into the soil and waters and then enter the food chain causing biological systems of animals and humans to be compromised. Acid rain is also a concern because it changes the acidity of water sources that animals drink from. Chemicals, most popularly CFCs (chloroflurocarbons), essentially create a thinner ozone layer which is mean to protect the Earth from UV rays.

Why does this matter?

These are just reasons why we need to find alternatives to using petroleum to fuel our cars for transportation. To begin with, we can only reduce use until technology finds a way to make the fuel more efficient or finds an alternative fuel that has no affect on the environment. Fuel efficiency and reducing their harmful effects is the key to improving the current state of the environment.

How climate change is affecting agriculture right now

In the scientific American there was an interesting article about Australian farmers being the one of the first groups to feel the negative consequences of global warming ( The article referenced the fact that Australia over the past century has had temperatures rise about one degree, which does not sound like much until we dig into the details. Farmers depend on a relatively stable climate throughout the entire farming season in order to properly grow certain types of crops.

Now obviously the everyday weather for a week changes radically but the weather average for an entire cropping season year in and year out tends to stay about the same. However, with massive changes in the climate outlook for an entire season changing crops will start to become unprofitable and will eventually stop being grown entirely. In the case of Australia when crops that require long periods of rain like walnuts and peanuts do not receive the amount of rain they need then they will simply stop being grown and produced.

Now many of you may think that if Australia stops growing some nuts no big deal other countries with better climates can make up the difference and even if some nuts stop being grown entirely it’s no big deal. To those people I say that baseball games will never be the same without peanuts, how dare you and that in many countries around the world food is not presented as a choice but rather a necessity. For example Australia exports 48 billion dollars worth of food to the rest of the world each year. That is about sixty percent of their entire agricultural production, which is a incredibly high percentage to devote entirely to exports. If production of certain products were to fall and then Australia in order to meet the needs of its own domestic demand restricted the number of exports or rather just shifted to become a stronger importer of its crops then a huge number of people would be completely out of food. If that were to happen not only would plenty of people die but many of the poorest people in the world would be seeing a huge increase in one of their most basic expenses because as supply goes down and demand stays the same price goes up.

This would only be the beginning because agriculture is one of the most unstable industries in the world today simply because the instability of the climate prevents a secure environment for growth and investment. That means that as the trend of increasing temperatures continues and more and more crops begin to die out private sector investment and ingenuity will disappear from the field. This is probably one of the worst things that could possibly happen because although we think the local grocery store has an infinite amount of food that is simply not the case. In fact, for many people around the world today they depend on foreign exports and aid to have a good meal. If global warming decreases overall food production at the same time that our global population is growing dramatically increasing food demand, there would be huge problems. This would create huge food shortages and increase the prices for average consumers dramatically.

The ironic part about this is that agriculture itself is impacting the amount of carbon emissions produced and global warming in general dramatically. According to the World Future Council, fourteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by agricultural practices and another eighteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation, which is primarily caused to gain more land for agriculture. If you look at this logically it seems very simple that the agriculture industry will take action on its own to combat the one thing that could destroy their entire field, but it is never that simple.

Since there are market forces at work trying more expensive clean energy agricultural practices would hurt the companies or small farmer’s short-term bottom line and therefore these practices are never implemented. So we have the rare but very real case where agricultural industry is actively participating in its own self-destruction. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that continues because when the market dictates that going green would hurt the bottom line of the industry nobody does because they would fall behind the competition.Then when the problem of global warming gets worse and agriculture yields start to fall it becomes even more imperative to make your practices more cost-effective rather than green. The cycle will simply continue like this unless the government steps in and puts in place standards and incentives to guide the industry to greener practices. I think it is imperative that we stop this cycle and introduce greener standards in the agricultural field, but what do you think?

Deliberation on Energy

For the deliberation that I went to it was in the New Leaf initiative on the Tuesday before break and it was about the energy future in both Pennsylvania and the world in general. They split the debate into three topics the first was fossil fuels, the next was nuclear, and the final one was renewable resources. There were only about seven people there so we did not break down into separate groups but rather discussed with everybody about what we thought about each energy option in both the short and the long term.

For the first topic of fossil fuels the deliberators went through the fact that it currently right now it is a huge benefit economically but has a huge cost to the environment not only in the long term but also in the short term. For example the practice of fracking has dramatically impacted the surrounding communities with not only poisoned drinking water but in some cases flammable drinking water which to me is incredibly scary. That is why the discussion focused on how we can move away from fossil fuels and force the companies who use the practices of fracking to pay for their environmental damage. The solution that was proposed was taxing the fracking companies in Pennsylvania, which have been untaxed under Tom Corbett, and then taking that money to develop research and tax incentives for environmentally safe energy practices.

The next topic we went over was the possibility of nuclear energy, the deliberators went over the fact that despite popular belief is one of the most safe and secure forms of producing energy but is also one of the most cost inefficient ways to produce energy and because of this the industry needs huge government intervention in order for the private sector to make a profit doing it. So as the discussion took place the consensus was that we need to invest in research and provide government subsidies in order to promote private companies in this field. I took a position against the typical consensus because I think that the nuclear industry is too far away from being a profitable industry and that wasting government capital which is limited in its nature to prop up an industry that is decades away from any private sector success would be a mistake.

However, I was definitely not in the majority because the typical feeling around the room was that there was no energy area in which the United States should not invest huge amounts of resources into because if we are not on the forefront of innovation in the new energy future we will miss out on tons of investment and jobs. Therefore all energy fields should be at the very least be researched if not subsidized by the government just in case that particular field becomes the future for energy.

For the third and final topic we talked about is renewable energy, the moderators stated the pros of these is that the supply is infinite and that the options are environmentally-friendly, but as of right now the options available cannot account for all of the energy needs that we have and is not as cost efficient as fossil fuels. Despite, the cons the consensus was very clear that we need to move towards renewables in the long term and also most importantly throw government research money and tax incentives for companies in the renewable energy industry to take advantage of to ensure that the switch to renewable energy happens as fast as possible. The another solution proposed was to incentivize individuals through tax credits for things like solar panels in order move the country closer to environmentally-friendly energy independence.

So as we went into the conclusion we went through the overall thoughts from each approach and then tried to draw a conclusion from the entire thing. As we went through the consensus was clear that we needed fossil fuels in the present to address our energy needs currently but we should tax them for environmental damage. We should also take those tax dollars from the companies who produce fossil fuels in order to invest in research and start up companies in both nuclear and renewable energy fields in order to begin a transition to a cleaner and more efficient energy sector that will drive economic growth.

If you want to take a look at Pennsylvania’s energy future read this article,

Environmental Effects of Oil Spills

It wasn’t too long ago news channels everywhere were commenting on the disastrous consequences of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil spills have severe effects on the ecosystems and environment as a whole. It can be a huge undertaking to clean up the mess created by the oil spill. It is essential that the effected is cleaned as well as it can be to allow the ecosystems in that area to readjust and recover from the shock they have just experienced. There are four main ways oil spills effect the environment: physical smothering of organisms, chemical toxicity, ecological changes, and indirect effects.

Physical smothering of organisms is when heavy oils smother organisms in their habitat. This can lead to constriction in respiration, feeding, and thermoregulation. The organisms most affected are the ones that are closer to the surface. An example is sea otters. Sea otters need their fur to stay clean so it can provide them with beneficial warmth. If their fur is covered by oil their ability to stay warm is compromised. Another animal that is very often harmed by oil spills is seabirds. Many seabirds are usually found dead on shore because they come to the surface to get food. There are also many of them perched on the shore line and if the oil spill has reached the shore, it very likely to effect seabirds.

Chemical Toxicity is when chemical components of the oil are absorbed in the the organs, tissues, and cells. This can lead to serious and lethal effects on the organisms affected. Toxicity is usually a concern when the oil spill concerns a “light” oil. Light oils are very prone to flammability and explosions. That’s the first concern. The next concern is the actual toxicity of the oils. Light oils can be so toxic as to kill these organisms, plants, and even humans who may accidentally breathe the fumes or get some on their skin. Organisms will either inhale, ingest, or absorb these chemicals. Ingesting these chemicals may lead to intense digestive problems that could lead to starvation and death. Inhalation of the chemical will mostly lead to respiratory complications. Animals who need to come up to get air will be very acutely effected by this. Absorption can lead to immune system problems and fertility issues mainly. However, absorption is the broadest effecting system. It can effect almost any part of the body depending on the organism. This is the way most animals are killed by oil spills.

Ecological changes refers to when certain organisms are killed by an oil spill. This means the overall ecosystem that the particular organism was a part of has lost one of its key members. Each organism has a specific contribution in an ecosystem, when one is lost it can severely change the function of that ecosystem. It is important in this situation to try and find a replacement for that organism to restore the ecosystem back to normality. If such a step is not taken, the ecosystem will suffer consequences.

Oil spills also have indirect effects. The cleaning of the aftermath of the spills can cause dislocation of habitats for many organisms. Their homes have been destroyed by the spills and they have to find a new place to settle. This will also cause an increase in the competition for food. In this case species that are weaker are more at risk for being preyed upon. Their new location may also force them to spend more time looking for food. In many cases not finding food that is sufficient enough. This can cause health problems in the animals. Many of them will already be suffering from other effects of the oil spill.

Oil spills are serious issues and we need to figure out more efficient ways of cleaning them up. Each spill causes a devastating blow on our ecosystems. Ecosystems are fragile and and oil spill can kill organisms, ruin a habitat or shelter, and even destroy an ecosystem in its entirety. There have been a total of seven oil spill in the gulf of mexico alone in recent years. Oil Spills need natural recovery to restore back to normality as mentioned before. Therefore, the best way to tackle oil spills is to find the quickest, most efficient way to clean up the effected areas, so organisms can return to their homes and reestablish their ecosystems.

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