Cradle to Cradle: Specifying Sustainable Materials

| November 18, 2014 | 0 Comments
Dianne Dunnell

Dianne Dunnell

By Dianne Dunnell

Sustainability for buildings and interiors has become a fundamental tenet of design, whether or not a project pursues LEED certification. The products and processes used for building should be thoughtfully manufactured, installed, recycled, and disposed of when they are no longer of use. In a few short years, designers and manufacturers have quickly discovered that sustainable products are both cost effective and good for the environment.

The design community’s awareness about materials that have a positive impact on the environment was raised when a book called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, was published in 2002. Dubbed “Cradle to Cradle products,” a movement was created with the introduction of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, a nonprofit organization administering a systematic approach to the continuous improvement in the creation of products for a positive effect on society. Soon afterwards, Cradle to Cradle certified products were eligible to obtain LEED Innovation in Design credits. In the new LEED v4, Cradle to Cradle certified products are now included on the main checklist. The Institute’s Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard has become a path to compliance used to determine if products qualify for LEED v4 New Construction Materials and Resources credits. The standard has also become a tool to help designers select better products.

What are Cradle to Cradle products? A Cradle to Cradle product is a consumer or construction product that has been audited and certified to be sustainable. The approved products are safe, healthy, and designed to offer a positive restorative impact on the environment. They also provide positive eco-effectiveness, such as zero VOCs and Net Zero waste. Cradle to Cradle products are manufactured in a way that reduces energy and water consumption.

For a product to be Cradle to Cradle certified, it must go through a rigorous review and rating system based on five quality categories: material health, material re-utilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness:

  • Material health. To earn this attribute, a bill of materials is created, including a listing of every ingredient that comprises the product. An assessor reviews and evaluates each ingredient for health and safety.
  • Material re-utilization. Does the product meet the goal of 100% recovery and upcycling? What are the percentages of recyclable/compostable content and recycled/rapidly renewable content? Designers are seeing more and more companies reaping the benefits from recovery of their products.
  • Renewable energy. Electricity consumption is one of the largest environmental impacts caused by manufacturing. The goal of this attribute is to reduce the carbon footprint of a product by using 100% renewable power.
  • Water stewardship. The objective is to have the water coming out of a manufacturing plant be cleaner than the water coming in. Using safer dyes can have a positive impact on water quality.
  • Social fairness. The spirit of this category is for a manufacturer to become a partner to all stakeholders. Locally sourcing materials and using all aspects of raw materials helps everyone in the product cycle.

Once a product is reviewed against specific qualifications, it is awarded one of five certification levels: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Products are then issued scorecards viewable on the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute website, allowing designers to see how a product performed on all five attributes. Unlike labels for one-time certification, the Institute’s Cradle to Cradle Certification process requires companies and their products to be reviewed every two years.

It is exciting to see more construction products become Cradle to Cradle certified. With landfills closing, the rise of demolition and raw material costs require the industry to re-evaluate the way products are created and selected. Cradle to Cradle products can contribute to LEED v4 credits for building life-cycle impact reduction, building product disclosure, and construction and demolition waste management. To view Cradle to Cradle products that meet LEED requirements, visit

Dianne Dunnell, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, is a senior associate at Margulies Perruzzi Architects.

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