One of the better ideas in the sustainability industry has to be LEED certification for commercial buildings, the checklist of environmental, health, and energy/efficiency features managed by the US Green Building Association. But even as LEED branches out overseas and to the world of home building, architectural design is only a part of what we need to think about when looking at sustainability. Fortunately, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), William McDonough's design firm, has come up with a "Cradle to Cradle Certification" model for industrial design; today, they announced the first six recipients of that label.
The newly-certified products include the Haworth Zody Chair (sole C2C Gold product), the Steelcase Think chair (C2C Silver), and the Hycrete concrete additive, which received certification as a "Biological Nutrient" product, a category for less complex materials. No C2C Platinum items were certified.
Cradle to Cradle Design models human industry on nature's processes, in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. Industry must protect and enrich ecosystems—nature's biological metabolism—while also maintaining safe, productive technical metabolism for the high-quality use and circulation of mineral, synthetic, and other materials.
The C2C Certification covers five categories (PDF): Materials (including assessment and emissions); Material Reutilization/Design for Environment (including product recovery plans); Energy (including an emphasis on solar energy use); Water (including plans for conservation and quality); and Social Responsibility (including corporate ethics statements and third-party social responsibility assessments). The overview linked above is a basic checklist; the Application Form (PDF) has the full details on what's required for each step of the certification process.
Industrial Design website core77 asks "is this finally I.D.'s LEED Certification? Is this the start of something huge?" These are good questions. LEED has worked well in part because its standards are clear and objectively measurable, and the results of meeting LEED standards are visible in employee health, energy costs, and resource use. Because the objects and materials to be rated by the C2C Certification are less complex than buildings, the objective measurements will likely be more subtle, with the results of meeting C2C standards less immediately apparent. Moreover, it's arguably not too difficult for non-specialists to understand why one building is "greener" than another -- you're comparing apples to apples, as it were. The comparison becomes more hazy when comparing chairs to polyurethane athletic tracks (Tartan Track was another Gold recipient) -- the standards become more abstract.
This isn't to say that the C2C Certification is useless or too subjective -- not at all. Rather, it's more of a caution to those of us who might claim equivalence between LEED and C2C Certification. This is C2C's first year of certification; I would expect that, over the coming months and years, MBDC will refine and improve the checklist for C2C qualification. C2C definitely has the potential to be as important as LEED -- I look forward to watching its growth.