Cradle-to-Cradle: Method Case Study

Guest Column by Lama Alaraj – Analyst-Intern, G&A Institute

We live in a world where our society is run through consumerism and capitalist gains. As a result, this system has had adverse effects on the health of our environment.

One of the major industries in our economies is cleaning products, where demand is unlikely to decrease. Consumer behavior influences the supply of cleaning products in our economy, and as a result there is a rise in demand for the ‘green products’.

As consumers it is important for us to know what hazardous chemicals we are bringing into our homes. In this industry transparency is not enough, as the average human cannot understand chemical labels (citation, Grotewohl, 2018 – see bibliography at end).

I believe that we need more companies to shift their business model to be more of a commitment towards achieving holistic sustainability.

There are many different strategies and business models that companies can apply to experience financial growth, with sustainability and the environment in mind.  The focus of this essay will be on the cradle-to-cradle approach — a more sustainable business model that has proven to work in the cleaning products industry.

The cradle-to-cradle approach is a system that moves away from the conventional linear manufacturing process, which focuses on taking raw materials to produce products that will end up disposed, towards a circular approach by closing the loop in production and eliminating waste.

• This process requires businesses to change their business model towards one that incorporates conscious sustainable thinking at the core (Brennan et al, 2015).

• The approach talks about two types of metabolism: biological and technical (Severis et Rech, 2019).

• Each has corresponding nutrients — ‘biological nutrients’ — are materials that can be safely returned to the biosphere, and ‘technical nutrients’ are manmade materials that can be reused (Severis et Rech, 2019).

Goal: Reuse or Return to the Environment

The goal of this approach is to create products that can either be reused or return to the environment (such as though composting) and therefore eliminating the concept of waste at the end of the life cycle of a material which is related to the common cradle-to-grave operation (Severis et Rech, 2019).

An important term that was a prelude to the birth of the cradle-to-cradle approach is the strategy of being eco-effective. This strategy is defined as using resources that maximize the benefits of a product or a service in order for the material to have a continuous life cycle (Brennan et al., 2015).

For the cradle-to-cradle approach to be successful and sustainable in its application by a business, it needs to adhere to three guidelines: waste equals food, use renewable energy, and celebrate diversity (Brennan et al, 2015). For example:

(1) Waste equals food is essentially where the concept of upcycling comes from. By not creating more waste, companies can look at resources that have already been used and recycled, and utilize these materials to their maximum potential.

This guideline pushes businesses to be creative and innovative, enabling them to design a product that has multiple life cycles, and does not lose its value or superiority when it is recycled into something different (Brennan et al, 2015).

(2) The second guideline, use of renewable energy, pushes firms to switch from fossil fuels and to generate clean energy through the use of solar, wind, hydro or biomass technologies. This fits the framework of using what is naturally present and contributes to a holistic approach (Severis et Rech, 2019).

The final approach is about incorporating diversity within the business, through innovation. As part of this guideline firms are required to design products that “support biodiversity, socio-cultural diversity and conceptual diversity” (Ankrah et al.,2015).

This encourages business leaders and their firms to look outside the box and design products that avoid environmental pollution and strive for maximum material reutilization.

Cradle-to-Cradle Certification

To encourage and enable business to apply the cradle-to-cradle approach, the Cradle-to-Cradle certification was established in 2005. Since then, 200-plus companies have produced products that are certified (Source: Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, 2020).

The rise in Cradle-to-Cradle certified products is influenced by increased environmental awareness, growing consumer demands for green products and business financial savings.

According to research through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, businesses in the European Union could save up to US$630 billion a year by switching to a cradle-to-cradle model and operating through a circular production system (Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute, “CCPII” – 2020).

For instance, Shaw industries, a global carpet manufacturer, switched to a cradle-to-cradle business model in 2007 and as part of this switch, Shaw achieved a 48% increase in water efficiency, and improved energy efficiency, both of which have major environmental benefits (CCPII, 2020).

Financial benefits of this approach allowed Shaw to save US$2.5 million in 2012 alone (CCPII-2020). The benefits of this approach can be vast and are realized through economic, social and environmental gains.

One economic benefit is cost reduction — savings achieved through the reuse of materials, and resource efficiency by saving on water and energy spending (CCPII-2020).

Moreover, these benefits are eliminating toxic waste and pollution, and giving more than one life cycle to a product, through upcycling the material and creating something different in order to operate through environmental awareness and positive sustainable practices (Brennan et al, 2015)

Looking at Cleaning Products

Cleaning products typically contain many hazardous chemicals that can contaminate our groundwater, lakes and oceans, and lead to the formation of algal blooms which threaten marine life. Not only do these chemicals harm our ecosystems, they can also have adverse effects on humans, if exposed to high levels of these chemicals (Grotewohl, 2018).

This is where Method — a United States-based company — decided to take matters into their own hands. They are the “People against dirty”, their infamous slogan is an homage to their commitment against traditional cleaning products that are harmful to our environment, and us.

Method is one of the first green cleaning companies to have a full line of cradle-to-cradle certified products. The company uses non toxic, and full biodegradable formulas, ensuring their products adhere to the unique process of cradle-to-cradle for maximum reutilization (Ryan et al, 2011).

This sophisticated and innovative company values renewable energy at the core of their production process, ensuring to me the renewable energy guideline of cradle-to-cradle fundamentals.

The firm has even opened the first LEED-platinum -certified plant in their industry (Chow, 2015). Everything at this factory is made on site, a one-stop shop approach. The plant runs on wind and solar energy; they have utilized the space in an environmentally-conscious way by allowing Gotham Greens to use the plant’s entire rooftop as a greenhouse in order to harvest organic produce for the local markets and communities (Chow, 2015).

In this way Method demonstrates that the management thinks beyond profitability of the end product, and also looks to maximize every space in their factory and seek inclusivity and to benefit society through their community centered approach, meeting both the renewable energy and diversity guideline of the cradle-to-cradle approach.

The process of recycling actually produces toxins and pollution, so companies encouraging their consumers to recycle is not enough because they are not breaking the system of waste, just contributing to it (Ryan et al., 2011).

Competitors in the cleaning industry typically use white PET to package their goods, as a way to brand their green commitment. However, this type of plastic does not filter through recycling plants and so ends up in landfills (Ryan et al., 2011).

Method’s leaders did their homework, and rather than sticking to traditional industry trends, they designed packaging that is 100% recyclable and made from Post Consumer Recycled PET (Ryan et al., 2011).

In addition to Method’s cleaning materials being sustainably sourced, their packaging is made of 100% recycled bottles, reducing waste in their production process. By upcycling its waste, Method uses up to 70% less energy to manufacture its products (Ryan et al., 2011). Moreover, the plastics used are carefully chosen to ensure they can be recycled and reused, operating a closed loop production system.

For Method, waste is truly fuel, upholding the first guideline in the approach.

Looking at Laundry Detergents

Laundry detergent on the commercial scale is typically water intensive (“80% of detergent is water”), and causes a lot of waste (Ryan et al., 2011). Conventionally, it is packaged to make consumers believe that more is better, so consumers use more detergent than needed (like an optical illusion of sorts).

The first breakthrough in innovation a better detergent was in 2004, when Method launched their ‘three times concentrated’ formula, which uses a lot less water and a lot less energy to clean, making it more environmentally friendly than conventional detergents (Ryan et al., 2011).

This sparked a competitive race in the industry, and major names in the game launched their own versions of concentrated detergents (Ryan et al., 2011). Method creators did not patent their formula, rather they wanted to encourage their competitors to produce more environmentally-friendly and cleaner detergents (Ryan et al., 2011).

In 2010 Method made waves again, and launched their eight times concentrated detergent, and this time it became the first detergent to receive an official cradle-to-cradle certification for its innovative design, non toxic, biodegradable and reduced water formula (Gittell et al., 2012).

Moreover, because it does not require the same amount of energy to clean clothes, it does not require the same amount of detergent either — proving to be resource efficient.

The product is dispensed through a pump, is a lot smaller, and weighs less. This demonstrates the diversity aspect of cradle-to-cradle, because the product used design as a way to reduce excessive and wasteful amounts of detergent that we as consumers have mindlessly done, and by reducing we are benefiting the environment (Gittell et al., 2012,).

Looking Beyond Traditional Business Models

The cradle-to-cradle approach aims to push beyond traditional business models that lean on eco- efficiency policies and towards eco-effective strategies. Typically eco-efficiency relies on the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, and operate on zero waste strategies (Brennan et al., 2015).

With this mindset there are some problems that can arise, as this is still adhering to a linear business model. For instance, with recycling, the product loses its value, and hence its life cycle is significantly shortened. We need to do better than that as businesses and go from downcycling, to upcycling, from eco-efficient, to eco-effective.

Method in my view is a cradle-to-cradle success story and I think it is a role model for companies to take that plunge. Since its conception, as a small two person company, Method has grown to be a US$100 million dollar company (Gittell et al., 2012).

Management has never broken the commitment to true sustainability, and has proved that having a cradle-to-cradle business strategy can result in positive environmental impacts & commercial growth. From breaking conventional trends in the industry, to pushing their giant competitors to adopt the three times cycled detergent, i see Method as a force to be reckoned with.


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Lama Alaraj is a graduate of Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) with double major in economics and international development studies. She is a marketing consultant for Web.com. She was an analyst-intern with G&A Institute and was a key member of the team producing the S&P 500 Index annual research on sustainability reporting, and was very much involved in the G&A Institute’s GRI Data Partner duties.



Link: https://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll/lama-alaraj.html

Bibliography

Ankrah, N. A., Manu, E., & Booth, C. (2015, December). Cradle to Cradle Implementation in Business Sites and the Perspectives of Tenant Stakeholders. Elsevier, 83(Energy Procedia), 31-40. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876610215028581#abs0005

Brennan, G., Tennant, M. and Blomsma, F. (2015). Chapter 10. Business and
production solutions: Closing Loops & the Circular Economy, in Kopnina, H. and Shoreman-Ouimet, E. (Eds). Sustainability: Key Issues. Routledge: EarthScan, pp.219-239

Chow, L. (2015, July 29). Gotham Greens + Method = World’s Largest Rooftop Greenhouse Coming to Chicago. EcoWatch. Cradle to cradle products innovation institute. (2020). Impact Study Executive Summary. www.c2ccertified.org. https://www.c2ccertified.org/impact-study

Gittell, R., Magnusson, M., & Merenda, M. (2012). The Sustainable Business Case Book (Vol. Chapter 6). Saylor Foundation. https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/sustainable-business-cases/index.html

Grotewohl, E. (2018). Chapter 830: Cleaning Products Are Coming Clean. University of Pacific Law Review, 49(2). Scholarly Commons. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1161&context=uoplawreview

Ryan, E., Lowry, A., & Conley, L. (2011). The Method Method: Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-up Turn an Industry Upside Down. Penguin.

Severis, R., & Rech, J. (2019). Cradle to Cradle: An Eco-effective Model. In Earth and Environmental Science Reference Module Physical and Materials Science. Springer, Cham. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-319-71062-4_62-1

Technology: Providing Vital Components Influencing the Fight Against COVID-19

G&A Institute Team Note
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency. This is post #17 in the series, “Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis” –

16 April 2020   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19   “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”

By Lama Alaraj – Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern at G&A Institute

As the tasks of our everyday world are put on hold, all around the world we are playing the waiting game, hoping for an end to this madness.

While at home, waiting for the world to be “normal” again, often our only source of communication with the outside is through our tech devices.

Without most people doing much to get ready for the unanticipated spread of the virus, technology for connecting with one another and the outside world was widely-available and already serving as our first source of comfort…and tech connectivity remains so during this crisis.

Where we stand today: Many sectors in our economies are muted and our reliance as a global society leaning on the digital world greater than ever.

What about after the crisis ebbs and then eventually passes? This is a survey of what is happening in the virus crisis and how tech companies are lending their support. And what developments during the crisis might be breakthroughs for future use.  Here is a round-up of what tech companies are doing in the virus crisis.

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Blue Dot
From the beginning of the crisis, this Canadian tech startup had caught on to the danger posed by virus even before the WHO released an official statement. Blue Dot used a cloud-based GIS platform that works to detect infectious disease outbreaks around the world. This sophisticated technology also uses AI to send alerts about diseases tailored to the affected region (source: Bluedot, 2020).

The power of knowledge enabled by these approaches to use of advanced technology is unrivaled. Artificial intelligence (AI) has the capability of harnessing a previously unthinkable amount of data to sift through, then applying results to an algorithm and calculating vital information that influences our responses (Source: Bowles, 2020).

Technology tools were not only able to detect the first few cases of COVID-19, but through this innovative software development, Blue Dot was able to predict the region the disease was going to spread to from the initial location at Wuhan.

The CBS Network program “60 Minutes” had a good look at the technology and approach behind the success of the Blue Dot detection capabilities.  The program:  ‘The Computer Algorithm That Was Among the First to Detect the Coronavirus Outbreak”.

Subtext:   On New Year’s Eve, a small company in Canada was among the first to raise the alarm about an infectious disease outbreak. Its computer algorithm calculated where the virus might spread next. The technology could change the way we fight another contagion.

You can see the segment here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak-computer-algorithm-artificial-intelligence/

We are seeing the global tech giants partnering with the American government to fight against the pandemic. Supercomputers and Artificial Intelligence are the key components in the battle.

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The IBM supercomputer (Watson) is built to analyze standard mathematical problems utilizing AI to generate algorithms based on various models.

In Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the IBM technology was used to look at 8000 different drug compounds – quickly narrowed down to 77 that are believed to be possible components of a future vaccine (Gil, 2020).

This supercomputing / processing power has helped in the current crisis by being able to conduct rapid research that otherwise would have taken years.

Although technology has not yet found a solution for our current dilemma, the foundations and resources these companies are providing are based on valuable insights — giving us relief from trying to understand this disease completely in the blind.

The relationship between health and technology — which has been going on for years —  is now leading the fight in the combat zone.  And there are many promising opportunities for society in the post-crisis, thanks to tech advances.

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Microsoft – another global tech giant — has introduced a Healthcare chatbot. The bot uses machine learning to quickly assess COVID-19 symptoms and provide a resolution of whether you should stay home or seek medical help. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently using this innovation.

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A statement from Alphabet’s Google Inc, and Apple Inc was released recently in regards to the latest development against the fight. The tech giants are now going to utilize AI through our smartphones in order to be able to track the movement of COVID-19.

The end result is that our smartphones will actually start sending us warnings when we have come into contact with a person who has tested positive with the deadly virus.

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Although this is an incredibly sophisticated innovation that can help us flatten the curve, where do we draw the line when it comes to AI and our morals and ethics?  And personal privacy?

There have been a lot of positive changes coming out from this sector that will aid the world’s health professionals with resources to speed up the process in finding a cure.

However, the concept of utilizing surveillance and accessing our private medical records is an area of concern for many. This exact turn in events is what makes humankind fear the coming of AI.

While economies around the world are experiencing a global shutdown and many are suffering due to this, some tech companies have actually experienced new growth.

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Zoom, a video conferencing application, actually experienced a dramatic surge in the amount of users (10X user growth just in days!).

Many people in all walks of life had to adapt quickly to the new norm and Zoom presented its platform as the easy, available answer to be able to connect multiple users at once making meetings, interviews, school classes possible. (The company did experience problems and suffered wide public criticism in the rollout to a broader audience, with many new users mostly unfamiliar with the platform.)

As Zoom shows, the world as we know it every day can be completely transformed in the blink of an eye.

In a world that has just turned dark, our strength must not be divided. Zoom in its concern for society gave us the platform to jump back into our accustomed social constructs in order to hold onto some sense of normal — but for many, through a digitalized lens.

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Bloomberg LP reported that Samsung was experiencing growth in the crisis. The company released their results for the Q1 with an unexpected increase in sales by 5%.

The positive performance of some tech companies can be attributed to the economic shock we are in due to the pandemic. The instantaneous lock-downs across the world changed the consumer demand pattern, where the almost-complete transition to work from home and adaptation to social distancing spiked a demand in video gaming — and thus demand for semiconductors that Samsung provided (Kim, 2020).

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Cautionary Note
The growth the companies are currently experiencing may not be sustainable throughout the rest of the year due to the continuing, aggressive economic downturn and spreading of the virus.

With all these changes that we are seeing it is important to take into account the concern that some may not be able to take part in this ongoing transition. Many businesses have completely shut down for the time being without being able to continue production from home.

We are asking ourselves the questions: What will happen to these concerns when the virus crisis levels off and then subsides? What will happen to their workers?

Moreover, in areas where poverty is more prevalent, and rural regions, there is a real digital divide. This is becoming quite evident in the crisis.

Not every household has access to the internet (or can afford access) and therefore individuals and families cannot take part in the current state of daily life.

The opportunity to cling on to some piece of our world as we knew it is not available to all. For example, there are many school children who currently are not able to attend school, and without technology are missing out on continuing their education. Often, this is simply because they do not have adequate access to the internet or a machine to use for their class work.

We are seeing companies in the tech industry doing their part through the donation of large sums of money to various needy causes.  Examples:

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Google has stepped up and is donating US$800 million to help governmental institutions and small businesses through this pandemic and economic crisis. The money will be supplied through channels of advertising credits/grants and loans (Zakir, 2020). Although this does not “fix” the detrimental effects of COVID-19, the tech giant provides temporary relief in dire times.

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Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco released a statement that the company will be donating “$225 million in cash, in-kind and planned-giving” to support the cumbersome fight against the pandemic.

During times of crisis, of course we do need business leaders like this CEO to help to meet peoples’ needs in order to provide humanity with hope and comfort amid the chaos. That includes shifting from normal production to emergency supplies for the medical community.

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Honeywell has turned their operations over to producing N95 masks in their facilities, to help to address the global supply shortage. Efforts such as these are helping to make us more capable of coping through this crisis and the corporate contributions are helping buffer the severity of the pandemic.

The significance of the technology sector’s heavy involvement with the pandemic of today is no surprise. While many of us are sheltered at home, the internet has become our source of sanity. For many governments, artificial intelligence is their presumed knight in shining armor, ready to save the world.

I do believe that in the new normative we will not be shying away from our relationship with groundbreaking technology. However, there is much uncertainty in this transition.

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The Future Outlook
Our heavy dependence on the technology sector during this crisis is going to have dramatic impacts in our labor force, education and our various economic markets. Moreover, current global economies who do not have a developed technological sector may be left further behind and unable to reap benefits from the current against the pandemic.

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About the Author
Lama Alaraj
is a Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern at G&A Institute. She graduated from Dalhousie University (Canada) with a double major in economics and international development studies. Over the years, she developed a growing interest in the power of technology and how it manages to integrate in every sector in our global community.

In addition to the G&A analyst-internship, Lama is currently working as a marketing consultant for Web.com, a company built on web development.

Her personal goal is to take the knowledge she gains from this role and apply it extensively throughout any project or role she takes on.

Lama is very excited to be part of the G&A Institute community and to learn about how industries manage to adhere to their environmental responsibilities. Lama thinks that as the climate continues to change, the choices we make today are more vital than ever.

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G&A Institute Team Note

In this series we are bringing you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

New items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items posted today will move down the queue.

We created the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID-19 for our Twitter posts. Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

Do send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share. Stay safe – be well — keep in touch!