Cradle to Cradle Pioneer Michael Braungart

Cradle to Cradle

The Cradle to Cradle® design framework is inspired by nature: The aim is not only to minimise negative influences but also to leave a positive ecological footprint. As a result, products, processes, buildings and cities will emerge which are safe for humans, healthy for the environment and successful for business.


What is not remaining in cycles ends up as waste:

Rethinking products

Cradle to Cradle® is a set of design principles which was developed in the 1990s by Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart, William McDonough and EPEA Hamburg. It stands for innovation, quality and beneficial design. Cradle to Cradle® describes the safe and potentially infinite circulation of materials and nutrients in cycles. All constituents are chemically harmless and recyclable. Waste as we know it today and which is generated according to the pre-existing take-make-waste model will no longer exist, only useful nutrients.



Consumables like natural fibres, cleaning agents or biodegradable packaging circulate in a biological cycle to which they can be safely reintroduced after use. They turn into compost or other materials which are in turn used to make new products. In this way, old products do not turn into waste but into “nutrients” for a new product.

Consumer goods such as electronic items or flooring circulate in a technical cycle.  These products are already optimised during the design and manufacturing process as material resources for their next service life as new products. Components can be sorted according to their constituent materials after use and then reintroduced to a technical cycle. In so doing, a high materials quality is maintained and a downcycling can be prevented.

Eco-effectiveness instead of efficiency

Our mindset

Usually, companies put all their efforts into reducing their impact on the environment (ecological footprint) as efficiently as possible – aiming at a “zero emission” or “free from” strategy. However, companies should not focus on being less bad, but set themselves positive goals. An eco-effective business model aims at qualitative added value. And this is enabled by the Cradle to Cradle® mindset:


cradle to cradle reduces negative impacts on the environment

Nutrients remain nutrients

In the natural world, the processes of each organism involved in a living system contribute to the health of the whole. The blossoms of a tree, for instance, fall to the ground, where they decompose and nourish other organisms.

Use of renewable energy

The construction of products and systems is able to profitably and productively use the natural energy of the sun in many ways. Wind power, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, and biomass are further sources of renewable energy.

Support diversity

Natural systems work and thrive through their complexity; i.e. nature promotes an almost infinite variety of designs, making systems flexible while at the same time resilient. When applying this principle to our economic and value system, biological, cultural, social and conceptual diversity is promoted and context-specific solutions are favoured.

Recycling healthy and high-quality materials:

Circular Economy powered by Cradle to Cradle®

The concept of the circular economy, which aims at an environmentally-friendly shaping of economic systems, is based on the Cradle to Cradle® principles. Circular economy strives to minimise negative environmental impacts through qualitative transformation coupled with the closure and deceleration of material cycles. Circular economy approaches can take effect in the various stages of a product’s lifecycle: Material selection and design should enable longevity, recycling and reparability or biodegradability. The service life should be optimised and prolonged.

This could mean, for example, that digital services enable the sharing of technical products, achieving considerably better utilisation or even a complete replacement by digital services. At the end of the service life, the various materials should - as far as possible - be disassembled, sorted and recycled for further use. The framework developed on this basis, the so-called “butterfly diagram”, is often referred to as a central framework for the circular economy.

Our aim is to establish the Cradle to Cradle® design principles for the circular economy in all industry sectors, including textile, packaging, automotive, buildings, consumables and cosmetics. The materials expertise of EPEA forms the basis for optimising products from molecular to modular level. This is not only attractive for the players in these industries from an ecological point of view, but also from an economic perspective. In future, company strategies will hereby lead away from the classic linear thinking of production and consumption and move towards defined material cycles.

endless use of ressources with Cradle to Cradle

EPEA as accredited institution

Cradle to Cradle Certified™

EPEA accompanies companies in the certification of their products according to the Cradle Certified™ product standard. On the one hand, the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ certification provides companies with a tool for credibly and transparently demonstrating their successes and advances with regard to an environmentally intelligent design of their products. On the other hand, the certification helps their customers to specifically request and purchase products which satisfy comprehensive and outstanding quality standards. The procedure documents the use of environmentally safe, healthy and recyclable materials (in a biological or technical cycle. According to the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ product standard, product materials and processing steps are evaluated in five categories:


  • material health of used ingredients
  • recyclability of the product in the technical or biological cycle
  • use of renewable energy
  • responsible water management
  • compliance with social standards
Improving products with Cradle to Cradle certifications

Michael Braungart

Man on a mission

Since the beginning of the 1980s, the chemist and process engineer has been campaigning for a world without waste. At Greenpeace, EPEA, the Hamburger Umweltinstitut (Hamburg Environmental Institute) and various universities – concrete solutions have been developed for complex environmental products. Get to know Michael Braungart in the documentary “Changemaker” aired in 2016, which provides insights into his work with the Cradle to Cradle® design principles.