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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute:
Pushing a Safe and Just Circular Economy Into the Mainstream

As part of Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition Program, VP of Global Sustainability and Innovation Kellie Ballew recently spoke with C2CPII President and CEO Dr. Christina Raab about the evolving, interconnected nature of sustainability and the Institute’s work.

The sustainability landscape has evolved considerably since William McDonough and Michael Braungart first wrote Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things in 2002, and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute was founded more than a decade ago. Now operating as an independent, nonprofit organization, the institute — led by President and CEO Dr. Christina Raab — continues to push boundaries with its work: leveraging the latest scientific research and increasingly connected world to help power the shift to a circular economy and set the global standard for materials, products and systems that positively impact people and the planet.

As part of Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition Program, VP of Global Sustainability and Innovation Kellie Ballew recently spoke with Dr. Raab about the evolving, interconnected nature of sustainability.

KB: At Shaw, we have long valued the Cradle to Cradle® design principles because of the holistic focus on the planet AND people. What drove that dual, or multi-attribute, focus from the onset?

CR: We recognize that we live in an interconnected world. If we look at nature, at society and at the economy, all impact each other. This interconnectivity is reflected in the Cradle to Cradle design principles, and has also been translated into the Cradle to Cradle Certified® Product Standard framework. Cradle to Cradle concepts redefine the value of resources, of materials and, ultimately, eliminate the concept of waste — which was a key inspiration for the framework.

KB: How has that landscape changed since Cradle to Cradle Certified was first introduced?

CR: The discussion around sustainability has become more well-rounded and more interconnected. Maybe 10 years ago, many of the sustainability topics were looked at in isolation. The current discussion certainly has become more holistic. The landscape now also has a more science-based approach.

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We’ve also observed that sustainability has moved in the past decade from commitment or intention to action and implementation. That's something that has been long demanded by stakeholders and by society to demonstrate measurable progress of sustainability. Getting Cradle to Cradle Certified is not a one-time effort. There is the expectation to optimize to higher levels of achievement over time. It is about continuous improvement — constantly challenging oneself. This is why we require recertification every two years.

It’s great to see sustainability become a greater part of the conversation within society and industry — from climate change to diversity and inclusion. Priorities or specific topics certainly vary but it truly feels as if sustainability, however you define it, has arrived.

KB: How has the Institute’s work adapted to address the evolution that you just described?

CR: The program and the standards are living systems and are constantly evolving to address the latest scientific findings and current and emerging best practices in the market.

We are in the fourth iteration of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard. Two categories in the current version illustrate this in particular: product circularity and social fairness.

For product circularity, we have taken a holistic approach — looking at the sourcing of products, the core design and the infrastructure that is needed to keep these products in the cycle. On social fairness, we dive deeper than ever before into diversity, equity and inclusion at the company level but also at the supply chain and community level. These were significant evolutions in our program.

Companies are committing to a journey of leadership when they are part of the program and to developing safe, circular and responsibly made products to the standard.

KB: We’ve certainly seen that since we began developing our first Cradle to Cradle-inspired product in the late ‘90s. As you know, it’s now something that pervades our company with almost 90 percent of the products we manufacture certified to the standard. How has the Institute evolved during that time?

CR: It’s critical that the Institute evolves as well to anticipate, meet and exceed market and societal needs in order to drive positive change.

Certification has been a key part of our activities, as it has been from the beginning; but we have placed additional focus in recent years on raising awareness and building the knowledge around the interconnectivity of sustainability topics. Collaboration within the industry also is so important to drive a systemic change when it comes to circularity. We strive to provide guidance and leadership for the wide range of organizations — from different industries and parts of the world — that have the opportunity to make a collective positive impact on the world.

KB: So, what's next?

CR: Scaling. We want Cradle to Cradle Certified products to be an available choice across all product categories in the market. That’s long term.

Shorter term, it is very important to continuously refine the circular economy debate. Today, so much is still anchored in recycling and focused on singular attributes of circularity. But it is about recyclability as well as material health, social fairness and climate action. Our mission is to get the approach of a safe and just circular economy into the mainstream.

This article is part of a series of articles recognizing the second slate of organizations to be honored by Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition Program. Each of the 10 organizations selected for this year’s recognition program is a leader in its own right and offers something from which we can all learn about putting people at the heart of sustainability. To read more about the other organizations recognized by Shaw, visit the landing page for this blog series.