Closed-Loop Thinking

During the first week of the program, our class started to develop a framework for the understanding of sustainability. Each person either looked at a theory, concept, or solution pertaining to the topic at hand. My presentation focused on the theory of closed-loop thinking, which is discussed in detail in the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The theory comes from two distinct cycles: the biological nutrient cycle and the technical nutrient cycle. The biological nutrient cycle uses materials to make products that can decompose into the soil after human use. The technical nutrient cycle designs products with materials that will have high quality use a number of times, which allows manufacturers to reuse the materials.

The biological and technical nutrient cycles

McDonough and Braungart believe today’s understanding of eco-efficiency is only a short-term solution, but will not work long term. There is a fundamental design flaw in the way that we currently think and the idea behind reduce, reuse, and recycle are good concepts, but are only making society “less bad” instead of “more good.” If we design products to decompose back into the Earth or recycle into better or equally efficient products, then we will have a continuous cycle and no waste. “To eliminate the concept of waste means to design things – products, packing, and systems – from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist” (Cradle to Cradle, Pg. 104).

Click Closed_Loop_Presentation to see the full power point presentation that further explains the theory of closed-loop thinking.

While researching and talking to people about this theory, I began to question if our society can ever reach this level of sustainability. The projects and products that have been designed with closed-loop thinking are extremely expensive in today’s world and are not easily attainable for the average person. After my presentation, there was a small discussion about how we need to get to this level eventually, but it will take a long time.

“House Like A Tree” – Conceptual Project designed by William McDonough + Partners in 2009.

I believe my presentation provided a good overview of the theory for closed-loop thinking, but I would have looked further into the projects that have already been accomplished by McDonough and Braungart to provide a better understanding of the cycles in practice. I also would have looked into other people’s responses to the theory to see if they believe we can or even should reach this level of sustainability. Having those reactions might have sparked a more in depth discussion between our class to see who would have agreed with which experts. The majority of people have realized that we need to do something in terms of achieving sustainability, but there are several different theories out there, which makes it difficult to decide on the “right” one.

To learn more about closed-loop thinking, read the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart and the article “The NEXT Industrial Revolution” published in the magazine The Atlantic.


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