An Inside Look at Cradle to Cradle Certification

10/01/2015 | By Jennie Morton

Learn how this product label delves into sustainability

Cradle to Cradle certification label

Have you found that trying to purchase sustainable products could be a job in and of itself? When you really need to focus on energy and water conservation, it’s hard to find the motivation to assess a manufacturer’s green claims. After all, you’re not a toxicologist, chemist, or lab technician. What you really need is verification that a product was sourced and manufactured in a responsible way, has no exposure risks for occupants while in use, and has reclamation options that will save it from the landfill.

If you’ve been tasked with specifying building materials and furnishings that are green on multiple fronts, look for the Cradle to Cradle label. This multi-criteria program sets benchmarks for material safety and conservation throughout the manufacturing process, ensuring the way a product is made is just as environmentally friendly as the product itself.

Not Your Average Label
With a growing number of material declarations and environmental ratings, the purpose of Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Standard (C2C) is to cut through the noise and offer facility managers a straightforward assessment of a product’s green profile.

The program was inspired by the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. Their design philosophy led to a practice where “products are designed with safe ingredients that can be perpetually cycled and manufactured in ways that respect humans and the environment. This became the vision for our program,” explains Stacy Glass, Vice President for the Built Environment with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

Rating Levels for Cradle to Cradle Certified

Products must meet benchmarks in five areas: safe chemistry, recyclability, energy efficiency, water conservation, and social fairness. Learn more about this rigorous process

More than a look at a product’s ingredients, this comprehensive analysis also examines best practices for energy and water stewardship during production as well as the company’s commitment to social equality. Products must meet benchmarks in each of the five categories to earn Bronze through Platinum achievement (see “Rating Levels” on pages 33 and 34).

“A key distinguisher of our label is that it is not a pass/fail assessment – products must demonstrate environmental responsibility in all of our key areas,” explains Jay Bolus, President of Certifications Systems at MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry), the firm that created the standard. “Recertification is also required every two years, which compels manufacturers to continually optimize their product. This means there’s an expectation from the onset that a certified product will evolve over time.”

To ensure transparency and integrity, all documentation is submitted to a third party for verification.

“Unlike some eco-labels on the market, Cradle to Cradle Certified is not a self-declaration,” Glass clarifies. “Because we are a third-party program, product specifiers can feel confident that an offering has been thoroughly and professionally vetted.”

Green on Multiple Fronts
Whereas some declarations focus on a single quality – say recycled content or VOCs – Cradle to Cradle Certified looks at virtually every facet of a product’s creation. The focus is split between the product’s toxicology, recyclability and manufacturing processes.

“Rather than simply encourage transparency, our goal is to provide manufacturers with a framework that helps them design out negative lifecycle impacts,” says Glass.

To ensure safe chemistry, a manufacturer must first identify all of the ingredients in a product and make strides toward full elimination of any substances that are suspected or known to be harmful: “The material health category looks into the molecular level of a product and its toxicology,” Glass explains. “We want to have products with positive chemistry.”

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