Michael Braungart: an imagineer’s perspective on designing for the future


After catching Michael Braungart talk at The Bridge Summit’s kickoff event for 2017 in Malmö (and being totally inspired!), we thought we’d share some gems from Braungart on how to design for the future and finding new ways of making stuff. Braungart, who has a PhD in chemistry and is an ardent humanist, is the man that developed Cradle to Cradle alongside architect William McDonough. The pair have inspired a new way of making things in technical and biological loops.

Cradle to Cradle Companies like skin and body care company Aveda are getting on board, and you can find Cradle to Cradle certified products and buildings that are as diverse as seaweed roof ridges, closed loop cleaning products, waste-free container ships, and non-toxic ‘healthy’ preschools.

Braungart opened with the concept that minimising damage is different to helping the planet. He says that we need to REINVENT OUR THINGS, not cause less harm.

He spoke about the need for a paradigm shift from the existing take-make-waste process to a new one where products and services are made in biological and technological loops. Cradle to Cradle is focused on three elements; quality, change and innovation, and beauty. He spoke about using nature as a teacher (not a mother!) to understand how complex systems can be completely closed loop. Check out this video to explore how to think in systems.

He emphasised the need for companies to provide consumers with services not ownership. And that tax breaks for repairs are a great way to incentivise this (let’s follow Sweden’s footsteps, who have recently introduced this). Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of local production and the long-term value creation this provides.

He spoke of moving away from the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) strategy to the triple top line - this emphasises top line growth through a focus on design and value creation through products that enhance the wellbeing of nature and culture while generating economic value.

Green Solutions House

Green Solution House in Denmark used Cradle to Cradle principles in the design and execution of the building. 

What was overwhelmingly apparent in Braungart’s talk is that he is an optimist. He says that Earth has the resources to create enough food and energy for five more Earths if we change the way we approach making and producing things – he says that even changing the agriculture system alone, one of the most harmful activity humans are inflicting on Earth, we could achieve this.

He ended with the notion that stress and crime are reduced when people feel healthy and safe, and when people feel a sense of community. He encourages people to enjoy life, celebrate life, form communities and this will create an environment conducive to real change and innovation.

Geez, Braungart, not only are you one of the thought leaders that inspired Seljak Brand*, you’re a massive sweetie to boot! Braungart and McDonough wrote their Cradle to Cradle concept into a book of the same name. For even more future-thinking change inspiration, read their follow-up book The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance

*Cradle to Cradle, alongside other schools of thought like biomimicry, natural capitalism and the blue economy, are the basis of the Circular Economy - of which Seljak Brand was inspired by when developing our closed loop blankets.