Business leaders now accept that their companies need to be environment-friendly – energy efficiency improves the bottom line and green publicity can make or break a company's reputation.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
William McDonough and Michael Braungart
North Point Press

Talking the talk is easy, but how can you improve your environmental performance in practice?

Cradle to Cradle, by American architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart, takes a radical look at ways businesses can become more sustainable.

The book's central premise is this: "The industrial structure we have today is linear: it is focused on making a product and getting it to a customer quickly and cheaply without considering much else."

The authors dismiss today's recycling as "downcycling": for example, high-grade office paper is recycled as toilet paper. Instead, McDonough and Braungart want materials to be designed with recycling in mind. They lead by example: their book is made from plastic polymer pages that can be unbound, washed clean and used to print new books in the future.

Construction firms should take note of McDonough and his message. He's the architectural pin-up of America's sustainability movement, and his clients include Nike and Ford, for whom he designed the £1.25bn redevelopment of the sprawling Rouge complex outside Michigan. The British equivalent would be Bill Dunster with Norman Foster's client base.

McDonough's ideas could transform the way specifiers think about materials. The book takes a swipe about the toxicity of many widely used building materials. But most importantly, it calls for a change of thinking from "cradle to grave", where materials are buried at the end of an object or building's life, to "cradle to cradle", where the same materials are used to make new objects time and again.