I am probably the last person in the world to comment on this book, that was already published in 2002. Well, that's not true of course, I just happen to have slept on the hype first time around, and after I've read it, I am more than eager to say something about it. This "something" could be rather quick and easy: "GO READ 'CRADLE TO CRADLE'". But since I know that I don't quite have the authority to convince tons of people to read the book, I need some more words...
The book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" was written by William McDonough en Michael Braungart, and they are basically arguing that the way we look at producing and recycling is pretty primitive. Most methods of environmentally friendly design are about recycling, and thus about making less waste. Virtually all products have, after re-use, a lesser value. For instance paper: recycled paper can be used as newspaper. The reason that newspaper is slightly grey is because the original chlorin-bleached white paper was printed with black ink (with heavy metals in them). By using the paper for newspapers, chlorine and metals are brought into the air. And after using the paper once, it has become too dirty and poisonous to be used again. (and it would have, in fact, been more environmentally sound to dumb the paper and cut down another tree).
McDonough and Braungart call this "downcycling", and what they strive for is a method of design in which the rest-product, or the waste, is just as valuable as the starting product, in order to create closed cycles of production. Products that have been valuable in a first life, are just as useful in their second life. That is the basic idea of cradle to cradle.
It goes too far to explain all the details of their argument here, but if you wonder how it works: William McDonough has posted a step-by-step guide to cradle to cradle on his website.
Are there cases to be named in which this philosophy is used? Not that many (yet), but there are some. For instance, the book itself has been printed on bio-degradable plastic instead of paper. This plastic can be easily cleaned of ink, and be re-used as bright white "paper".
And on larger scale, Ford designed a car called Ford U, of which all parts are biodegradable and re-usable. From the exhaust, it leaks clean water. The tires attract particles of dirt from the street, and when eroding feed the plants on the roadside.
Surely, this all is a bit too futuristic and idealistic right now, but it's a starting point to arm ourselves for the future...