Zem Joaquin, Founder of Ecofabulous.com (Podcast)
TreeHugger: One of the guiding principles in the way you approach design is the Cradle to Cradle paradigm. Can you explain for us what the Cradle to Cradle principle is?
Zem Joaquin: It's basically the concept that all things that come from Earth should go back to the Earth, either as a biological or technical nutrient. And what that means is that when you're designing something, there needs to be intention. You need to know what's going to happen to it in the future. You can't design in a vacuum. It's basically very deep systems theory, so you understand that you're connected to the system.
So when you design, it should either become food for the Earth-just like all natural products become-or if it's a technical nutrient, which is like plastics and polyesters, you need to have a plan for them. They should be infinitely recyclable. One good example is Shaw carpet tile. Shaw will take the carpet back from you when you're done, and they have these giant separators that separate the backing from the actual pile, and the backing becomes more backing and the pile becomes more pile. There are Cradle to Cradle cards. That plastic, that gets sent to Shaw Carpet, and that becomes more backing for carpets.
Another example is Method Cleaning Supplies, they're a Cradle to Cradle company. The products inside are biodegradable, and then the packaging itself should be infinitely recyclable. They're on their way. They actually just announced this project where a certain percentage of the bottle comes out of the Pacific gyre, so it's plastic that has been fished out of the sea. Technical mining is really the concept-taking into consideration all of these technical nutrients and rethinking them, figuring out ways that they can be used in the future.
TH: Cradle to Cradle has been kind of a game-changer for the design community: everything from the way buildings are built and cities are planned, to the way plastic bottles are sourced. Since the time when people were first introduced to the principles of Cradle to Cradle design, have you seen it evolve and change?
Joaquin: Cradle to Cradle is so ingrained in so many of our design cultures at this point. Amsterdam, and the Netherlands in general, have really adopted Cradle to Cradle principles. I'd love to see it more in America. We launched the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute right here in San Francisco, and the intention was to encourage more companies to create Cradle to Cradle products and to help companies find each other. If you are a cork company and you need an adhesive, where do you turn for that?
So we really would like to bring together those companies and encourage innovation. Right now, our focus has been working with universities and educators to make more people proselytizers of the Cradle to Cradle philosophy, so that we aren't designing without humans and all species in mind.
TH: You're a big part of Global Green, the non-profit, and you guys are doing some very interesting stuff in Youngstown, Ohio. Could you bring us up to speed on that?
Joaquin: Youngstown is an example of one of these cities in the Rust Belt that is shrinking. The economy is shrinking, people are losing places, the economy has changed dramatically. It was a steel town and they're not smelting, they're not mining steel there. There are some serious issues. There's a lot of blight, there's poverty, and they're not policed. It's a sad story.
It's such a beautiful place, with a great heart, and the people are passionate and they're proud. But it's happening everywhere. It's happening in Detroit, it's happening across many states in America. And so what we want to do is help rebuild the city, but in a sustainable way. So Youngstown is one city that Global Green is working with to get rid of the blight, work on beautification. But also to create urban farming, to teach them about growing their own food, and to help them inspire other cities that are dealing with the same issues to do similar things in their cities.
TH: Is it something people are eager for, or is it an uphill battle?
Joaquin: Actually, Youngstown is a unique situation because they have a mayor who is really passionate and understands that a green economy is really the only way out. That's one of the things Cradle to Cradle is also trying to communicate. America used to be so innovative. But now we're kind of missing the boat on crucial industries like solar. We were leading in solar panel production, and now it's moving to China, much like most industry.
But we have an opportunity to really inspire new innovative products to be creative right here. And so Youngstown happens to have this mayor who understands that and is really excited about that, and so are most of the residents. They seem to be really excited, and they want to be involved in the development. They don't want it to be developed for them. And we really recognize that. We understand, we just want to help. We don't want to go in and change it. We want to instead improve it with them.