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No Impact Man Vs. Cradle-to-Cradle Man.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 28, 2007

Hair-shirt sustainability Vs. Go-Go Growth Sustainability. We now have two approaches to sustainability—live light on the land and cut back consumption vs. live like the crazy consumer that you are but use different chemistry that recycles, reuses and reinvents stuff. Colin Beavan—No Impact Man, meet Bill McDonough, Cradle-to-Cradle Man.

Which is the right approach to sustainability? Gawker and lots of other folks in the blogosphere are flaming the heck out of No Impact Man for his earnestness and for what many see as his hypocrisy. The blog and the no carbon impact lifestyle are, in the end, for a book that will probably be a best-seller and cost the lives of thousands of trees. Whatever the motivation, No Impact Man does plug into a deep environment tradition of living light on the land that is real and authentic. Cutting back, leaving a small imprint is one way to go in a world warming up fast. The fly-fishing Aldo Leopold in his iconic Sand County Almanac made the case for people caring about the land.

The other way to go is c-to-c, cradle to cradle. Bill McDonough says it best this way:

“Imagine a world in which all the things we make, use, and consume provide nutrition for nature and industry—a world in which growth is good and human activity generates a delightful, restorative ecological footprint.

“While this may seem like heresy to many in the world of sustainable development, the destructive qualities of today’s cradle-to-grave industrial system can be seen as the result of a fundamental design problem, not the inevitable outcome of consumption and economic activity. Indeed, good design—principled design based on the laws of nature—can transform the making and consumption of things into a regenerative force.

C-to-C is all about materials—using very different materials to make things that allow us to sustain high economic growth without piling up waste.

Another way to look at it is this:
Today—Innovation = Waste.
Tomorrow—Innovation = Resources.

I live in both camps, like many people. I do like my Yves Behar-designed watch (which does allow me to easily and cheaply replace the battery, unlike the iPod). But I also believe in living lightly on the land, with no McMansion or an SUVs.

How about a quick poll? Are you a NIP? No Impact Person?

Are you a C-to-C Person?

This, actually, is a very important discussion for designers and managers alike.

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Reader Comments

Mike Reardon

March 29, 2007 09:07 AM

I think there is third version, that is assisted sustainable development, where government removes or takes on social responsibilities and costs to let business compete only on development and innovation of enhancing social projects that can still gain return on investment at a world competitive cost. One of the pieces of sustainable development for business is gaining an extended relationship with customers and assisting social agencies. This will be for everyone, working on the balancing act to gain a return on investment and social development. Government will be expected to offer tax incentives and even remove or take on social needs like health care and pension to allow business a clear equal competitive field to return social responsible sustainable development.

Jennifer van der Meer

April 5, 2007 09:11 PM

It's not a conflict. It's an individual vs. organizational view.

As an individual, there is only so much we can do - which is why No Impact Man is so interesting - doing without toilet paper ?!?!?

As a business, there is SOOO much we can do. We can redefine commerce, push beyond the industrial age, create zero impact business models. Until this innovation happens, we need No Impact men and women to show us how unsustainable our lives our.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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