Eco-Terminology We Need to Know

September 26, 2019

Courtesy and credit given to Michael Braungart, William McDonough, EPEA Internationale Umweltforschung GmbH, and McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry LLC. for introducing these terms.

Biological Nutrient

A raw material used by living organisms or cells to carry on life processes such as growth, cell division, synthesis of carbohydrates and other complex functions. Biological nutrients are usually carbon-based compounds.

Cradle to Cradle®

A model of industrial systems in which material flows cyclically in appropriate, continuous biological or technical nutrient cycles. All waste materials are productively re-incorporated into new production and use phases, i.e. “waste equals food.”

All products can then be divided into three categories: products of consumption, products of service, and unmarketable products. Products of consumption, such as cleaning chemicals, shampoos, and packaging materials, are made from biological nutrients and designed for safe disposal in the natural environment. Products of service, such as cars, washing machines, and televisions, are made from technical nutrients and designed to provide a service to users and then to be recycled. Unmarketable products, such as hazardous waste, cannot be consumed or used in an environmentally sound way, and should be discontinued and substituted as soon as possible.

Design Chemistry

Refers to the incorporation of broader scientific and ecological knowledge into existing product analysis and redesign, or into new product design based on environmentally intelligent criteria.


Cradle to Cradle Design’s strategy for the use of intelligent and healthy materials, designing human industry that is safe, profitable, and regenerative, while producing economic, ecological, and social value.


The elegant intelligence of natural systems and processes (such as nutrient cycling, interdependence, celebration of diversity, solar power use, regeneration, etc.).


The practice of recycling a material in such a way that much of its inherent value is lost (e.g. recycling plastic into park benches).

Products of Service

A product that is used by the customer, formally or in effect, but owned by the manufacturer. The manufacturer maintains ownership of valuable material assets for continual reuse while the customer receives the service of the product without assuming its material liability. Products that can utilize valuable but potentially hazardous materials can be optimized as products of service.

Products of Consumption

A product designed for safe and complete return to the environment, which becomes nutrients for living systems. The product of consumption design strategy allows products to offer effectiveness without the liability of materials that must be recycled or “managed” after use.

Technical Nutrient

A material of human artifice designed to circulate within industrial lifecycles–forever.


Products which cannot be consumed or used in either an organic or an industrial cycle. Safe means of recycling these materials may be currently unavailable due to lack of demand and high cost. In the long-term, these products should not be manufactured. As existing unmarketables are discarded, they should be stored and prevented from contaminating the surrounding environment until a safe recycling process is developed.


The practice of recycling materials in such a way that it maintains and/or accrues value over time (the opposite of downcycling).

Waste = Food

The first design principle of the next industrial revolution, all products are seen as nutrients within biological (natural) or industrial (technical) cycles.