Tim Janßen is executive director and co-founder of Cradle to Cradle NGO. He majored in Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership at Leuphana University Lüneburg and Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW). In 2012, he co-founded Cradle to Cradle NGO (C2C NGO) with Nora Sophie Griefahn. C2C NGO connects the fields of business, education, politics, and civil society by creating networking platforms and educational formats. In 2019, the NGO established the C2C LAB in Berlin: the world’s first renovation in an existing building based on Cradle to Cradle criteria. Serving as an educational center, NGO head office, and living lab, it is here where the C2C school of thought and design concept become reality. As co-executive director, Tim develops strategies to maximize the organization’s impact on society and actively shapes the growth of this young, ever-growing movement. He is a sought-after expert for Cradle to Cradle, Circular Economy and Social Entrepreneurship. He regularly holds keynotes and partakes as panelist at national and international conferences. Furthermore, Tim is a lecturer at DHBW, Leuphana University Lüneburg and TU Berlin.
School of Thought Cradle to Cradle
The NGO C2C connects business, science, education, politics and civil society. Organized across the country, our volunteer activists bring the idea of “Cradle to Cradle” to the world. Congress is the world’s largest C2C platform: More than 1,000 C2C community participants meet with key figures in science, business, and politics each year. Forums, conferences and workshops offer space for exchange and networking. In 2019, we created the C2C LAB in Berlin – the world’s first comprehensive reform based on the C2C criteria. As an educational center, NGO headquarters and royal laboratory, the school of thought and design concept can be experienced in practice. Anyone who wants to commit to a positive footprint.
Vision: this is how tomorrow works
Cradle to Cradle is a natural thing in the human thought and performance of tomorrow. Following nature’s example, all waste is now a nutrient for us as well. No one knows the destructive concept of “junk”. Everything is made of healthy and suitable materials. The usage scenarios are consistently well thought out. Everything circulates in continuous cycles. Technological, biological and cultural diversity is firmly anchored everywhere. The energy is obtained exclusively from renewable sources. The working conditions are fair, the social structures intact. With the “Cradle to Cradle” school of thought and design concept, we leave a great positive footprint for people. Yesterday was less bad. Ecological remorse too. Humans are beneficial. That is the vision of “Cradle to Cradle”.
Mission – we do that
The vision can only come true if people and organizations rethink it: from consumption to use. From owning to using. From discarding to recycling in continuous cycles. Thank goodness it becomes really good. We are paving the way for this with our educational initiatives. And our networks unite business, science, education, politics and civil society. Because we can only shape this future together.
Laboratory C2C – Education Inspiration Innovation
The C2C LAB in Berlin is the world’s first comprehensive renovation based on the innovative criteria of Cradle to Cradle. At 400 m 2, the C2C school of thought and the concept of design as an educational center, NGO headquarters and royal laboratory can experiment in terms of content and practice. For this, we have selected a commercial space that needs renovation in a prefabricated building in East Berlin. When the GDR’s armed assembly meets innovation, something new is created, with no future construction debris.
With the C2C LAB we establish new changes in quality and innovation, for healthy and viable products with a positive footprint. We bring the pioneers together and thus accelerate the transition to a world without trash.
At our C2C LAB we bring our school of thought to life and our design concept: renovation meets our strict criteria. The equipment of the rooms also. And the themes of the events inform and inspire rethinking. This makes LAB C2C unique. It allows new perspectives on the thoughtful use of resources. Turn our thought patterns about diversity of people, events and the environment from head to toe. In the C2C laboratory, people act as beneficial organisms. That is tomorrow. More information in:
INTERVIEW WITH TIM JANßEN
Analysis of the situation
Today’s cities are constantly and rapidly transforming, since continuing as we are makes their development unfeasible in a sustainable way. Many and important are some of the challenges that we currently have: social, technological, economic. environmental, security, immigration, employment, training and transit of thought, among others.
The data, reports and opinions of different international organizations and experts show that some of the challenges we have are overcoming us. Some reports are especially forceful and worrisome, such as the draft of the report “Global Sustainable Development 2019”, which says that “Economies have exhausted the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle waste generated by the use of energy and materials.”
In the same way, the Covid 19 pandemic has revealed that we are extremely vulnerable. Indeed, in a short space of time since it became known in early 2020, it is representing a challenge that has put all countries around the world on alert. Protecting health is becoming a first necessity for everyone.
On the contrary, the structures of the current economic, social and political model are far below technological development. The increasingly social dimension of poverty, the need to incorporate in the traditional research model broader systems of innovation that include other actors and components, the fragmentation of knowledge systems, the need to modernize many institutions of all kinds, which leads to the need for a change of paradigm and model of society.
1. Do you agree with this analysis? How do you think the current and complex challenges that we currently have should be faced?
– I generally agree with this analysis. Urbanization and population growth on one hand and our societies increasing consumption of finite resources on the other are two conflicting developments. But I disagree with the notion that panic is indicated. I strongly believe that we have all necessary political and technological instruments to tackle this conflict. Panicky decisions tend to be irrational and we need a rational approach to be able to create an ecologically sound, healthy and worthwhile future for us humans without sacrificing the most important achievements of the modern age and without harming the environment even more. Cradle to Cradle is the most holistic and rational approach to address the above-mentioned conflict, as it does not solely focus on the reduction of carbon emissions and the energy question. It takes the squandering of finite resources into account, which is one reason for our worlds waste problem, resource scarcity as well as political conflicts and even wars, both of which will increase in the future if we do not act. Cradle to Cradle combines environmental and climate protection with innovation and is a socially fair approach. Products are designed for predetermined use. They are manufactured with materials that are either biodegradable or can be separated into their raw materials without any residues and are therefore truly recyclable. And only renewable energy is used, water stewardship is regarded, and social standards are implemented along the entire supply chain.
ICT / Circular Economy
If there are two recent events in our economic and social development that are causing a real revolution in our society, they are, on the one hand, the “Digital Economy, thanks to the advances in the internet and other technologies. The other is, without a doubt, that of the “Circular Economy”, as a new development model that identifies a series of processes in our economy.
With increasing intensity, it is necessary to carry out an authentic transformation in the way our social fabric is interacting with each other, in some of the key issues of economic and social progress. Technological innovation, the increasing introduction of ICT and the commitment to a digital economy, is on the one hand altering, and on the other, transforming, the behavior of all economic and social actors, especially companies.
2. Do you think that the “digital economy” is being properly incorporated in our society?
– I do not think we are using the full potential of digitization, particularly regarding resource management and the protection of our environment and the climate. Technologies like the block chain can not only be used to track value chains, but also help to improve the quality of products by disclosing ingredients, the composition of materials, the social and environmental circumstances of production etc. If we establish Cradle to Cradle as a required production standard and track and control the parameters digitally along the entire value chain of any product, we can enable true recycling and minimize, and eventually stop, the squandering of finite and valuable resources.
The Circular Economy offers an alternative to the current mode of production, consisting of prolonging the useful life of materials and resources, minimizing the generation of waste. It is, therefore, about implementing a new circular economy – not linear – based on the principle of “closing the life cycle” of products, services, waste, materials, water and energy.
In a brief overview of the recent history of the circular economy, it can be seen that it has well-defined origins, where it does not go back to a single date or a single author. Its practical applications in current economic and industrial processes have been as a consequence of the appearance of different ideas from various academic researchers and philosophers, who, from the 70s of the previous century, have been forming different schools that have shaped this new way of thinking.
A major movement in favor of a Circular Economy developed by the Macarthur Foundation has deepened the understanding of large companies about the concept of the circular economy, and therefore, change their behavior,
There are many schools of thought in the circular economy during these last decades, as can be seen: that of “Regenerative Design”, “Performance Economy”, “Cradle to Cradle”, “Industrial Ecology”, “Biomemesis”, “Economy Blue”, “Natural Capitalism ”, Systemic Thought”, and the “Bioeconomy”.
3. What do you think about the Circular Economy, as a new paradigm for the functioning of the economy and society?
– What many people understand as Circular Economy as of today is in many cases just waste management: There is a product at the end of its life cycle, and we want to prolong this life cycle. In this process, we do not necessarily consider if the components of the product are really designed for the purposes which we use them for. One example are textiles made of ocean plastic. While it is necessary to remove plastics from the oceans, most of these plastics contain harmful substances by design and, being greases, attract even more pollutants while they are in the water. What we are taking out of the ocean is by no means designed to be in contact with our skin. Cradle to Cradle takes this into account. Products must be designed for specific use. Derived from its specific use, goods must be produced with materials that are either biodegradable or that can be separated from each other without residues and are therefore truly recyclable. All materials must either be able to circulate in the biosphere or the technosphere. Circular Economy is the first step we need to take in order to stop and minimize the environmental problems we are currently creating. But only a Cradle to Cradle economy can lead to ending the concept of waste and the squandering of finite resources.
4. You are one of the most relevant characters within the school of “Systemic Thought”: Could you tell us what are the main lines of action that could be applied to the implementation of a Circular Economy in cities?
– As of today, there are many policies worldwide that allow processes that harm the environment. In Germany, for example, processing virgin plastic is tax-exempt. However, processing recycled plastic is liable to tax. For a manufacturer of plastic packaging it is therefore cheaper to produce harmful products. There are similar false incentives when it comes to Cradle to Cradle or Circular Economy in cities and municipalities. And the first step towards a Cradle to Cradle economy is to abolish these policies of false incentives and to factor in externalities in price models for every good. Real prices are the most powerful lever to drive production and consumption in a climate-positive direction. In cities and municipalities, public procurement is another strong asset. In Germany, public procurement makes up roughly 20 percent of the country´s GDP and therefore has an enormous market power. Currently, however, it is not used efficiently to create incentives to produce sustainably. Our NGO works with cities and municipalities to change this. We do not only help them to establish procurement guidelines along the Cradle to Cradle criteria but also by changing the way officials think about e.g. infrastructure. Does a community need supermarkets to fulfil its need for food or are there other ways? How do mobility services and public transportation need to change to fulfil the demand for transportation? Cradle to Cradle touches upon all these thoughts and has answers to these questions. There are already cities that have adjusted their public procurement to Cradle to Cradle criteria, from notepads and office chairs to building materials. Examples of cities are Venlo in the Netherlands or Ludwigsburg and Straubenhardt in Germany. Venlo and Straubenhardt also align their public construction projects with C2C criteria. They think about product-as-a-service-models in infrastructure and focus on renewable energies. Besides overcoming counterproductive incentives through legislation, changing the mindsets of those in power and just starting with C2C projects, the general population of a city or municipality must be included in the process of thinking and executing and must be given the opportunity to be a part of designing their own future in a healthy and circular urban space.
In the process of economic and social development it is key to define, analyze and understand the importance of the challenges in cities from a holistic and strategic point of view of the sustainable development process: economic, social, environmental and political.
All this, in order to integrate these challenges into the Multilevel Governance Development Strategies, so that it has an adequate fit in our economic system and job creation, which guarantees its deployment and effectiveness. For this, it is necessary to acquire systems of innovation, ethics, transit of thought, collective intelligence and leadership in Institutional Governance that favor this process of change in cities.
5. What do you think we should do to better set goals, taking into account that technology goes one way, and economic, social and political structures go another way?
– I think we can use technology and innovation to improve our economy as well as social and political structures towards a sustainable Cradle to Cradle system. Using technologies like the blockchain to create transparent and safe value chains based on Cradle to Cradle principles in production, as mentioned above, is one example. Using technology for sharing models or citizen participation in democratic processes are further examples. But we need to set positive goals and define holistic development processes instead of only trying to do less harm, which is the actual course of politics. The dependencies and correlations of digitization and environmental and resource protection as well as social implications are currently not depicted in policies and this needs to change.
Education is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we have, since the achievement of the other objectives that our society currently has depends on it to a great extent. On many occasions the educational system is not prepared for this important change.
6. Why do you think it is so difficult to incorporate into the educational systems the empowerment of some detected competences, such as creativity, systemic thinking, transdisciplinary communication, as well as the capacities related to change management?
– Mostly, policies and structures are influenced and set by those who profit from them. Change is not desirable to them. But situations like the COVID19-pandemic show, e.g. in the educational system, that change is needed, and quickly. We need holistic approaches, a better understanding of interdependencies as well as digitization and new forms of education – starting with a much-needed change of mindset. Why do our children grow up with the belief that the concept of waste is a given? We are the only species on earth that produces waste. Educating children to question absurd concepts like this should be an integral part of our educational systems. And for this to happen, those who set those frameworks must rethink and change the standards under which they operate. All of this is exactly what our organization has taken upon itself to change.
Innovation systems must be based on concepts, but also on processes and tools, since they depend on many actors: researchers, scientists, technicians, business people, financiers, development agencies, politicians, users, citizens. All of these actors operate in different contexts and levels and generally do not have the same interests and ambitions.
Innovation systems must be able to link citizens, with an environment that is being built (Smart Cities), of existing public organizations, as well as the collaboration of all of them with private initiative, which are the Business.
For this to be successfully developed, this innovation system must be framed within a medium and long-term development strategy, which links the problems, challenges and objectives of this development process.
7. How do you think these innovation systems could be improved in the development process?
– Innovation systems can only be as good as the principles on which their standards are based on are. For example, if we measure the success of an innovative product based on its return on investment, it does not necessarily mean that the product is useful for environmental protection, the sustainable usage of resources or that it strengthens social structures or anything other than profit. Making things more efficient often means making a product that harms nature and mankind even more harmful. Tires are a great example: By “improving” the rubbers and their formulas, tires for cars have become lighter while increasing their grip on the street. Additionally, less material is needed for production. They are more efficient than before. However, through the abrasion of these tires, poisonous substances on the tires become fine particles and swirl up into the air. They then coat objects and plants and find their way into the food chain and our lungs. In this context, innovation has made a harmful product way more harmful. Effectiveness instead of efficiency is the key change in mindset. We need standards and principles that reflect this within any innovation or management system in any sector or field in order to be able to create a holistic approach for a future worth living in.
When finding solutions to problems related to current challenges, the sum of knowledge from the knowledge triangle and Institutional Governance is missing. Many of the challenges make it essential to unite the entire global community by undertaking a systemic approach, where the parts and the whole, innovation and collaboration are essential.
8. Do you trust that collective intelligence is effective and helps effectively in the development process?
– The people need to be part of developing their own future. But we need to find effective ways to bundle the opinions of the masses, match them with scientific insights and transform them into policies that are not watered down by false incentives and lobbyism. Civic involvement and collective intelligence are not unattached values per se, as individual decisions might not always be positive for a larger group of people. Therefore, it is absurd to demand renunciation and sacrifice from consumers when it comes to environmental and resource protection.
The great challenges that we face on many occasions do not have a direct and simple solution. There are many interests at stake and not all economic and social partners, and institutional governance itself has the same interest in solving the problems that we currently have. The same policy developed by the different levels of government in many cases becomes in many cases a brake that hinders the achievement of objectives.
9. Do you think that the current institutional and spatial forms of multilevel governments in many European countries and the world are appropriate to effectively address the large and complex urban challenges in a comprehensive way?
– I, personally as well as Cradle to Cradle NGO as an entity, believe firmly that our current ecological problems as well as social issues can only be addressed within a strong democratic framework. Shaping a healthy future without the squandering of resources, waste production and climatic and environmental problems can only be tackled in a mutual effort. These topics cannot be solved by a municipality, a city, a country or a continent alone. From our point of view, the success of mutual action depends on the realization and acknowledgment that action is needed and that the consequences of inactivity are harmful to everyone in the long run, not only to singular groups of people. There are international organizations that need to play a more active role in ensuring that contributing approaches are conducted on a multilateral level and with the same speed and power across the globe.
Transit of thought
The change towards Sustainable Development constitutes an important transition of thought, whose main objective is that this transition reaches the hearts of people, organizations and institutions, and above all, must especially reach the core of Institutional Governance policies. This inevitably happens through the realization of new behaviors, be they political, economic and of citizenship (Social Innovation) in favor of this sustainable and inclusive development.
Cradle to Cradle (from cradle to cradle)
German chemist and visionary Michael Braungart, along with American architect Bill McDonough, developed the Cradle to Cradle ™ concept and its certification process.
This design philosophy considers all the materials used in industrial and commercial processes as nutrients, of which there are two main categories: technical and biological. The “Cradle To Cradle” framework focuses on designing the effectiveness of products with a positive impact and reducing the negative impacts of trade through efficiency.
Currently, the challenge of creating products under the scheme proposed by the crib-to-crib concept has prompted the development of spaces such as the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute (C2C). https://www.c2ccertified.org/
In this space, sustainability lovers present large projects based on the philosophy of this concept and the scheme of the circular economy, which allows products, once their life cycle is finished, to be integrated into the chain again to produce something new.
10.Do you think that with the implementation of the principles of the School of Thought “Cradle to Cradle” there can be a turn towards a new model of social, economic and political development? Why?
– Cradle to Cradle is a holistic approach that not only fights climate change by suggesting carbon management systems for turning carbon into a valuable resource. It also addresses the resource and waste crisis by holding materials in endless cycles – either in the biosphere or in the technosphere. The C2C approach includes innovative design, material health, circularity, water stewardship, the use of renewable energies and the strict compliance with social standards. It also includes alternative business models, like sharing and using instead of owning. These strengthen civic engagement and foster regional as well as cultural diversity. It can therefore be applied to all economic sectors, to the development of cities and municipalities, as a mindset in education and as a foundation for policies.