Opinion Piece by Paul Capel, Founding Partner, 540 WORLD
14 May 2021
My ongoing journey from student to policy influencer
It is heart-warming to see how Cradle to Cradle® principles and applications have developed since I had my life-changing exposure to them more a decade and a half ago. In 2008/9, while studying at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales I wrote my MSc Thesis comparing the Hannover Principles (which became Cradle to Cradle® design) and Holmgren’s Principles of Permaculture. Back then, the Transition Town movement had just started and there was plenty of positive hope that together we could take on the double-headed monster of Peak Oil and Climate Change. Over a decade and a half later, this has focused on climate change and biodiversity loss, but through these uncertain times one set of principles has held strong in my heart and my business ventures.
On the day my tutor at CAT handed me a book called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, the fear I held deep about what was going wrong all around lifted and I gained a brand-new positive direction. I always say I took out my old, scared eyes and popped in a pair of new bright eyes that saw the world in a whole new light. A vision of a world where humans could be a positive force for good, stewards of water, earth, chemistry, and biology. It offered a world where we no longer just calculated how big our negative footprints were, and where we no longer had to step lightly on the earth, because we could all be celebrated; we could congratulate each other in how much good we all create in every footprint.
In this world we build buildings like trees that give back to their surroundings, bring beauty and joy not only to those using the space for shelter, work or living, but by all the other creatures that nest and flourish on and around the living structures. Cities can be like forests full of abundance… What in this vision is not to love?
I read that Cradle to Cradle® book, transformed by scared eyes, and gazed upon the world anew. Then I wrote my Masters thesis around these ideas, told people about the concepts and while no one disliked it, some said it can’t be so. Some said the ways of the world held too deep, that business is business, but some took up the challenge. Yes, it was hard to reimagine business as a force for good. Was it even possible to create materials that flowed in endless regenerative flows, powered by natural flows of renewable energies and made by socially enhancing people, who all benefitted from these new regenerative whole system designs?
As I gathered my research in 2008, I travelled by train to Frankfurt, to a trade show called NUTEC and there in Messe Frankfurt I found a community of game-changing businessmen and women who had not only listened to these ideas but had also set about creating materials that could be independently assessed against a robust set of science-based measurements to a 100ppm.
These pioneers had taken this 2002 book as their new north star and had set out on a journey to prove the naysayers wrong. In Frankfurt I heard new voices, a whole hall of positive visions and commitments to doing things aligned to these regenerative ideas.
In 2014 I was approached by Brendan Rowen, a friend who I had met at NCT anti-natal classes and to whom I had given a copy of the Cradle to Cradle book a couple of years before. Brendon phoned me and said he had a relentlessly reoccurring dream: “That book you gave me…this dream. We must do something about it.” And we did. In February of that year, we registered a new business called Cradle to Cradle Marketplace Ltd, which spawned a Design Consultancy. Then in 2019, Chaline Church made a purchase at www.cradletocradlemarketplace.com and an email followed. A meeting took place at my home, a Walter Segal self-build that we had upgraded along Cradle to Cradle® and Passivhaus principles. I call it an Active House where the energy we generate on the roof, both solar thermal and solar PV, brings more abundance than it costs to live in the house.
Brendon, Chaline and I later met at the rooftop garden in London’s Southbank Centre and decided to tackle the UK linear economy by driving a Cradle to Cradle Certified® materials marketing program to usher in a healthy circular economy. Chaline came up with the name 540 WORLD and that summer, the new LLP was born. Around this same time, I presented a very short Cradle to Cradle® presentation at the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products healthy building event, where I met Dr Jo Guy from the Environment Agency, who will be sharing some progress that we have nurtured with his colleagues at Team2100. It is a ten-year pathfinder project to manage the Environment Agency’s assets along the Thames Estuary.
Dr Guy will be one of 540 WORLD’s Keynote Speakers at our edition of Game Changers LIVE on 20th May, alongside Accoya® wood, Bauwerk® parquet, Ethical Stone and Grohe sanitary fittings. This edition will highlight some of our progress to date with some incredible Innovation Partners certified sustainable products. Remarkably, nearly all the examples we will showcase have already reached Cradle to Cradle Certified® at the Gold level, which is astonishing to say the least. These world-leading companies will showcase their wares at our keynote experts’ event, so the 20th May at 11:30 is a must for your diaries.
Dr Guy will announce game-changing news from our work together. Do not miss it. The announcement will require UK companies that supply materials for Environment Agency projects to significantly step up their sustainability and lead. 540 WORLD and our international network will be available to help with this progress and we are seeking companies who want to be able to fulfil these new requirements, but you will need to register for Game Changers LIVE, Circular Futures to hear the details.
Alongside this landmark announcement, we will host, Dr Howard Dryden, Professor Joshua Castellino and James Adams who will outline key areas to de-risk construction and help to secure a more balanced and secure circular future, with healthy oceans & socially fair practices. We look forward to seeing you all there.