A Fair Accord: Cradle to Cradle as a Design Theory Measured against John Rawls’ Theory of Justice and Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative
This essay explores a specific aspect of the role of attitude in design. The design of the built environment requires us constantly to make aesthetic and ethical judgments; every design decision has to be satisfactorily justified. Surprisingly perhaps, this requires a clear concept of justice against which a design can be grounded. Aesthetic concerns about quality spill into ethical concerns about the rightness of a decision and vice versa. This essay discusses a simple but crucial question: if a designer is aware of Cradle to Cradle as a theory of design but fails to act according to its principles, is it then possible to justify the resultant design? In other words, is Cradle to Cradle as a design theory that most rare of transcendental notions: a Categorical Imperative? Why might it be useful to describe it as such? Does the fact that we do not yet know how to redesign most products and processes according to its principles disqualify the theory? Does a dismissal of the Cradle to Cradle theory inevitably lead to an unfair society? These are serious questions, with interesting answers and far reaching implications for the way we think about design. First we shall explain what Cradle to Cradle means and how it distinguishes itself from other theories of sustainability. Then we shall put that explanation in the context of two ethical theories, first of all John Rawls’ Theory of Justice and second Immanuel Kant’s concept of the Categorical Imperative. After that we shall note a few problems concerning Cradle to Cradle design theory and put those into perspective. This will lead to an important attitudinal conclusion, namely that Cradle to Cradle can legitimately be described as one of those extremely rare cases which deserves universal applicability. We will offer a two-pronged strategy as to how to proceed.
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