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The "love triangle" Life cycle assessment, Cradle to Cradle and Circular Economy & The "brotherhood"

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

When it comes to the Circular economy and its related concepts, one might see themselves puzzled at some point, whether at the Life Cycle Assessment, Cradle to Cradle and Circular Economy "love triangle" or "the brotherhood" of Cradle to Grave, Cradle to Gate, and Cradle to Site.

In this article, we will go through all the concepts and hopefully shed some light for you on the issue.

"Life Cycle Assessments, Cradle to Cradle, and circular economy are united by their approach to sustainability: the life cycle approach. When combined, these three key players in sustainability form the ultimate love triangle."

Barbara Nebel

Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)

Life Cycle Assessment which is often used interchangeably with life cycle analysis refers to the way of quantifying the whole bucket of environmental impacts of a product, service, or organization over its entire life cycle and value chain. The ecological impacts basket could include level greenhouse gas emission (GHG), toxicity, eutrophication, acidification, or resource depletion. LCA draws the direction for improving products or organizations' environmental impacts while facilitating the comparison between products or organizations.

There could also be the case that the circular product does not have the best LCA performance.

Cradle to Cradle (C2C) and Circular economy (CE)

First of all, what is the cradle?

The cradle is defined as the earth, which is used as the start of the boundary for everything. Then now, we have Cradle to Cradle.

First coined in the 2002 book "Cradle to Cradle: Remarking the way we make things," William McDonough and Michael Braungart presented the C2C concept as the integration of design and science based on nature's work. Unlike the way human beings produce and consume, in the natural environment, there is no waste, and everything is food for something like when things die, they come back to generate other life.

The C2C framework of William McDonough and Michael Braungart is underpinned by three nature principles.

  • No waste. While almost all of the stuff we produce today are designed to be disposed of by the end of its lifetime, in C2C, our stuff will be designed to be reused to be a source of something else either through biological cycles or technical cycles.

  • Clean and renewable energy. Like the way living organisms thrive in the ecosystem, we can learn from that model to support human development and environmental health by generating clean and renewable resources instead of digging into our finite ones,

  • Celebrate diversity. Recognizing, respecting, and celebrating the diversity of our nature is the way to move forward. That's the nature rule.

The C2C approach goes beyond minimizing the negative impact but rather focuses on design as a positive, regenerative force. This paradigm shift makes it possible to raise the value, promote innovation, and improve quality. It motivates us always to explore ways to enhance our designs and to impart what we learn to others.

In order to put the C2C framework into practice, there is C2C Certified which assesses the sustainability performance of products across five categories: Material Health; Product Circularity; Clean Air & Climate Protection; Water & Soil Stewardship; Social Fairness.

From C2C, we have the concept of a Circular economy - an environmentally - friendly economic development pathway.

The brotherhood - Cradle to Grave, Cradle to Gate, and Cradle to Site.

The Cradle to Grave, so far, is the most common approach for the product life cycle. Cradle to Grave considers product boundary from the extraction of material, through the transportation to refining process to manufacturing activities to the use phase, and then disposed of when it is no longer needed. In this approach, everything is done at the disposal phase, which is why waste is piling up everywhere.

The Cradle to Gate approach ends one step earlier than the Cradle to Grave, which means that a study of these boundaries considers all activities from the start of extraction until the product is ready to leave the factory gate.

Cradle to Site refers to LCA boundary conditions, including the cradle to gate results plus the transportation of the material or product to its site of use.


  1. Cradle to Cradle: Remarking the way we make things, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, 2002.

  2. Cradle to Cradle Certified, The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

  3. Environmental Glossary of Terms and Definitions, Circular Ecology




I started Sustainability House with the goal of offering readers a glimpse into my thoughts and experiences. What started out as weekly posts have evolved into a dynamic site packed with information about various topics that are near and dear to me. Take some time to explore the blog and see for yourself what makes you curious and eager.


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