A public/private nonprofit organization launched on May 20 in California to focus on creating comprehensive metrics and standards for products based on the Cradle to Cradle protocols devised by architect William McDonough, FAIA, and Dr. Michael Braungart. Dubbed the Green Products Innovation Institute (GPII), the organization also will serve as a resource for manufacturers that aim for high levels of human and environmental safety in their products.

Founded by a group of design, science, industry, business, and environmental professionals, the GPII was born in part out of a need to meet California's new consumer product regulations as outlined under the California Green Chemistry Law, which seeks to reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals that pose health and environmental risks.

Starting the GPII off on solid footing is its use of the Cradle to Cradle schema developed by design consultancy McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). As the two GPII founders, McDonough and Braungart have donated the trademarked Cradle to Cradle system to the new institute, which will now perform audits and issue certifications to products that meet Cradle to Cradle criteria. According to MBDC's CEO Ken Alston, McDonough and Braungart have long been hoping to move the Cradle to Cradle program into the public realm, where it can exist as an independent, third-party rating system free of any discredit due to its association with a for-profit consulting firm. Sole administration of the program will be transferred to GPII over the next two years. During the next several months, MBDC will assist in the development of Cradle to Cradle version three.

"Just as LEED raised the bottom third or even half of the building sector to a whole new level of code and performance long before national legislation caught up, we hope to do the same for products, starting with California," says Beth Ratner, GPII's executive director. "And because we'll be steps ahead of most state laws, we think it will yield big savings for manufacturers." By anticipating ever-evolving product regulations, the GPII aims to assist manufacturers and supply chains in moving ahead of compliance before legislation forces them to rethink their product formulations.

By allowing an independent nonprofit organization to serve as a certifying body for the Cradle to Cradle program—possibly just one of many that will do so in the future—McDonough and Braungart hope to expand its reach and broaden its scope. GPII also will train and certify Cradle to Cradle product assessors—designated as Licensed Assessment Partners—to assist companies in complying with the protocols.

As part of its mission, the GPII will work with the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA), industry, and other organizations to expand the assessment standards for alternatives to potentially harmful chemicals currently used in consumer products to include the Cradle to Cradle criteria—material health, take-back, renewable energy, clean water, and social fairness. This work also will inform DTSC's and Cal/EPA's data on the toxicity characteristics of chemicals and materials used in products, which will be made available to companies, consumers, and the government. The GPII also will create a publicly accessible database of product chemical data as well as alternative "positive" chemicals, materials, and processes that could replace them.

The GPII is supported by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said during a press conference about the launch, "This institute will revolutionize the way we design products and serve as a benchmark for those who aspire to set new standards of environmental and human health and safety for all products sold in California."

Given California's leadership in establishing environmental standards that influence the rest of the country, GPII's work there stands to strengthen Cradle to Cradle’s impact nationwide and help transform the economy.

In this YouTube video, McDonough, founder of William McDonough + Partners and co-founder of MBDC, discusses the transfer of Cradle to Cradle’s protocols to the GPII. In another YouTube video, MBDC CEO Ken Alston discusses the Cradle to Cradle Certification Program's inception.