Cradle to Cradle Design Challenge

Aug 24th, 2017

Cradle to Cradle Design Challenge

Trevor Johnson

Group Members:

Trevor Johnson

Tarek Diab

Menglin Xiao


The guidelines for the project sounded straightforward: create an innovative product from safe materials that can be cycled and which eliminates the concept of “waste.” The two-week timeframe for the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge made it a bit trickier. Industrial Design students tackled the project as part of Professor Rich Britnell’s Spring fourth year studio class. We were proud to find out that Our entry in the Cradle to Cradle Design Challenge placed as one of only five finalists and has been featured on the company’s website.

The project began with Professor Britnell’s announcement that student work from his studio, Advanced Product Design, would be submitted to the design competition hosted by Cradle to Cradle, or C2C.  This company focuses on driving sustainability improvement in product design, and they are well known for their certification process. They review materials based on sustainability for both product design and architectural applications.

Student teams were strategically composed based on the strengths of each student. We treated the competition like any other design project we tackle at Auburn, but on a much shorter timeline. I worked closely with teammates Tarek and Menglin. Together, with guidance from Professor Britnell and his teaching assistant, Zack Kohrman, we approached the competition like a project brief, outlining restraints and key requirements for the design. There were five first place categories in the competition, and we decided to focus on the best use of a C2C certified product and best student project. We went through a full design process, identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, and using design principles such as applying sustainability principles and utilizing form and color theory.

We identified a problem with insulated ice coolers, as they are dangerously wasteful. Insulated coolers (Igloo, Yeti, etc.) are created by rotational molding polyethylene resins and insulated using pressure-injected polyurethane foam. This method keeps it cold longer, but the seamless nature of the molding combined with the joining of dissimilar materials means these products cannot be recycled at the end of their life. One of Cradle to Cradle’s certified materials, mushroom material, has properties almost identical to those of the foam used in coolers, but it can be sustainably grown into a mold and then safely composted after use.

Our idea was to use the shell of a cooler as the mold the mushroom material would grow into. We added features like recycled aluminum hinges for durability and a snap-fit assembly so the cooler could be disassembled and recycled at the end of its life. The entry in the competition included the thought and application of our design, a business model including infographics, an in-depth report of the materials used, and rendered images of the 3D model of the product.

Our entry placed in the top five of the competition and was given a feature on the company’s website, which was a win for us. I personally am very happy with that, based on the level of international competition and the amount of time we had to accomplish the task. I am expecting to graduate this summer, and I am proud to leave knowing that our design team’s collaboration was rewarded. Professor Britnell also seemed impressed with the team’s success. “This team meshed well and worked hard to accomplish your goals in just over two weeks,” he says. “I am sure that being recognized as finalists in the Cradle to Cradle Design Challenge will serve well in future endeavors.”


Please visit to see the full extent of the project.