Meet Ren DeCherney

“You don’t have to compromise; we’ve proven that 1,000 times.”

“There’s a common misconception that you can only focus on material health, circular principles or carbon reduction; that to achieve one, there must be tradeoffs with the others,” says Ren DeCherney, Lead for the Built Environment at Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII). “Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute proves that you can have it all, and that we should be pushing the industry to do it all.”

C2CPII is powering the shift to a circular economy by setting the global standard for materials, products and systems that positively impact people and planet. Manufacturers across a wide range of industries can become Cradle to Cradle Certified by undertaking a rigorous assessment process that verifies product performance across five key areas: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy use, water stewardship and social responsibility. “This multi-attribute approach has made the Cradle to Cradle Certification the leading global standard for products that are safe, circular and responsibly made. The built environment was our first focus area, but our work has really branched out over the last 20 years and now includes everything from textiles to personal care products to packaging. We have 1,000 certifications representing over 50,000 products across all sectors.”

Ren is a licensed Interior Designer who was inspired to make the leap into the healthy materials space when she was first introduced to a Cradle to Cradle Certified product in 2009. “I practiced as an Interior Designer, both commercially and residentially, for about 10 years. I discovered product sustainability when a representative for a carpet manufacturer told me about their Cradle to Cradle Certified carpet. At that point in time, the industry was only really talking about recycled content. It was so cool to hear a manufacturer talk more holistically about their product. I realised that Cradle to Cradle Certified was really on the forefront of sustainability and I wanted to learn more.”

Designers tend to underestimate their ability to make positive environmental and social impact, Ren says. “A lot of the work that I do with designers now is in showing them what their power is to have a ripple effect. When many of us were in design school, that just wasn’t being talked about yet. Since joining C2CPII, I’ve been able to delve deeper into the full lifecycle and impacts of products and systems. For instance, C2CPII was PVC-free-free before anyone was even talking about it. That’s because of not just material health, but the toxic production process required to make it. I learned that, by not specifying PVC on a project here in Portland, Oregon, there would be a positive impact across the globe.

“Metropolis Magazine has a great climate toolkit where they estimate that by about 2050, the Interior Design industry alone will have influence over almost a 10th of the world’s carbon emissions. That’s because we’re going to be renovating all of these buildings over and over. As buildings become more operationally efficient over time, the embodied footprint of the products going into a building will be what counts when it comes to the overall impacts of the building industry.”

Ren’s client-facing background as an Interior Designer helps to inform her conversations with both manufacturers and designers, she says. “It can be really hard to talk about sustainability with clients, to know how to present products and to have the background knowledge to dispel any common misconceptions, notably that sustainable inevitably equals more expensive. I often share strategies that worked for me as a designer. In particular, I highlight that sustainable design is simply the right thing to do for people and planet, to showcase what the rest of the market is already doing in the sustainability space, and to provide proven ways that sustainability practice can be cost-effective for any project.”

The Cradle to Cradle Certification process is complex and challenging, Ren says, but also the most rewarding part of her job. “It’s so cool to see not just designers but also manufacturers who are invested in doing the work. The multi-attribute approach to the Certification means that the whole business has to be involved, supply chains have to be transformed, and senior management has to be involved with every part of the standard. We have startups right through to multi-national conglomerates all doing the work. Watching their commitment and innovation makes me hopeful that together we can overcome some of the biggest systemic challenges of our time.”

The responsibility now is on specifiers and industry professionals to get these products into our built spaces, Ren says. “Manufacturers are listening. They are committed. When designers specify a sustainable product, those dollars talk. So, keep asking for everything you want and don’t feel that you have to choose just low-carbon or healthy or socially responsible. We can do it all. C2CPII has 1,000 certifications that prove it.”

C2CPII is nearing the release of their new v4.1 Certification, Ren says, based on two years of multi-stakeholder feedback from v4. “Version 4.1 maintains the robustness of Version 4, while making the new Certification more achievable for manufacturers with complex supply chains. The focus, moving forward, is more on optimisation and continuous improvement. We’re excited to see that come out in early 2024, and to provide an on-ramp for more manufacturers doing a wider range of things.”

Ren is also excited to see her role continue to expand in the year ahead. “I used to look after North America and Australasia, but I’m now taking on more of a global role. It’s amazing to see what people are focused on in different parts of the world and to continue to learn more about a range of industries.”

One industry, in particular, where Ren hopes to see greater impact is textiles. “It’s such a challenging industry to change because it has a very complicated supply chain with hundreds of years of history. There is a huge potential for positive impact there and a real opportunity for Interior Designers to move the needle.

“As an industry, if we want things to change, we have to be specifying products that meet our goals. Request Declare® label and Cradle to Cradle Certified products. Ask manufacturers what their sustainability story is and then reward them for it by specifying products that align with your values. Push industries like textiles to do this sustainability work, because manufacturers are listening and they need to know that their efforts matter.”

To learn more and connect with Ren, visit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute at and follow Ren on LinkedIn.

Bex De Prospo
Bex De Prospo