• Daniel Groos

Sustainability as a Chance - not as a limitation!

I had the pleasure of giving an inspirational talk at the Joint Think Tank from Daimler on November 27th, 2019. The topic was "Sustainability as a Chance", including one segment about how subscription-based business models can help close the loop of a circular economy towards sustainability.

Basically, the idea is when a company remains the owner of a good throughout its entire lifecycle, this company can guarantee sustainability by organising repairs and/or recycling.

At this point, a smart participant raised the question that made me think - "When you are not the owner of a good, you treat the good badly, with the effect that the good has a reduced lifespan. So, what is really the effect on sustainability?"


Firstly - I think the statement is right

When I look at the number of shared bikes, and now E-Scooters, that are thrown into the Isar river in my hometown of Munich, I can see that these goods are used frequently, but not valued by the users. A little research also revealed that the lifetime of rental and shared cars is also dramatically low, due to the treatment of the car itself.

On the other hand, when we borrow goods from our friends, we value them and give our highest attention to not damaging them. Sometimes we treat them even better than our own goods!

So, what is the difference between borrowing from a friend or borrowing from a company?

The simplest answer that comes to our mind is probably: money! On second thought though, there are also goods that do not cost a lot of money or any money, but are also suffering from not being valued or treated poorly, such as toilets or public transport.

So, I “researched” on the internet. The results of my search phrases revealed hits mostly related to vandalism. Somewhat disappointed, I tried to put some structure to the phenomenon myself, with the hope that you can share comments and expertise on this topic, to expand our knowledge base.


How can we improve the situation?

Generally, there are two approaches to improve the situation:

  1. How can we as users value goods independent of ownership?

  2. How can the companies who do own them become more like our friends so that we handle the goods more carefully?

It also seems important to differentiate between a user’s behaviour und a non-user’s misbehaviour, since the non-user outcome seems to be closely related to vandalism if not outright vandalism!


Why do we treat things we rent differently?

The fact that the user treats the shared, subscribed or rented good differently from an owned good, has a great impact, and seems more relevant, to the circular economy business models we are all looking for as a society.

The reasons for this could be:

  • Owner anonymity: We don't know the person who has to suffer from our behaviour

  • User anonymity: Nobody knows me in the company and even if I get kicked out of the customer database, I could probably replace the service by a similar one which will embrace me as a new customer immediately

  • Transparency of the cost: The user does not know the economic and social cost of his behaviour

  • Calculation assumption: The user assumes that the extra costs are already included in the pricing model for the offering

  • Bad design: It’s not the users fault anyway. Many goods are not designed resilient in order to withstand the increased usage of circular economy goods.


What are some ideas companies can put into action?

As a company you can:

  • Make relevant calculations transparent. What are the costs directly associated to the damage created by a user undervaluing a good?

  • Rethink the design of the goods, and design them to be more durable for a longer lifespan and more easy repair

  • When you start a new business, think about including the users in a cooperative ownership model

  • All users get a reward at the end of the year if the calculated costs for extra repair and replacement are lower than planned

These are just a few that I thought of and are the reflections of an amateur psychologist!

What do you think we can do to change our behaviour towards more sustainable treatment of shared goods?


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