Reflections on the ‘Resource Revolution’ excursion by RUW

By: Fabian Kemps Verhage – WUR-student and participant of the ‘Resource Revolution’ Excursion.

Who can Lease me a Pair of Shoes?

During the RUW-excursion ‘Resource Revolution’ to Berlin and Leipzig I discussed with a friend how we could make our society more sustainable. We concluded that it would be a good start if people would only buy those things that they really needed, meaning those products and services that substantially improved their well-being. Effective shampoo and long-lasting jeans would fall under that category, but cranberry-extract shampoo and fast-fashion jeans would not. We wondered whether our society would be more sustainable if people would only buy those things they came up with by themselves (e.g. “Ah, my feet are cold. I need a good pair of shoes”), instead of being driven into purchases by marketing (e.g. “Wow, these new sneakers are so cool! I really want to buy them.”

Students during RUW's Resource Revolution (Source: @Mbr_EvO; Erik-Jan van Oosten)

Students during RUW’s Resource Revolution (Source: @Mbr_EvO; Erik-Jan van Oosten)

To convert this idea into a practical solution, I thought of setting up a kind of crowd-funding website, whereby not producers, but consumers would make suggestions for products. The hoped-for-benefit of this website would be that consumers would only make the effort to request necessary products and no money would be lost to marketing. For example, I have been looking for blue sneakers that are don’t give me sweaty feet, can be washed easily, are made in Europe and stay nice for at least three years. If other consumers sought the same kind of shoes, they could contribute to the design. Different shoe producers would then make an offer to make it, and as consumers we could choose the one that best feed our wishes. In this way consumers have the lead role and could demand things like long-durability, which is often in their interest, but not in the producer’s interest.

However, I realized that besides the challenge for consumers to judge the offer of the producers, the website could also turn into a platform for hipsters to collectively design and order yet another pair of sneakers. This would be very cool (power to consumers), but not more sustainable. The only way in which this website would contribute significantly to sustainability, if consumers could only offer inherently sustainable products. Before our trip to RUW I would not really have believed such products exist, but the excursion has made me think otherwise. One of our visits in Berlin, was to the Cradle-to-Cradle. They argued that the only way to reach a fully sustainable economy, is if all products can be recycled to the full extent. These products can be called “Cradle-to-Cradle”, because once a product is not needed anymore, it is the “cradle” of another product. Such products never reach the grave (read: landfill). Hence, if this platform would only offer Cradle-to-Cradle products, it would contribute to a sustainable world.

It is not unlikely that a platform for consumers to demand Cradle-to-Cradle products would find traction, because consumers whishing this are often highly involved with sourcing their products, there are very few of these products offered and you need a strong producer-consumer relation to create a bring-back-to-the-company-scheme. A common business model for Cradle-to-Cradle products is the leasing of products, because then the producer remains responsible for maintaining and recycling the product. Consumers can already lease cars, furniture, washing machines and a while back even jeans, but when I tried to find sneakers and a pair of glasses to lease, I failed. So, to focus the consumer-demand website, it would be good to focus it on the leasing of products. A simple beginning of this would be to set up a website where all products that can be leased from different companies, are listed. And where consumers can then request new products to be leased. What would you want to lease?

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About Aniek Hebinck

Aniek is a Jr. Researcher at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University. She is interested in unfolding sustainability practices and exploring how these are constructed. In this she is combining her background in nutrition and sociology with her love for food by focusing on food provisioning.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the ‘Resource Revolution’ excursion by RUW

  1. Hi Fabian, great article! It’s nice that you are suggesting some solutions (as opposed to me feeling a bit lost and having way more questions than answers 🙂 ) I was thinking about this leasing idea and I’m not sure it would be fit for for example jeans or sneakers. The goal of recycling is nice of course, but let’s take it to an extreme and assume that all companies have to take in their old products and recycle – I’m wondering if recycling of all these clothes will be so sustainable. I’m no specialist in clothes production, but I can imagine that recycling old cotton can be not so good for the environment either. And not even thinking about logistics of sending everything back and sorting! That of course could be an incentive for companies to produce less varied products (I’m still talking about clothes), which in the end we don’t need so that might be not so bad afterall 😉
    So.. perhaps leasing would be good only not for biodegradable products, like cotton…?

  2. Hey Ilona, thanks for your comment.
    If I understand you well, then you state that in general leasing is a good idea, but not for biodegradable products, as there the environmental impact of transporting something back to the company will be bigger than just recycling/decomposing it in-situ.
    You might be right about that aspect, however, I would think that making a company responsible for: mantaining the product during use, and taking back the material afterwards, will overal lead to a smaller environmental impact, even for biodegradable products. Because leasing would ideally stimulate the company to make the product as durable as possible and make the recycling easier.
    For example, I actually bought a pair of jeans that the company (Mud Jeans) will repair if they break, ánd if I bring it back after use, I get 30 euro’s. In practise, I don’t think it will break, as Mud Jeans now has an incentive to make it super strong, and easily recycleble, so that the environmental impact of the recycling is minimal. In any case, I would say that the impact of recycling (if done well) would always be smaller, then making and processing the virgin fabric again.
    I guess this would be a good assignment for a Life Cycle Assessment. For more info on the jeans:

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