This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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Over the second half of the 20th century, the ordinary person was moulded into an insatiable consumer. Status was decided by how much stuff you could accumulate. The number of books on the shelf showed how clever you were, the number of records you owned showed just how cool. The variety and opulence of electronic gadgets, clothes and furniture were a literal display of wealth and a source of envy in your neighbours. But times they are a-changing! The new generations, Millennials and Z, don’t see material possessions as the only measure of success. Not if they must sacrifice the environment, equality and their mental health to acquire them.
As production became faster and more economical, value perception decreased. The modern shopper is less impressed with cheaply made goods designed to be thrown away and quickly replaced. They recognise that sustainability and customer experience are more important than sheer quantity. A report by Lippincott shows that the customers of the future will prioritise access and connectivity over long-term ownership. A generation of customers is rising who crave freedom and flexibility. A life with fewer burdens, less debt and less negative impact on the environment. Can sharing and renting our stuff provide the key to a sustainable future? Sharing is caring, after all.
Keeping things in circulation
The second-hand market is booming like never before. In it’s 2021 Resell Report, Thred up predicts that the resell market will double in the next 5 years reaching USD 77 billion.
Websites and apps like eBay, Facebook and Vinted have made it easy to buy and sell used clothes, furniture and electronic goods. The stigma that once surrounded buying second-hand has been replaced with the recognition that these unwanted items still have value. The post-pandemic consumer has a disdain for waste, they care more about sustainability and quality. For the younger generations, thrifting is more than a way to shop, it is a lifestyle choice and when you’re attached to your phone anyway, it’s super easy!
Rental businesses like Boels have always employed these basic principles. They know that by maintaining control over your products, you can control their entire lifecycle, ensure regular income and hold on to your customers. People have been renting houses, cars and industrial equipment for decades. Companies know that owning a large inventory of occasionally used heavy machinery makes no logistical or financial sense. By renting them, they save on storage, staff and transportation. They always have the latest technology, the machines are well-maintained, and they have no responsibility for disposal at the end of life. This same strategy can and is being applied to many household sectors. In today’s market, you can now rent everything from bikes, furniture, jeans, even pot plants and this trend is set to continue.
Offices are one of the most obvious places to adopt a renting approach. You can change your corporate furniture seasonally without making huge investments. Your inventory is flexible, meaning if you don’t need that desk anymore, why continue paying for it? It also means that décor is kept fresh and well-maintained, creating an inspiring work environment. All this, plus the knowledge that when you’ve finished with the swivel chairs and the sofas, they will be refurbished and hired out to the next user.
Moveandrent.com allows individual users to rent an entire apartment's worth of Ikea furniture, perfect for the short-term contract international worker.
We are committed to reducing waste and limiting furniture consumption by giving it a second/third/fourth life.
– Sebastian Monnet, Move and Rent
No hassle, no packing, no trying to sell stuff when you move. No waste. The furniture is refurbished and reused or resold via the pre-loved section in Ikea stores when the contract is finished.
Technology is a race we will never win. Our thirst for the latest, shiniest piece of tech is creating 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year. E-waste contains many toxic chemicals which when disposed of incorrectly, can leach into the environment threatening biodiversity and human health. In the current linear models, companies want to make and sell as many products as possible. It’s not in their interest to produce things that last a long time, can be easily repaired or are designed to be recycled. If they decided to start renting their products instead of buying them, they would be incentivised to make more durable, easier to repair products. They would also recover the raw materials at the end-use, vertically integrating recycling into the production chain. Component manufacturers will be encouraged to vastly improve their designs, and energy efficiency will reach new levels.
CEO of Dutch circular plastics company Searious Business, Willemijn Peeters, believes rental models could even be applied to packaging to reduce single-use plastic waste. For example, they are designing a system where a cluster of takeaway restaurants could share the same reusable food containers. By ‘renting’ the standard-sized containers from a central hub, they can also share the costs of the reverse logistics and washing facilities. This reduces the unfavourable investment and staff costs usually associated with introducing a reusable packaging scheme. It also leads to increased utilisation and resource efficiency.
With our lives becoming increasingly digital, it makes sense that online sharing platforms like Peerby and Craigslist are gaining popularity. They are becoming a source of connection as well as being perfect for the future circular economy.
By sharing our stuff, we can cut costs, reduce waste and build a stronger community for the future.
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