Today is Monday, 23 July 2018 and we live in the most advanced world ever seen, and at the same time, we will never know a world as old as this one.
A few millennia ago, humans emerged as the dominant species on the planet and this brought with it a responsibility to care for the environment. We did not take on this vision until a few years ago, when our influence was already more than noticeable. We are still in search of a better life for people, but now with the realisation that it is the planet as a whole that we have to preserve.
We have understood that, in order to achieve this improvement in people’s lives, we have to rely on the pursuit of economic growth as a way to progress. This has led to unsustainable levels of production and consumption. At the same time, we are facing a society with the greatest capacity for change ever known. It is what makes us believe that we can stop the tsunami that we ourselves have caused.
Can we really do it? And, above all, how?
It seems that a concern for sustainability has awakened in us as a travelling companion in this quest for growth, and it is in this context that the circular economy emerges as an alternative explanation to our production systems, which until now have not taken into account the limits of our planet.
The circular economy is a system of resource use in which the reduction of the use of materials is the best possible way to create a positive impact on our habitat. This increasingly widespread concept is closely related to recycling, although it is true that within the proposed model, recycling is the last possible alternative.
Once it is clear that the first mission is to reduce the material used, the question arises as to how we can involve all the social actors who have a responsibility to ensure the life of the planet.
How do we offer a paradigm shift?
I would like to focus on the new business models that are emerging as a result of servitisation, where we are moving from buying products to renting them, and this is happening mainly because of two factors:
- People want to pay for what they use, not more.
- Technology makes it possible to connect need with demand at the right time and in the right place.
As examples we could take the cars we all use. Our vehicle is usually stationary for 97% of the time, and if it could be put to another use during that time, the number of cars we would need on this planet would be drastically reduced. As a consequence, people would not buy cars and would only rent them when they need them.
Taking it to an extreme case, what would happen to the rest of the products such as the mobile phone, the laptop, the sofa, the toothbrush, the crockery… If we were to rent all these products, from the washing machine to the flip-flops for the beach, and companies were to replace them every time we needed a new one, how would this affect the sustainability of the planet? If Michelin rented its tyres, if Philips rented its light bulbs, and if Zara rented its clothes?
The ownership of objects
This would result in the ownership of objects being transferred from individuals to companies. If this paradigm shift were to occur on a large scale, planned obsolescence would disappear. As a result, companies would focus on extending the useful life of products, as their revenues would depend on this. This would reduce the number of products needed and put the responsibility for sustainable lives on people, but especially on companies.
If we want the wheel of the circular economy to start turning, we can give it a little boost if we start renting instead of buying. This new model of consumption is a substantial cultural change that brings with it benefits that we are not aware of the impact it can have.