Shortages of raw materials are forcing producers to develop new business models, in order that they can make a profit on articles that last longer or that can be re-used. Associate professor Conny Bakker predicts a future in which we lease, borrow, share, repair and reconstruct.

Bugaboo sells baby strollers that are sturdy, hip and expensive. Buyers can use them for a while, possibly re-selling them later. What happens to them then? Do they end up in an attic, or on the scrapheap? The company does not know. It is therefore conducting a test: parents can lease a stroller for their child, exchanging it a year later for a step-up model, which can be returned once the child no longer needs it. After completely refurbishing the returned strollers, Bugaboo can lease them again. In this way, the company is able to reuse its source materials, and consumers will pay less.

An associate professor in the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Dr Conny Bakker uses this and other examples to explain the functioning of a circular economy. Seeing is believing, Bakker explains, particularly for companies.
To demonstrate how they can turn a profit on products that last longer or that can be reused, she has set up a comparison of several business models. These models allow companies to turn a profit on high-quality products (which can be enhanced with extra features) or on parts and service. They could also lease their products. Alternatively, instead of products, they could sell functionalities. ‘Light instead of lamps’ is a commonly cited example.

Companies are not the only one who need to change their thinking, argues Bakker. Her students, the designers of the future, are also linear thinkers. ‘Designers devote considerable thought to how their products are used, but not to what will or should happen to these products afterwards. This is based on the “box-moving” model of making and selling inexpensive products.
But the life of a product continues beyond this. If companies do not capitalise on this themselves, the growing number of “gap exploiters” will do it for them. Leapp is one example of this. This online shop offers used and refurbished iPads, iPhones and other Apple articles. Bakker: ‘It’s not new, it’s not second-hand, but something in between’. It’s used, but with a new screen, a new battery, a clean memory, a relatively low price and a 12-month warranty. ‘Once consumers understand what it is, they will soon become accustomed to such services’.

This is good, as some raw materials will run out in the future, or they will be inaccessible due to geopolitical developments. ‘We will probably become a bit poorer’, predicts Bakker. She does not see this as a bad thing. The recession has led people to use things longer. ‘It’s not that I want a recession, but I don’t want explosive growth. Just give me a steady state economy. In such an economy, repairing and preserving products is commonplace, and companies and designers are able to cope with it. We can alter clothing, patch shoes and reupholster sofas. Companies can profit from this, as well as from rentals, leasing and, if all else fails, recycling’.

Photo: Sam Rentmeeste

Photo: Sam Rentmeeste

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