Back to: What we buy, and land use, food and farming agenda
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Tim Hughes: Okay. So our third speaker is going to be Dr. Nicole Koenig-Lewis from Cardiff Business School, and she's going to talk to us about ways to reduce -sorry, ways to reuse products.
Nicole Koenig-Lewis: Thank you very much. And thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts. So I would like to start with a question. Buying second-hand renting and sharing consumer goods, could this be the future of consumption? I'm going to give a number of examples. You've already heard a lot about how we live today. We are living in a consumer society which is based on the linear model, where - in order to consume - things are being made new. They are being bought (or sold), used and then disposed of to meet our needs. We do have quite a constant desire for new things. Retailers might tempt shoppers to replace goods. Marketeers convince us that things are obsolete and that we have to replace them. We also consume more than we actually need. And we also don't keep the products as long anymore as we used to.#
And to give you some examples. For example, the average person in the UK now buys 60% more clothing today than 18 years ago. On the other hand, in 2016 over a 1,000,000 tonnes of clothing was purchased in the UK, which is a huge amount. You can already see that this also links very much into our UK economy model because 60% of what we consume is part of the GDP. So, there is no easy way out. We cannot just say, “We don’t consume anymore.” So, what are the consequences of our consumption? I don't want to go too much into detail, because I want to focus more on the alternatives, but it's not surprising that the way - the more we consume, the quicker we will run out of natural resources (thinking about resources like fossil fuels or minerals). It also leads to increased pollution of our water and air and also too much waste. So again, thinking about the fashion industry, 300,000 tonnes of clothing are sent to landfill every year, which is a huge amount. On the other hand, if you think about all the stuff we already have in our homes, 80% of household items are actually used less than once a month. Just think about the things you have got in your kitchen cupboards like a waffle maker, for example. Or a carpet cleaner, which you don’t use very often. Or a rooftop box which you might use during the holiday season only.#
Another example, the power drill. Most of you probably have a power drill in the home. It's only used an average of 18 minutes in its lifetime. And as we already have heard before, the car is 80% of all times parked on our driveway and 96% or 95% of the time it is idle, so you use it only at 5%. And if we come back to clothing, even here 30% of the clothes in our wardrobes are actually used or unused for at least one year. So it's a lot of stuff we have got, which we don't actually use and - how can we actually change this? There are a number of alternative approaches to get away from those negative consequences. We do know from research that buying, selling and renting pre-owned goods is becoming more socially acceptable. Whilst in the past, if someone used second hand clothes, there was quite a negative stigma attached, but now it is becoming far more acceptable as an alternative to traditional ownership.#
Alternative approaches, of course, also include extending the life of our products, of our consumer products at home, and that is through repair. For example, there are a number of initiatives like the Repair Cafe, which takes place once a month in a number of locations around the UK. I think it's about 200 locations where volunteers come together, and you can bring your goods to get them repaired (for free). These repair cafes are very successful because research has shown that they can save 24 kilograms of CO2 emissions for each repair cafe. If you multiply this by 12, 12 times a year, 200 locations, that would be around 60,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions which could be prevented by using those repair cafes. You might say, "Well, what do people bring to repair cafes? They're bringing things like coffee machines, toasters, vacuum cleaners but also clothes like trousers or coats to replace a zip, for example. What we found is that a lot of people don't repair because it's far easier to go out and buy something new if something is broken in your home. People might not have the time to repair themselves or they might not have the skills. And those repair cafes could be a good alternative if they become more institutionalized and if it's far easier to find one and you know what you can get repaired in those places.#
The other two alternatives I want to talk about are second-hand buying and the sharing economy. We do know that ownership is not essential to our identities. Second-hand (buying and selling second-hand goods) is not new. We’ve always done this before. You might have swapped, you might have gifted, for example, via charity shops or car boot sales, for money or for free. However, with the increase of use of mobile technologies, we can now use platforms and apps. Mobile apps connect people far more easier and match what someone owns and what someone sells. For example, there are apps like Freecycle or Freegle where you can offer the things you don’t need anymore for free. Or for money, you can use Gumtree, or eBay or Facebook marketplace, to sell the stuff from your cupboards, which has not been used for a lot of the time, what might be out of fashion or you might have clothes which you are not using any more.#
Also, manufacturers and businesses - they’re also able to connect with potential users far more easily and one quite recent initiative is ‘Amazon Renewed’, which sells re-manufactured goods. Re-manufactured goods are goods where the parts are being replaced, so that it’s being put back to their original performance. So, it’s like new and you get it with a warranty or guarantee - very much like new goods. You might say, ‘Okay, what do people buy in the UK as second-hand?’ And as you can see it’s mostly clothing, but also books, movies. But on the other hand, 51% did not buy anything second-hand in the last 12 months. So, there is still a long way to go.#
The next example is the sharing economy, which you might have heard a lot about. I'm sure you've all heard about Airbnb and Uber. However, the sharing economy can also cover consumer goods. The sharing economy is expected to be worth about £9 billion in the UK by 2025. And we do know that 62% of the UK population has already participated in the sharing economy, and that includes buying or selling second-hand goods, via platform or via mobile app (using your mobile phone or using the Internet). However, 31% of non-users have never heard about the sharing economy. Sharing means we just access, and we do not own the product anymore ourselves. There are a number of sharing platforms out there for accommodation (Airbnb, I already mentioned), mobility (like car-sharing or car ride-sharing), but also for clothes (clothes-sharing), toys (like, for example, the Lego subscription box) or ‘Library of things’ and for services. And I'm going to give you a number of examples. Again, the sharing - the lending and renting - that is not new. You’ve always done this within the family, with friends, within the community or with colleagues. However, the platforms make it far easier to share with people who you didn’t know in the past. So, for example, with HURR you can make some money by renting out your own clothes.#
Also, business-to-consumer where the platform owns the products and they are then renting it out to a number of consumers, like for example, the ‘Library of things’ or ZipCar which is a car-sharing app. How does that work? You either pay a membership fee and ‘pay-per-use’. Or they’re based on a subscription model, particularly the ones on the top - the business-to-consumer and the business-to- business, where the manufacturers and the retailer or the platform owns the assets, which are being rented. There are some news out there, and these are quite promising in that even large retailers are thinking about moving to a different model. Like Lego, for example, or IKEA or H&M, trying out rental services in the future. So, could this be the future?#
Benefits - there are a number of benefits and I can’t go too much into the detail because I’ve only got one minute. Of course, everything which we share, everything which we reuse, we don’t need to make these things new using raw materials. It reduces waste by also extending the product lifespan, but it also empowers people to become micro-entrepreneurs. So you could make some money by renting out clothes from your wardrobe, for example. Also, people can access goods to which normally they would not have access to. So, you might think an electronic car is very expensive to buy but can I actually rent it for a fraction of the fee of buying it. Also, it can foster community connections and wellbeing and the social space to meet and learn new skills, particularly thinking about the ‘Library of things’ or ‘Library of tools’ where you can come in and you can talk to people. And there are also workshops available, and you can connect or reconnect with people in your communities. There are a number of barriers which I don’t want to go into, but we can talk about it later when I come around to the tables.#
And I just wanted to mention very quickly, there are also some unintended consequences, so not everything is positive. What if those sharing models actually lead to an increased consumption? So now we have a subscription to Lego. I’ve got a subscription to a clothes box. I’ve got my unlimited access to a wardrobe in the cloud where I can just rent all the stuff. I might actually change my products far more frequently than I did in the past. The other one, the money which I save by buying something second-hand, do I use this money to buy something else? Or do I use this money to then fly out to the US like Miami for a holiday?#
Also what happens if people don’t take care of those rented products? Are they becoming obsolete more quickly and have to be replaced more often? And thinking about the sharing economy, it could also lead to some insecure forms of employment (thinking about the Uber drivers, for example). So I just wanted to leave you with a quote by Aristotle: “On the whole, you find wealth much more in use than in ownership.” There are alternatives out there, but we need a shift in mindset that ownership is not necessary. Second-hand could be an opportunity. However, we do need to increase producer and retailer responsibilities to make it far more institutionalised. So, have a think about whether this could be the future of consumption and what changes would be needed. Thank you.
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