Last week, Dutch Member of the European Parliament Judith Merkies presented a booklet to European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik promoting the concept of a ‘lease society’. According to Merkies this social, sustainable and functional free-market model frees people from the shackles of ownership.
So what is wrong with ownership? Nothing in itself, but the Dutch MEP says that we tend to forget what happens after we consumers buy and use products. We do not take ownership for the process of waste disposal or recycling that occurs after we use things that are no longer needed or have malfunctioned. Nobody accounts for these external costs. We live in a throw-away society with excessive production of short-lived or disposable items. If we continue down this road, there will be, literally nothing, at the end of it.
According to Merkies the impending resource shortages will lead to a society where manufactures retain ownership of their products, whereas consumers will only temporarily have them in possession. After use, the materials will return to their origin, whereupon they can be re-used. The manufacturer will have responsibility over the products’ full life-cycle. Replacing, repairing and removing goods will be on his account.
Merkies, whose book is called: “The Lease Society: The End of Ownership”, thinks a ‘ lease society’ can be a profitable business model as well as a sustainable alternative. The model prompts manufacturers to design sustainable products, not because they are obliged to through regulations, but because it will be economically beneficial. They will not sell a vacuüm cleaner, but they will sell the use of a vacuüm cleaner, thus the emphasis will be on the performance of the product. The longer the vacuüm cleaner lasts, the better for them. It will be in their interest that products are wholesome and durable. Companies will benefit from investing in ways to extend their products’ lifespans and ensuring that they are sustainable, because they are the ones that have to ‘break it down’ in the end. The model’s benefits can also be found on a more broader economic scale, predicts Merkies. Recycling and the repair of goods will create more job opportunities and allow room for innovation, as well as offering more service to customers. Leasing materials can give consumers that live on a budget access to more expensive products that have a longer life-span, provided that the lease-price is kept reasonable, Merkies adds.
Some companies already work with leasing models. The tyre manufacturer Michelin now offers durable and rentable tyres and Dutch telephone company KPN leases phones to take back and recycle valuable materials.
Though there might be a few downsides to the practicality of the model, Merkies names a few in an interview with Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. When a consumer leases a car, he might want to swap it for another one after a year or so, whereas this kind of leasing has the intention of making products last for a longer time. So the term “leasing” is actually not the best choice in this context, says Merkies. Leasing should also not be confused with paying installments, which ends in ownership. There is a danger that people might mix the two up. Another issue Merkies has not found a solution for yet is that consumers might end up with piles of lease contracts for all the stuff they’re using, along with other loose ends still to consider.
Overall, this seems like something definately worth exploring further in our search to overcome resource scarcity. And on a personal note, I would love it if the, well maintained, laptop I use wouldn’t inexplicably start to seriously mallfunction after only two years.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of the booklet send an email with your name and address to
Via: Volkskrant, the Guardian