Conversations on a circular economy

The province of Noord-Brabant aims to play a strong role in the transition from a linear to a circular economy. They want to stimulate local stakeholders to generate and implement ideas that help to keep resources circulating, and prevent them from ending up in a landfill.

A preview of a circular future
The province asked STBY to discuss ideas for a more circular future with visitors of the Dutch Design Week of 2015. We built a future scenario and invited people to literally step into it. For one day we opened a pop-up shop where visitors could lease, instead of buy things. When leasing, the vendor remains responsible for keeping the resources circulating after you have used it. We showcased a wide range of examples, from the already existing MUD jeans to a lease-chicken.

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What people said in a glance
The STBY team members acted as shop assistants, helping the clients to decide whether to lease something from the shop. These conversations in the shop were in fact simple interviews, and what people said was documented as a growing datavisualisation on the wall. This systematic way of documenting helped us to quickly analyse the outcomes of the conversations at the end of the day.

what people said

What if you don’t own anything anymore?
The products in the store triggered conversations between the STBY team members and visitors about a future in which you are only a temporary user of resources, instead of the owner of a product. In a world where you don’t own anything anymore you would be liberated from all your possessions, and you would pay service fees for everything you use. For some people a dream, for others a scary scenario. At the end of the day the findings were discussed with a group of invitees, including the deputy of the province.

It’s all about experiences
The Lease anything shop demonstrated that people have very specific motivations to lease a product, or not. Increased comfort, access to cool new products, and circulating resources are convincing arguments for circular economy enthusiasts. But to motivate more people to step away from old models, we have to understand the barriers they experience – and take these into account in the design of future products and services. Sometimes people are just too attached to their stuff, or they simply don’t like the idea of reusing products. One visitor indicated he did not like the idea of wearing someone else’s old jeans, because it would be touching his skin. But at the same time he would be happy to sleep between the sheets of a bed in a hotel. The biggest lesson of the day was that the quality of the service around the leased product makes the perceived experience completely different. In the development of a circular economy people tend to focus on innovation in products and business models, but there is very little attention on building services around these products. The hotel example points out that there is an exciting challenge for service designers ahead, and that service experts and companies have great opportunities to create a big part of the future circular economy.

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