Consumers play a decisive role in the shift towards a circular economy

When researching the influence of consumers on the transition to a circular economy, I came across a very compelling video on the World Economic Forum website: Mike Barry, Director for Sustainable Business for UK retailer Marks & Spencer, talks about the power of the consumer. He states that, among their customers, 10 per cent are passionately green, 35 per cent “like green,” but they want it to be easy, without sacrificing their lifestyle, and another 35 per cent are a bit more disheartened – “what difference can I make” – but if you provide leadership and inspire them with one little thing they can do this week, knowing that millions of others will do the same, then they are likely to change their behavior and consumption.

We all know that through their choices, millions of consumers can support or hamper the successful transition to a circular economy. The EU’s action plan on the circular economy recognises this by laying out five axes of action that help consumers make better choices. I will have the opportunity, at this year’s Swiss Energy and Climate Summit (SwissECS) in Berne on 19 September, to talk to two very different companies who work towards the ‘3 Rs’ of the first axis (encourage reduction, reuse and repair of products): Revendo and Ikea.

Revendo’s 60 employees repair and sell used Apple products through a webshop and seven branches in Switzerland. They offer a guarantee on their sale products and wipe all data through a certified process from the ones they buy. This enabled them to procure used phones from the Swiss police, who had originally planned to scrap them to ensure nobody accesses the data.

In 2017, Ikea operated 403 stores in 49 markets; its 194,000 employees design, make and sell furniture and homewares. Its recently established Second Life programme takes back used furniture and sells it in its stores. The seller receives the sales price in the form of an Ikea voucher.

There are several things that intrigue me about those two circular economy examples. Certain consumers want aspirational products and are willing to pay a premium for them. (And the fact that it is widely known that this product commands a premium price turns the product into even more of a statement, and thus more desirable.) It is interesting that some brands are so strong that consumers are willing to buy them second hand – so using the appeal of such particularly strong brands to extend the life of the product is a compelling way of furthering the circular economy. I hope to find out at SwissECS about scaling Revendo’s model: How many in the audience would consider buying a second-hand phone – let’s not forget the power of the haptic experience of opening a package containing the latest iPhone, carefully designed to justify the expense of the purchase (while still being significantly cheaper than a Tesla). And what is the potential of taking Revendo’s business model B2B – would companies consider buying used mobile phones and laptops for their employees? What incentives could the taxperson provide?

Now, Ikea does not exactly evoke the notion of “aspirational” in me. In fact, while I started buying from Ikea as a student, I had this idea for a long time that I would stop buying Ikea furniture once I got a proper job. (Having children changes many of one’s preconceptions.)

Among Ikea’s different circular economy initiatives, Second Life strikes me as particularly clever. In a world where consumers have infinite choice, and where you can buy almost everything at often wildly differing prices, building customer loyalty is key to a retailer’s success. With Second Life, Ikea has created an opportunity for customers to come back, and feel good about it., When you take into account that 545 million people visited an Ikea store in 2017 and then look at the numbers that Mike Berry mentions in his video (70 per cent of customers would make green choices if it were easy or they would see others doing so); then whatever one may think about Ikea’s drivers for setting up Second Life – the potential for impact is huge.

In my opinion, consumers will play a decisive role in changing existing processes towards a global, circular economy. Products with a strong brand could help to stimulate a change in consumer behavior and therefore catalyse that transition. And who knows what the future holds: Maybe consumers won’t see ‘cool’ products only as something trendy, but something that doesn’t contribute to global warming. Let’s check this in 2030.

Are you interested in this topic? Join our deep dive session on circular economy at the SwissECS 2018 conference on September 19 in Berne. Learn more.

Ulrike Linnig is Innovation Lead (Germany) at EIT Climate-KIC. Prior to that, she spent 13 years developing smart city, circular economy and smart energy strategies with technology leaders such as IBM, as well as transformation concepts for the public sector at Capgemini, a global IT consulting firm with more than 200,000 employees..

 
Location
Related Goal
Goal 9: Reboot regional economies
Articles you may be interested in
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC’s work in Slovenia

Last November, the Slovenian parliament passed a motion to...

EIT Climate-KIC’s work in Slovenia
In The News
Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC Circular, Regenerative Economies Deep Demonstr...

The Slovenian parliament passed a motion to adopt an...

Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC Circular, Regenerative Economies Deep Demonstration
In our community
Cities in a 1.5 degree world: What is there to learn from Leuven?
Cities in a 1.5 degree world: What is there to learn from Leuven?
In our community
Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC circular economy proposal: Q&A with Kirs...
Slovenia adopts EIT Climate-KIC circular economy proposal: Q&A with Kirsten Dunlop
Innovation Spotlight
Elemental Water Makers’ solar desalination an asset as climate change ...

EIT Climate-KIC supported Elemental Water Makers is a water desalination scale-up that’s transforming water systems by enabling...

Elemental Water Makers’ solar desalination an asset as climate change threatens clean water
Innovation Spotlight
Zolar’s household solar kit is democratising the energy sector

Energy production and consumption are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, accounting for 80 per cent...

Zolar’s household solar kit is democratising the energy sector
In our community
Interview with policy and governance innovation experts at Madrid and Basque...
Interview with policy and governance innovation experts at Madrid and Basque Country Universities
In The News
COP25: Measurement and attribution of climate contribution to financiers

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Measurement and attribution of climate contribution to financiers
In The News
COP25: Madrid city side event

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Madrid city side event
In our community
Interview about Futures Literacy with Riel Miller, Head of Foresight at UNES...
Interview about Futures Literacy with Riel Miller, Head of Foresight at UNESCO
In The News
COP25: Climate leader insights

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Climate leader insights
In The News
OpenSurface land-use tracking platform launches at COP25

Pioneering AI, satellite and ground-sourced data technology drives more...

OpenSurface land-use tracking platform launches at COP25
In The News
COP25: Towards the systemic transformation

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP25: Towards the systemic transformation
In The News
Helsinki launches Climate Watch to track city’s emission reductions

The City of Helsinki recently launched the ‘Climate Watch’,...

Helsinki launches Climate Watch to track city’s emission reductions
Opinion
Moments matter*
Michelle Zucker Director, Community Activation, EIT Climate-KIC
Moments matter*
In The News
Naked Energy secures €6.17 million in funding

Naked Energy, an EIT Climate-KIC supported solar energy startup...

Naked Energy secures €6.17 million in funding
In The News
First European cluster accelerator programme launched in Frankfurt

How to take clusters to the next level and...

First European cluster accelerator programme launched in Frankfurt
Innovation Spotlight
Ioncell’s fiber innovation could help drive the circular economy transitio...

The textile, garment and fashion industries generate tonnes of pollution each year and recycle very little, which...

Ioncell’s fiber innovation could help drive the circular economy transition
Opinion
The challenge of redesigning venture capital
Dominic Hofstetter Transformation Capital, EIT Climate-KIC
The challenge of redesigning venture capital
In Detail
Clean and Healthy Construction

Insights from the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen: Master Class and Market Dialogue for Clean and Healthy Construction. Why clean construction? Kevin Austin,...

Clean and Healthy Construction
Opinion
If we have figured out transformation, why is the world still in such a mess?
Susannah Fisher Research, EIT-Climate-KIC
If we have figured out transformation, why is the world still in such a mess?
Opinion
The tyranny of categorisation
Dominic Hofstetter Transformation Capital, EIT Climate-KIC
The tyranny of categorisation
Opinion
EIT Climate-KIC strengthens biodiversity through systems change
Felicity Spors Head of International Affairs, EIT Climate-KIC
EIT Climate-KIC strengthens biodiversity through systems change
Opinion
Why our cities must act as beacons for ambitious climate action
Tom Mitchell Chief Strategy Officer, EIT Climate-KIC
Why our cities must act as beacons for ambitious climate action
In The News
Biggest-ever global hackathon to tackle climate breakdown

Over 100 Climathon events around the world turn grassroots...

Biggest-ever global hackathon to tackle climate breakdown
In The News
Global call for transformative solutions to tackle the climate emergency

EIT Climate-KIC launches Climathon Global Awards and Healthy, Clean...

Global call for transformative solutions to tackle the climate emergency
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC supported crop insurance project acquired by world’s largest...

The insurance sector is well aware of the rising...

EIT Climate-KIC supported crop insurance project acquired by world’s largest re-insurer
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC innovators celebrated at 2019 EIT Awards

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has...

EIT Climate-KIC innovators celebrated at 2019 EIT Awards
Opinion
Part three: Climate action #NotinNewYork
Andy Kerr Director, UK & Ireland, EIT Climate-KIC
Part three: Climate action #NotinNewYork
In Detail
New EIT Climate-KIC supported report finds digital technologies can vastly a...

As part of the UN Climate Action Summit, the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Deloitte launched a report today, supported by EIT Climate-KIC,...

New EIT Climate-KIC supported report finds digital technologies can vastly accelerate the SDGs