EcoTip: Product Service Systems (PPS)

"Buy more stuff" exhorts the TV, radio, press and billboard advertising. It's a powerful force. Yet it can be countered with an alternative approach, that actually has definite self interest and gain. Want to save a truckload of money (and the environment) yet still have a lifestyle to which you have becomed accustomed? Just get your head around Product Service Systems (PSS). These take many forms and have a plethora of formal definitions. But in essence they are a means, by which we get what we want, without needing to own the product that provides that service. This is not as new or as strange as it might sound:
• A library is a classic PSS. You have access to endless books, journals, magazines, even music CDs, without laying claim to any of them. In fact, when you no longer need them, they are available to others.
• A taxi, rickshaw, bus, train, ferry and tram are all forms of transport that allow you to travel, without resorting to the ownership of a car, motorbike or even bicycle. Even the very wealthy, who might have a fleet of cars, use public transport when they travel internationally. They catch a plane with the rest of us - basically a bus in the sky. You need not possess that plane, you only want the ability of move from A to B.• Cinema, Theatre, Ballet, the Circus, etc, provide you (and many others, simultaneously) with thrills, pathos, spectacle and delight, yet you only own the experience not the infrastructure. Compare this to a medieval King, commissioning dancers and jesters, to perform for his enjoyment alone. Imagine the scale of resources required for each of us to be entertained like a King!

• A laundromat, as we have noted elsewhere, has washing machines and dryers more efficient than the ones in most homes. You could use a Laundromat for about 5 years before it would cost you as much owning your own washing machine. And laundrettes can be very sexy * (See below).

• Parks, Botanic Gardens, Zoos, Harbours, Beaches, Lakes and other public commons are resources you share with 'the multitudes' though they still bring you well-being.

• Hire or rental companies offer you everything under the sun. You only need pay for the time you use it. When you don't need it, someone else covers the cost of that item, because they're now using it. Why pay for a lawn mower that spends 167 hours per week in the garage, and 1 hour being used. Wouldn't you rather pay for just the hour of use?

• Or better yet pay nothing! You have the lawn mower, Bob next door has a circular saw and Nancy across the road has a sewing machine and Jim three doors down has the trailer. And you each share for the small time you really need the use, rather than work all hours the clock sends so you can afford stuff that sits idle most of its life, gathering dust.

• Xexox doesn't sell photocopiers, they lease them. They provide you with the service of photocopying. If something goes wrong with the copier (or more like when! Even with a Xerox) they still own it so they fix it for you. Just as the landlord has to fix the plumbing on a rental property.

TreeHugger will continue to bring you many more direct examples of Product Service Systems. But have a look at those PSS we have profiled to date.

Many people would like to move to the world espoused by messrs McDonough and Braungart and articulated in their book C2C, whereby all the products on the planet are of materials that can either be recycled into new products or composted into a medium for growing more. But this is not going to be achieved by the end of the month, or even by the end of the year. So we need a bridge to cross the chasm between the current and future. Lots of bright minds are seeing Product Service Systems as an important support for that bridge. PSS are not the bridge itself but they will sure help us get to the other side.

The definitive site for all your PSS research is: Suspronet

You can also try the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) who have a informative PDF on the topic.

If based in North America, then GreenBiz have an excerpt from the learned Journal of Industrial Ecology.

The big trick with PSS is using innovative thinking to obtain the classic Win-Win-Win:
Win - you get the end result you need
Win - the provider of the service makes money
Win - the environment is not under any extra pressure.

A different form of 'Fair Trade'. Keep dropping by, for more PSS post. [by WM]

* NB: Image at top is of the British Laundrette used to film the 1985 Levis commercial. Sales of 501s jeans rose, or more like skyrocketed, by 800% after the ad. So sexy was that laundrette, that the ad had to be 'pulled' because Levis could not meet the new demand!

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