4 de novembro de 2009

A New Economic Paradigm for a Sustainable Society

Imagine a society without ownership. Imagine how efficient that society could be. Imagine a system in which reuse and recycling were the norm. These are the ideas behind product-service systems and the functional-service economy.

A product-service system is a simple concept. It basically refers to the rental system models we have today (car rentals, tool rentals, etc.); meaning that a customer pays for the use or function of an item, rather than buying the item, itself. However, taken a step further, as a man named Walter Stahel has done, it becomes a full-fledged economy based on service and function of products rather than ownership. He has dubbed it the “functional-service economy”.

What are the benefits of a functional-service economy?

The current system in the Western developed nations of the world can be described as a “throw-away system” wherein the great majority of the things we purchase everyday (including the packaging) is simply thrown away within a very short time span (6 months to a year). This, of course, points to a huge flaw in our production-consumption system; the fact that it’s a linear, through-put system. On one end, we are extracting natural resources, on the other we are simply dumping the resulting waste into landfills or burning it. (Not to mention all of the pollution and waste created throughout the production, processing, transportation and use phases of the products). Looking at the entire “life” of the products we use is called a life-cycle perspective and it is a very necessary way of looking at our system if we want to improve it and find pathways to sustainability. When Walter Stahel looked at the status quo with a life-cycle perspective, he saw just how linear it was and he also saw the places where there are opportunities to create loops. For instance, reusing packaging materials. After a customer used the product s/he’s rented, they bring the product back in the same packaging. No waste. The product is reused and maintained and loaned out to other customers. When a product no longer functions, the parts are reused in other products. The economy functions based on payment for services. It uses the 3 Rs in the right order.

There are obviously many barriers to implementing such an economic model. For instance, there are some strong emotional and psychological ties in modern cultures to ownership. It has become ingrained in our personal sense of identity in many cases. In fact, entire associations are formed around the common experience of owning a particular thing (eg- a certain make of car). There is also not any existing infrastructure to support the functional-service economy in most places. And there are numerous other challenges to realizing this idea. However, it is obvious that we are in great need of a paradigm shift and any such shift will doubtlessly entail great obstacles. It’s just a matter of setting course and finding ways of steering around them.

In a world with a growing population and dwindling resources, we cannot afford to waste, especially not at the current pace. We need innovative solutions and we need to put them into practice. My hat off to Walter Stahel, for developing such a brilliant idea! And now it’s up to us, as consumers, as citizens and as educated professionals, to make the changes happen in reality.

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Fonte: SustainabilityForum

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