Collective consumption a growing movement

09 September 2011

Professor Oksana Mont

Many storerooms in flats and houses are full of prams, electric drills, pressure washers and ball gowns that have only been used a few times or for a limited period of time. Why should every household own all of these items, when they are used so little?

This is the question behind the movement known as ‘collective consumption’, on which IIIEE professor Oksana Mont conducts research. She is participating in the EU project Spread, where companies, politicians, researchers and voluntary organisations will draw up proposals for ways to achieve more sustainable consumption. The subject appears to be highly topical: at the project’s opening conference in the spring, 200 people were expected, but twice that number attended.

Oksana Mont is a strong advocate of collective consumption.

“Instead of everyone buying a cheap, poor quality drill, wouldn’t it be better to hire one that’s really good, or pay someone to do the job? Pressure washers and ball gowns can also be hired, and a pram could be leased and returned once the child has grown out of it!” she says.

She pictures a new niche market for pram shops, which could take back used prams, repair any imperfections and replace the covers so that the pram feels new and clean for the next customer.

In Oksana Mont’s view, everyone has something to gain from a market where fewer, better products are used for a longer time and by more people. The environment is naturally the primary winner, but the consumers also gain from not having to research the market before each purchase, and the companies are just as happy to sell fewer, more expensive products as low-price goods with minimal profit margins. At the same time, a lot of new jobs would be created at companies which sell services, for example lawn mowing, servicing leased household machines, hiring out tools, cars and other items.

A lot of this type of business already exists, and more is being established. Car pools are gaining more and more members and clothing exchanges have become popular. Social media open up new possibilities for selling or swapping second-hand goods. The American site Swaptree, for example, where people exchange books, CDs and DVDs with one another, has almost 60 000 titles on its lists.
Sweden has particularly good prerequisites for collective consumption, claims Oksana Mont.

“Cooperation has deep roots here, and we have the concept of ‘lagom’, just right, which has kept a check on extravagant consumption of luxury goods. Sweden also has communal laundry rooms – my favourite example of how a group of people can own something together in a way that usually works well!” she says.

More information about Spread – Social Platform on Sustainable Lifestyles in Europe 2050.

- Ingela Björck