Sustainable routes to satisfying the World’s growing demand for goods

A new research paper written by John Rogers and Samuel Cooper has been published in the proceedings of the Global Conference on Energy and Sustainable Development 2015. The conference was held in Coventry from the 24th to the 26th of February 2015, and the paper is titled ‘Product Renovation and shared ownership: Sustainable routes to satisfying the World’s growing demand for goods’. 

Abstract: It has been estimated that by 2030 the number of people who are wealthy enough to be considered as middle class consumers will have tripled. This will have a dramatic impact on the demands for primary materials and energy. Much work has been carried out on sustainable ways of meeting the World’s energy demands and some work has been carried out on the sustainable production and consumption of goods. It has been estimated that with improvements in design and manufacturing it is possible to reduce the primary material requirements by 30% to produce the current demand for goods. Whilst this is a crucial step on the production side, there will still be a doubling of primary material requirements by the end of the century because of an absolute rise in demand for goods and services. It is therefore clear that the consumption of products must also be explored. This is a key areas of research for the UK INDEMAND centre, which is investigating ways of reducing the UK’s industrial energy demand and demand for energy intensive materials. Our ongoing work shows that two strategies would result in considerable reductions in the demand for primary materials: product longevity and using goods more intensively ( which may requires increased durability). Product longevity and durability are not new ideas, but ones that can be applied across a raft of goods as methods of reducing the consumption of materials. With long life products there is a potential risk of outdated design and obsolescence, consequently there is a need to ensure upgradability and adaptability are incorporated at the design stage. If products last longer, then the production of new products can be diverted to emerging markets rather than the market for replacement goods. There are many goods which are only used occasionally, these goods do not normally wear out. The total demand for such could be drastically reduced if they were shared with other people. Sharing of goods has traditionally been conducted between friends or by hiring equipment. The use of modern communication systems and social media could enable the development of sharing co-ops and swap spaces that will increase the utilisation of goods and hence reduce the demand for new goods. This could also increase access to a range of goods for those on low incomes. From a series of workshops it has been found that the principal challenges are sociological rather than technological. This paper contains a discussion of these challenges and explores possible futures where these two strategies have been adopted. In addition, the barriers and opportunities that these strategies offer for consumers and businesses are identified, and areas where government policy could be instigated to bring about change are highlighted.