Exploring consumer attitudes to alternative models of consumption: motivations and barriers
Source: Gullstrand Edbring, E., M. Lehner and O. Mont (2016). “Exploring consumer attitudes to alternative models of consumption: motivations and barriers”, Journal of Cleaner Production 123: 5‐15.

The throwaway mentality in today’s consumerist society is not sustainable, and more and more there is talk about the circular economy as a solution. In a circular economy, things are repaired, reused, upcycled and shared instead of just bought, used and thrown away. The idea is to simply close the cycles and assure that we use our resources in a smarter way.

So, are we consumers even interested in changing how we consume? In 2016, Gullstrand Edbring, Lehner and Mont at Lund University performed a study together with IKEA where they looked at the attitudes of young people toward alternative ways of consuming interior design. They investigated three different models: buying second hand, access-based consumption (usually renting) and collaborative consumption (usually sharing). The participants of the study were 20-35 years old and formed part of the IKEA Family panel.

It turned out that of these three models, shopping second hand was most popular and common. Economic reasons were the main motivation, but also a desire to be unique and to be environmentally friendly. However, there was a difference in attitude depending on the type of product. People were more positive to buying “hard” products like chairs and tables than buying “soft” products like beds and towels. The most common reason to not buy second hand was fear of bad hygiene and pests – which are indeed more common with “soft” furnishings.

Access-based consumption usually means renting, and the study showed that the attitudes in general are negative. It seems that there are some occasions where people can consider renting interior design, mostly for parties or when living for a shorter period in a city. Some also expressed interest in being able to change their decor more often, something which perhaps could be solved with a subscription service where part of the interior design is changed with the seasons. Flexibility and possible economic benefits were the main motivations for renting, and a desire to own was the main reason not to rent, together once again with hygiene risks.

A fascinating model is collaborative consumption. It can be exchanging or sharing things with each other, like neighbours buying a lawn mower that they share. The attitude toward this type of consumption has changed a lot in recent years, as we have seen a rise in companies offering sharing services. Hygiene and a desire to own come up as arguments against this model, but also a fear that the product you want is not going to be available when you need it. Collaborative consumption is practical for products that are seldom used and that is the main motivation for using it, but also that it is good for both one’s personal economy and the environment.

Given the above, are we willing to change how we consume? Well, when it comes to interior design, this study shows that it is mostly the type of product and what it is used for that determines how we want to consume it. The attitude in general is positive towards buying furniture second hand, renting for a shorter period of time and sharing products that are seldom used. To make the circular economy work, we consumers play an important role. All models do not fit everyone or everything, but there is certainly space for new and innovative business models that can help us use our resources more intelligently.