Beyond Peak Stuff

Beyond Peak Stuff

“In the Western World, we’ve probably hit Peak Stuff.”

Steve Howard, IKEA


“people sacrifice too much life to get more stuff.”

“happiness is more likely to come from the enjoyment of experiences rather than the accumulation of stuff.”

― James Wallman, Stuffocation: Living More With Less


Calling our age “peak stuff”, Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA argues that we’ve already manufactured everything we, who live in resource-rich societies, could possibly need. It just might not meet our creative need or desire for self-expression in its current configuration.

This is a fascinating viewpoint.  Played against the views of James Wallman it starts to make sense.  Add in the generational dynamics of X, Y and Z and a pattern emerges.

We want more than just stuff.  We want an experience.  And if we want an experience, what does it mean to us if we’re involved in building, servicing, supplying or delivering it.   Each aspect of the chain has an impact on the experience.

For physical products, what is the experience of ownership?  What impact does the product have on our conscience?  At the moment we are focused firmly on plastics – thanks in no small part to the rallying cry of David Attenborough and his Blue Planet series.  If consumers are increasingly focused on experience it brings production, delivery, consumption and disposal into sharp relief.

We don’t own an experience.  We ‘experience’ it.  If the experience becomes more important than the physical product or service then how does this affect the transaction?   We’ve already seen a decrease in physical ownership in some areas – for example music streaming, e-books, on-demand videos, car sharing, clound computing.   Could this change the way we do things in other areas?  Most cars are parked 95% of the time – can technology transform our relationship with our cars to create a more efficient model of ownership and a better experience?

If the transaction and relationship with the buyer changes it makes a massive difference to the end-to-end business model.

Suppliers will have to offer a differentiated experience – shift their mentality from selling more units to offering more value, more ideas for the customer or – in a b2b setting – helping the client innovate better experiences for their customers in order to improve the experience with their product.

It could force a shift to making sustainable innovation core to the business – appealing to the conscience of the consumer (and providing a better experience to match).  This can already be seen to an extent with initiatives like H&Ms “Bring Back Your Old T-Shirts” – where unwanted used textiles are returned to stores in return for vouchers.  The disposed of items are turned into insulation material, carpet underlay, stuffed toys or shoe insoles (among many things).  The consumer is handily in-store with a voucher ready to spend.

‘Circular Procurement’ – the consideration of a product from design stage through to disposal – has been discussed as an emerging trend for some time.  Sustainability’s heightened priority in business operations as a result of this shift in values would require procurement processes to employ new methodologies to evaluate the vendors, the materials and the production of the products and services they consume in delivering their product.

We can already see new businesses emerging who specialise in remarketing or up-cycling.  It doesn’t just have to be retail or selling to consumers. Long-time clients of JMCL, Uni-Green-Scheme, are an exciting and successful example of this model – winning awards for remarketing unwanted university laboratory kit.

This new context of ‘Beyond Stuff’ forces us to rethink what we source, how we source and the impact on what we deliver – and ultimately what is delivered to the consumer.

That’s a great deal more complex than minimising the input costs.