Product-Service System

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= sharing through businesses, OR, renting from neighbors: Pay for the benefit of using a product without needing to own the product outright. Disrupting traditional industries based on models of individual private ownership.

See also: Peer-to-Peer Product-Service Systems


"Service designers create product service systems, which are a way to facilitate access to everyday conveniences through organized sharing, while maintaining (or even elevating) our quality of life. The classic example of this, which we reference frequently, is car-sharing. The concept has been around for decades, but recently, it was hugely inconvenient and inefficient. Technology has revolutionized the car-sharing experience by allowing a person to instantaneously locate a car, unlock it and drive away with nothing but a cell phone and a swipe card. We get the personal mobility without the annoyances of car ownership, and by participating in a car-sharing service, we help to remove up to twenty passenger cars from the road. In effect, you dematerialize the car, getting the ride without the hunk of metal and gallons of oil. This is important because while it might seem surprising, almost half of energy a car uses in its lifetime goes to manufacturing and disposal, meaning that no matter how hard we try to drive less, if we own a car, much of the energy is sucks up has already been spent.

Product service systems are now being designed to address many other needs. In urban areas, they make dense living in compact spaces more pleasant by requiring less stuff to live a comfortable life. In addition, sharing systems encourage people to get acquainted with their neighbors and larger community, which increases safety and livability. Some service designers envision a world where people will lust after services the way they currently lust after consumer goods -- what London design crew Live/Work calls "service envy." It such a shift in attitudes can really happen, we'll be that much closer to transforming our material world." (


Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow:

" Though we tend to use the word "consumption" to refer to all purchases, Braungart and McDonough drew a distinction between "consumables" and "products of service." Items in the former category – tomatoes, Chapstick – are used up by their owners; they are indeed consumed. The second category, though, consists of products that endure – cars, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners – and we buy them for the results they provide (transportation, preserved food, floors free of dust bunnies).

These products of service, they argued, should be leased by the manufacturers, who would ultimately recover them and then either reuse or recycle them. This model would give companies more incentive to make high-quality goods and to minimize undesirable elements such as chemicals. Other ecological thinkers, such as Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins, latched onto this notion and developed it.

Around the same time, a business case for services was also emerging. In the early 1990s, management literature began to urge companies to incorporate services into their business plans. In part, since goods have become so easy to produce, services constitute a means of distinguishing a firm from its competitors. What's more, services offer a more stable cash flow, because they are less susceptible to swings in the economy, and they often have higher profit margins. They also allow companies to cultivate stronger ties with customers.

"The whole idea is that providing a service, I will develop a relationship with you," says Rogelio Oliva, a business professor at Texas A&M University. "If I have an ongoing relationship with you, I have a better understanding of your needs."

In the past few years, several factors have converged to advance the idea of product service systems. Concern about the planet has risen, as the business world has continued to gravitate toward services. More recently, in the economic downturn, renting and borrowing have gained new currency.

The U.N. Environment Program has begun to promote product service systems. It advocates government support, for example by using tax policy to favor services. Green blogs such as Treehugger and Worldchanging have enthusiastically embraced the concept, championing various examples of it. And some academics and designers are starting to think about ramifications for product design. A Swedish university, the Blekinge Institute of Technology, will launch a master's program in Sustainable Product-Service System Innovation this fall.

So far, businesses have been especially receptive to leasing from other businesses, in so-called B-to-B transactions. GE leases medical equipment, Xerox leases machines and Rolls Royce leases turbines, all to other companies. Businesses may be less attached to ownership than individuals are; indeed, lower capital investments are preferable, because they lead to higher return on assets, a metric of profitability.

Another variation of this idea does not renounce selling products, but redefines business goals so that selling more is not necessarily better. In a 2007 article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, "Sustainability through Servicizing," Sandra Rothenberg, a business professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, described several companies that helped their customers reduce consumption. For example, Gage, a chemical supplier, was working with Chrysler Corp. Gage assumed a role in making sure its materials were used correctly and efficiently, leading to a lower quantity of cleaning solvents sold. There are various ways to work out such arrangements. The two parties might decide on a flat fee for a given service, which gives the supplier incentive to maximize efficiency. Or they can resolve to cut consumption as much as possible and split the savings between them.

"In my research on sustainability, I realized that there's no way we can get there without dealing with consumption," says Rothenberg. "Most theories don't really adequately address this issue of consumption. They make technologies greener, but they don't say, OK, let's help you not buy this in the future." (


Dawn Danby:

"The product-service-system (or PSS) is a new term for an old idea: emphasizing access over ownership, it's simply about sharing products among people, and recognizing that bright green systems are just as important as products. Since we already take part in them - video rentals, laundromats, libraries, gyms, and taxis being obvious examples - we only really talk about PSS with regard to things that many of us don't usually share, like cars, appliances, tools, or clothing. Breaking past some of the cultural barriers that equate affluence with ownership may still be the greatest challenge, but what if alternative is cheaper, more sustainable, doesn't clutter your home, and connects you with your neighbours?

Ezio Manzini and Francois Jegou's online exhibition, Sustainable Everyday: Scenarios of Urban Life, is a picture of an urban community knitted together by their network of services. Making daily living more sustainable at the systems level, the scenarios focus on enabling the DIY spirit, and extending the home by externalizing some of its functions. The community shares access to little-used workspaces like professional-grade kitchens and workshops, leases connections to distributed green energy, and uses a mobility network that includes car-sharing, buses on demand, assisted hitching, and bicycle networks. Questioning why every house needed a separate lawnmower, Victor Papanek argued for tool-sharing thirty years ago; by observing that most power drills get used for no more than 20 minutes in their lifetime, Manzini and Jegou fit this scenario into a modern context.

"The exhibition deals with the future of “dwelling”... It does not focus on new ways in which technology could redefine traditional functions, but rather centres on the new “living strategies” that are emerging, becoming possible and, for some at least, desirable today. These are living strategies which result from social and system, rather than technological, innovation. It is these forms of social innovation that are at the centre of attention paid to new visions which are emerging and to the possible futures which could derive from them."

While some proposals, such as clothes-sharing, are unusual, it's worth recalling that designer handbags are being shared over the internet as readily as DVDs, and design students at TUDelft have been playing with these ideas for a decade. Sustainable Homeservices, an EU-based project, catalogues a whole range of mobility, security, and repair services available in European cities. As Jegou says in an interview in Dwell last year, "These solutions already exist in various forms - "Sustainable Everyday" merely brought them together. There's nothing sci-fi about it. For example, from Beijing we took the idea of the Lift Club, a sort of safe hitchhiking service organized by way of mobile text messaging. In Milan, we found a scheme among mothers so that kids can walk, rather than ride in cars, to school... All these things are banal locally, but when we introduce them elsewhere, they are innovations."

Much of Manzini's recent writing has outlined his hopeful observation that these kinds of systems are emerging organically within communities. Rather than predicting whether they will succeed, he's encouraging designers to shepherd them forward, improving their visibility and effectiveness.

What's new about product-service systems is that they're being seriously considered as an emerging business model, most famously by companies like Xerox and Interface. When a European policy organization like SusProNet works on PSS, it's to ensure that they're economically, as well as ecologically, viable. They're also describing a top-down approach that's much more arm's length than communal, but equally geared toward businesses taking responsibility for the impacts of their products.

UNEP's publication, Product-Service Systems and Sustainability (by Manzini and others, PDF download) breaks these ideas down exceptionally well: successful examples range from a Sicilian solar heating service, to Toronto, Canada's excellent AutoShare program, and GreenStar's solar-powered community centres. It also looks at PSS from a number of vantage points, including its potential pitfalls and - most excitingly - its leapfrogging potential in the developing world." (

Nicholas Buttin:

"A PSS can be defined as consisting of “tangible products and intangible services designed and combined so that they jointly are capable of fulfilling specific customer’s needs” (Tischner et al., 2002). PSS is a new term for an old idea: “emphasizing access over ownership” (Rifkin, 2000). It is simply about sharing products among people – usually at local level – and recognizing that “green systems are just as important as green products” (Manzini, 1993). We already take part in these systems when we use rental DVDs, Laundromats, libraries, gyms and taxis; now people are starting to talk about PSS with regard to things that many of us don’t usually share, such as cars, tools appliances, and workspaces. Many see PSSs as an excellent vehicle to “enhance competitiveness and foster sustainability simultaneously” (Tukker, 2004).

Various classifications of PSS have been proposed: “product-oriented services, use- oriented services, result-oriented” (Behrend et al., 2003; Brezet et al., 2001; Zaring et al., 2001). Product-oriented services are still oriented towards sales of products “with some extra services added” such as product take back, repair or maintenance (Tukker, 2004). Use-oriented services are geared towards use of products in different form, “while ownership usually stays with the provider” like car-sharing system or laundry (Tukker, 2004). In result-oriented services there is “no pre-determined product involved; client and provider agree on a result”, which could be a service or even an experience (Tukker, 2004). Consequently, a great variety of result-oriented services emerged at the community/local level. They are usually isolated, unique and spontaneous systems.

Therefore, use- and result-oriented systems seem more relevant to our proposed design concept. Product manufacturing and sells are inexistent; it is people who share what they already have. Although ownership doesn’t belong to the provider but remains with users, it is indeed a use-oriented system. “Through PSS, people can rent, lease, share and pool products to use instead of buying them. In these services users would be still able to own a product, nevertheless the ownership is rather temporary” (Wimmer and Kang, 2006). Barriers to PSS development are consistent. The “social behaviour of users/customers is potentially the largest barrier for PSS-realisation, as it is often difficult to make the user comprise the freedom gained from total ownership of the product, as opposed to partial ownership of the artefact” (McAloon & Andreasen, 2004; Manzini, 1993).

As researchers in PSS pointed out, from the consumers point of view most of the problems regarding our consumption and production patterns belong to one of three categories, or a combination of them “excessive consuming, product-owning and throw-away culture” (Wimmer and Kang, 2006). In this respect, PSSs are “highlighted because of their holistic lifespan thinking and flexible way of addressing the underlying demand” (Wimmer and Kang, 2006). Further, an integration of services and products is emphasized as a ‘social design activity’. Therefore, one of the “challenge is to facilitate a communication process which links needs and requirements effectively” (Ericsson, Müller, Larsson & Stark, 2009)." (


Compiled by Rachel Botsman at [1]:

  1. Car sharing: Zipcar, Streetcar, GoGet
  2. Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing: Whipcar, RelayRides, Spride, Drivemycar Rentals, Getaround
  3. Bike sharing: Velib, Bixi, Barclays Cycle Hire, Smartbike
  4. Ride sharing: Zimride, Nuride, Liftshare, GoLoco
  5. Solar Power: Solar City, Solar Century, PretaSol, One Block Off The Grid
  6. Toy Rental: Dim Dom, BabyPlays, Rent-a-toy
  7. Fashion: Bag Borrow & Steal, Fashionhire, FromBagsToRiches
  8. Movies: Netflix, Lend A Round, Renttherunway
  9. Peer Rental: Zilok, Rentoid, Ecomodo, HireThings, Thingloop, Rentalic, Rentcycle
  10. Neighborhood Rental: Sharesomesugar, Neighborrow, Neighborgoods
  11. Textbook Rental: Chegg, Zookal

More Information


  1. Use Communities
  2. Peer-to-Peer Product-Service Systems
  3. Neighborhood Renting and Loan Systems‎

In French: