The starting point, or not: product service systems

Product service systems access-based economy, where users get the functionality of a product rather than the product. Product service systems have been defined from different perspectives, including engineering, business and sustainability. Mont (2002) and Tukker (2004) provided the earliest definitions in the sustainable consumption field:

"a system of products, services, supporting networks and infrastructure that is designed to be: competitive, satisfy customer needs and have a lower environmental impact than traditional business models." (Mont, 2002, p. 239)

Product service systems can be categorised into three different types (Tukker, 2004):

  • Product oriented
  • Use oriented
  • Results oriented

From a resource efficiency perspective, the third category provides the best chances to reduce material use and environmental impact. This type of product service system has been successfully implemented in the Business-to-Business sector. However, it has had problems transitioning towards the Business-to-Consumer (Sakao et al., 2009; Tukker et al., 2015; Baines et al., 2016).

PSS examples

Most of the PSS created for the business-to-consumer markets that have been researched so far are in particular categories: mobility, clothing, real estate, household appliances (washing machines, solar panels)  and children-related products.

PSS in the mobility sector refers to car-sharing services where a company or public authority owns vehicles that are available to users on demand, usually paying a subscription fee to become members of a community.  Users that access vehicles are responsible for the running costs of the trip (fuel/electricity) and a distance-based fee for the use. However, schemes change and details are different, but they all share the core principles. This type of PSS has been extensively researched (Knot et al. 2006; Kimita et al. 2009; Catulli 2012; Schotman et al. 2014; Catulli et al. 2016; Schmidt et al., 2016).

PSS for clothing has been researched from a theoretical perspective given the unavailability of information on existing experiences. The offerings analysed include clothes libraries (Rexfelt et al., 2009) or repair services, Do It Yourself, consultancy services and fashion result (Armstrong et al., 2015). All of these examples are scenarios created by the researchers to explore different aspects related to acceptance by potential consumers.

An example from the building industry refers to the integration of household services to the value proposition shelter. The other case study presents a health care facility as a PSS. Some of the earliest examples of PSS were analysed by Mont (2004), washing machines and tool libraries.

Finally, the children's and maternity products segment has been researched in the product service system literature (Catulli, 2012, 2013). In this case, real experiences have been studied, providing real-world data.

Product service systems have been recently promoted as a solution to achieve resource efficiency and reduced environmental impacts. However, Tukker (2015) has stressed that this is only the case for the third type of PSS, the results-oriented and will only deliver such results as long as it is taken up by a significant portion of consumers, which is not the case yet.