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Product Service Systems

We at TreeHugger are a huge fans of the Product Service System, better known to some as PSS. Though the name is easy to trip over, the concept is brilliant: rather than buying everything you need outright, you can essentially “lease” or “rent” a product, deriving benefit from its service but not retaining ownership. That way, when you’re done with it, you can pass it along to someone else, or, in some cases, back to the place where you got it, so they can distribute it to someone else to use for a little while. Confused? Don’t be; there are examples everywhere.

Car-sharing services are one of our favorites. Companies like FlexCar [www.flexcar.com], City CarShare [www.citycarshare.com] and ZipCar [www.zipcar] all offer the ability to essentially borrow a car for a couple of hours, a day, a weekend, or whatever you need; after reserving it online, you just go get the car (they have reserved parking spaces throughout their various cities), enter the magic code or swipe your card, and you’re good to go. Don’t worry about insurance (the company has you covered) and with some, you don’t even have to fill it up with gas. When you’re done with a trip to the store or dropping someone off at the airport, drive it back to where you found it and leave it there for someone else. We especially like this because it encourages people to live more compact lives in urban areas, where car congestion is often ridiculous and out of control.

Another good example of a PSS in action are services like Netflix [www.netflix.com] or even rental stores like Blockbuster. Want to watch a movie? Go rent it, watch it, enjoy it with some popcorn, and then give it back, or, with Netflix, pop it back in the mail — there’s no reason to own hundreds of movies when you can watch just about whatever you want almost any time you want it. This model easily extends to libraries, which essentially offer the same service with books (and many are now offering DVDs and CDs as well). There are also more specific services that use the web to offer a similar deal; America’s Bookshelf [americasbookshelf.com] is one such place. Let’s be honest: do you really need all those books from college? Didn’t think so…

PSS is extending to some less-ordinary territory, too, with companies like SunEdison [www.sunedison.com], who really has a deal for you. They pay for, install, own and operate solar panels and systems, and even handle the insurance; all they want from you is some of the space on your roof, and your agreement to buy the electricity generated by the panels on your roof, at or below current grid pricing. If you don’t own the roof over you head, they’ll even go to bat for you with your landlord or property manager, making it truly possible for everyone with a little sun exposure to take advantage of the deal. Though originally designed for businesses and organizations, word on the street is that they’re happy to chat with residential customers about the deal as well. That’s what we call a bright idea.

So, as you can see, PSS is one of the best ways we know to have your green cake and eat it too, so you can expect to see more great implementations and ideas involving PSS here in the future.