Scott Boylston explains how service-dominant logic is changing the way we think about value and ownership. He describes service design and the sharing economy.
- In the 1960s TV sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, the lead character has it made in the shade. When she needs a tool to get something done, whether it be a blender, an iron, a vacuum cleaner or even a bulldozer, she can blink that object right into her living room, then blink it away as soon as she finishes. No object she ever requires for a task clutters her closet or carries the cost of an upgrade or repair. While we may not possess that kind of magic touch, we do have a similar opportunity to dematerialize our lives and change our relationship with the objects we use through something called service-dominant logic.
At its heart, service-dominant logic is a reflection of our understanding that most people don't necessarily need the object in question. We simply need the service that the object provides. Whether we subscribe to Zipcar in order to gain access to a car only when and where we need one, or we share the cost of a new lawnmower with a handful of neighbors in order to reduce individual storage space and cost, service-dominant logic is transforming both the way we view ownership and the level of impact that manufacturing has on the environment.
If we have more people driving the same car, there's a reduced need to manufacture more cars. If we have more people sharing lawnmowers, there's a reduced need to manufacture more lawnmowers. And while this may seem to reduce the number of manufacturing jobs in an economy, it increases the number of service and repair jobs. In the early 1990s, sustainable design guru Ezio Manzini proposed a new radicalism in design to change the very nature of consumption that included three interrelated scenarios, product longevity, or the rejection of obsolescence in all its forms, owning less, often referred to as minimalism or zero-waste living, and a shift from owning products to accessing services, or what we now call service-dominant logic.
Don't let the term service-dominant logic scare you. The phrase is intended to suggest that our present, product-dominant logic, or the prevailing assumption that owning more is always better, is not the only way to live in this world. Instead, we can change our focus from ownership to access. Service-dominant logic has manifested itself in two different trends, service design and the sharing economy. Service design can be described as a profession that helps companies provide better experiences for their customers through a holistic rethinking of the moment-to-moment interactions they have with them.
The previously mentioned Zipcar is a great example of service design, where a product like a car is turned into a service of mobility. The sharing economy includes more intimate, person-to-person interactions, like Airbnb, tool-share programs, crowdfunding and open-source communities. In most sharing economy initiatives, peer-to-peer interactions that generate value for everyone involved take center stage.
In both forms of service-dominant logic, service design and the sharing economy, two key principles encourage more sustainable forms of living. First, both reframe value as something that doesn't need to be constantly fed by industrial manufacturing, and this creates a potential to dematerialize our economy and reduce the negative environmental impacts of extraction and manufacturing. Secondly, they reframe our definition of relationships.
A primary shortcoming of product-dominant logic is that once companies sell a product, they abdicate all responsibility for it. If it breaks, it if fades, or if it becomes uncool, that's a problem the consumer has to deal with. Services like bike share programs, on the other hand, focus on ongoing relationships that are built upon an appreciation for the user's needs over time. Most objects designed for service design ventures remain in the possession of the service design provider, so the company is incentivized to make the products more durable.
They take them back from the user once they become outdated. For example, if you've ever used a bike share program, you've likely noticed that those bikes are made to last. Service design also applies human-centered design methods aimed at understanding what the user's needs are on an intimate basis. This empathy-building process includes prototyping sessions with users to co-create solutions. The sharing economy goes even further by creating more intimate person-to-person relationships as a foundation for economic exchange.
These personal interactions open the door for people on both sides of the exchange to get exactly what they want, when they want it. In closing, it's important to understand that both of these principles exist only in their potential to enhance sustainability. Neither form of service-dominant logic, service design or the sharing economy, is sustainable in its own right. They simply create an opportunity to help people behave more sustainably.
- What is sustainability?
- Sustainable development goals
- Nature as a mentor
- Changing behavior through design
- Innovating technically
- Earning sustainability certifications
- Social innovation and change