The second-hand market: A new way for companies to strive for sustainability

80% of theenvironmental impactof a product isdetermined at thedesign stage

The second-hand market: A new way for companies to strive for sustainability

Companies and consumers are increasingly tackling sustainability issues in order to limit – in their own way – their waste production. While the second-hand and refurbishing concepts have gone mainstream, some consumers still prefer to buy new products, as they often appear to be the “safe choice”. This is where companies and brands come into play: by establishing themselves as experts, they can demonstrate that there are alternatives to buying new products – solutions that address both ecological and economic issues. We sat down with Henri-Jacques Bertrand, CEO of French e-bike specialist Ovélo, and Benoît Delporte, co-founder of French refurbished and sustainable household appliance player Belong , to gather their thoughts on what it means to be a sustainable company – one that invariably moves forward.

The advantages of the second-hand market

For a few years now, a new consumption pattern built on the principles of a circular economy has been growing among consumers. While this model was at first linked to grassroots initiatives, brands and companies were eager to take up the mantle. The second-hand market  has been steadily growing, especially since the beginning of the pandemic: Henri-Jacques Bertrand explains that COVID-19 has tipped the scale by extending the time frame needed to obtain new products, but also by increasing prices. This is why buying a second-hand item has become faster and also cheaper – a promise Ovélo intends to keep in order to make its electric bikes accessible to all its customers. Offering alternatives to new items is also extremely important from an ecological point of view: “75% of the environmental impact of a product happens during the manufacturing phases, from the extraction of raw materials to transportation,” says Benoît Delporte. The co-founder of Belong is convinced that “trying to make products last as long as possible or, if one is choosing to go second-hand, thinking about refurbished alternatives, is beneficial to everyone.”

To rent, repair, or both ?

For consumers who don’t want to buy any products, whether brand-new or used, a new trend is emerging: equipment rentals. This is a key element of tomorrow’s (circular) economy, as it implies the very remodeling of what is considered consumption. The notion of waste disappears as the goal becomes to repair a device before putting it back to sale. Ovélo already sells reconditioned bikes and offers to collect bike parts in stores, but aims to go even further. The brand will soon set up a long-term rental solution: instead of buying a bike, it will soon be possible to rent it and recondition it every three years, by changing the battery, for example. As the latter represents the main obstacle to buying a second-hand bike in consumers’ mind, Ovélo will take care of the replacement, as well as all necessary repairs. For Bertrand, this alternative “will make the second-hand market sustainable and reassure buyers. This rental system allows Ovélo not only to build customer loyalty, but also to recycle its bikes, repair them and extend their lifespan.”

New strategies to achieve sustainability

Since 2021, many governments have implemented some sort of a repairability index rating the repairability of a new product – if at all. Since then, many companies have specialized in repair services: for example, Belong has set up its own take on the idea with its own “durability index”. Benoît Delporte confides that at Belong, “the ambition is to make all products last, whether they were bought from us or elsewhere. Sustainability is in our DNA, our brand is built on this very principle.” This is why the brand is committed to offer a five-year warranty to discourage customers from throwing away their appliances too quickly.

This goes hand-in-hand with its repair services, whether in-store to understand which part needs to be replaced, by videoconference with experts to determine the price of repairs, or via home visits.

According to a study by the ADEME (the French Agency for ecological transition), buying a refurbished smartphone rather than a new one reduces its carbon footprint by 91%. With such figures in mind, Belong is pushing its sustainability principles even further: the brand intends to open its own refurbishment center as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Ovélo also trades in products and sells spare parts to repair a broken bike as quickly as possible. Tomorrow’s keyword: repair rather than replace.

Being a sustainable company is an achievable goal, and Henri-Jacques Bertrand sees nothing but advantages to it. He makes one promise to brands that might doubt that committing to the environment is highly beneficial to them: “adopting a sustainable ethos will reach an ecologically aware clientele and open up new perspectives.”

Rental, reconditioning, repair, and recycling initiatives enable companies to broaden their offering and to tackle ecological and economic issues all at once. Sustainability also becomes a strong argument for employees who wish to work for brands and companies that share their values. Undoubtedly, the second hand-market has a number of hands to play !