Sustainable consumption: secondhand should become sexy

Out of the corner of neediness: social department stores and repair stores found the quality seal WIRD for better lobbying.

A lot can be made out of old things – above all, the ecological footprint can be reduced in the process Photo: ap

Everyone talks about sustainable consumption, but hardly anyone talks about repair stores and social department stores. The longer clothing, toys, electrical appliances and bicycles are used, the smaller their ecological footprint. Some businesses have now established an umbrella brand under which they work to common quality standards and aim to raise awareness of their offerings.

The WIRD seal of approval stands for the "Reuse and Repair Centers in Germany" and is aimed at "all businesses in the colorful and locally structured public second-hand sector," says Claudio Vendramin from the Herford Recycling Exchange, who initiated the seal. It is awarded by an association that develops common quality standards for the things repaired and offered; it also aims to become a powerful lobby for the second-hand sector and improve its marketing.

There are around 400 non-profit reuse facilities in Germany, ranging from the Diakonia Kaufhaus in Munich with 1,200 square meters of sales space to the Rumpelstielzchen second-hand store in Soest. The companies are often run by a municipality, a church or an association with the aim of providing jobs for people who have a hard time on the primary labor market.

"We have to move away from the purely social idea and focus more on our ecological function and competence," says Vendramin. "We are actually the natural partners of the municipal recycling centers," says Vendramin, "but the word hasn’t gotten out everywhere yet." As a result, he says, old computers or furniture, for example, are often treated so roughly at the collection centers that they can only be shredded and recycled, not repaired.

Faith in the new

Dieter Sommer, Diakonia

"It is important to the donors that their sorted-out things have a use for their environment and are not sold off"

A major problem for repair shops is the stigma attached to used things, says Susanne Fischer of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy. In the circular economy business area, she has investigated throughout Europe why used, repaired things are difficult to sell. The result: "New is still considered better," says Fischer. Companies also believe this, even though they could procure used electrical appliances much more cheaply, for example.

The Wuppertal Institute provided scientific support for the development of the seal of approval. Conclusion: "It has great potential," says Fischer, "because it can create trust among consumers." In Belgium, he says, sales of the reuse industry have multiplied since it began operating under a common label.

An umbrella brand "is a really good idea," says Martin Tertelmann of Stuttgart-based social enterprise Neue Arbeit. With recycling workshops, bicycle service stations and social department stores, the non-profit GmbH generates 60 million euros in sales per year. "We lack the capacity for effective lobbying," says Tertelmann. One example: In the Recycling Management Act, there is a recycling quota, but no quota for the recycling of things, he says. "That would have an enormous steering effect for ecology and labor," says Tertelmann.

Dieter Sommer, managing director of Munich-based Diakonia Dienstleistungsbetriebe, which runs a department store for books, household goods, furniture and, above all, clothing, also views the new seal with interest. "It’s important to donors that their discarded items have a benefit for their community and are not discarded," Sommer says, "and customers want good products." A seal of approval could build trust.

The development of the seal has received 95,000 euros in funding from the Federal Environment Agency and the Federal Ministry for the Environment; additional public funds are currently being acquired. In the long term, however, the association will have to finance itself. According to Vendramin, companies will have to pay a portion of their sales for membership. "We have to offer added value for companies," association founder Vendramin is clear about that, because companies need to invest their revenues in a sustainable way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *