Highlights of working on the road to sustainability for the last 20 years.

1976: Substituting manpower for energy.

Our own road to sustainability started in 1976 with the ecology behind the product-life extension of goods. Stahel and Reday researched a report to the Commission of the European Communities (today the European Commission) on 'the Potential for Substitution Manpower for Energy' (at that time, Stahel was head of project at the Battelle research laboratories, Geneva, Switzerland, which was part of the Battelle Foundation in Columbus, Ohio). The report analyzed cars and buildings on a micro and macro economic basis and concluded that every product-life extension, in comparison with manufacturing, constitutes a substitution of manpower for energy, and of decentralized workshops for centralized factories. The report was published in 1981 under the title "Jobs for Tomorrow, the potential for substituting manpower for energy" by Vantage Press New York, N.Y..

The conclusions of this report have since been quoted many times, lately in the book factor four, mostly without indicating the source:

"Roughly three quarters of all industrial energy consumption is associated with the extraction or production of basic materials like steel and cement, while only about one quarter is used in the transformation of materials into finished goods such as machines or buildings. The converse is true of labour, about three times as much being used in the conversion of materials to finished products as is required in the production of materials.

An increase in the transformation-type industries, such as reconditioning, thus corresponds to a substitution of labour for energy. Skilled and experienced craftsmen are needed in repair and reconditioning activities which can be undertaken in comparatively small workshops scattered widely throughout the country wherever there are goods in need of renovation and customers for them, as is still the case with car-repair workshops. These enterprises can be located in any rural or urban area with high unemployment, making reconditioning a doubly attractive proposition for job creation."

1982: Founding the Product-Life Institute, Geneva

In 1982, the Product-Life Institute was founded by Orio Giarini and Walter R. Stahel, who were joined after a few month by Max Bˆrlin.

The paper 'The Product-Life Factor' that won Stahel a Mitchell Prize in 1983 (at the same time as Amory and Hunter Lovins) is based on this report.

1986: The Service Economy - internalizing all costs, from cradle back to cradle (circular economy).

In 1986, Orio Giarini and Stahel wrote a manuscript that was published as a book under the title of "The limits to certainty - facing risks in the new service economy" by Kluwer Academic Publishers in 1989, followed by a second enlarged and revised edition in 1993. The book has been translated into French (1990), Italian (1993), Romanian (1995), German (1998) and Japanese (1998). The Open University in the UK recommends it as mandatory reading.

1986: The concept of selling performance (services) instead of goods.

Also in 1986, Bˆrlin and Stahel researched a report for the Swiss Bank Corporation on "Economic strategies to enhance the durability of goods". One of the case studies presented in this report was the 'Mieting'-concept of Agfa-Gevaert ('Mieting' is a cross between 'Mieten' (German for rental) and 'Leasing'), which consisted in putting a photocopier at clients disposal and making them pay for the copies made, not for the copier itself, which remained property of Agfa-Gevaert. We realized that this concept of selling performance instead of products had a considerable impact on the liability for quality and waste, and translated these findings into a table (p. 56/57 in the report). This following table is an English translation:

The concept of selling performance, or results, or services, instead of goods, was published by us in a number of publications, such as:

Stahel, Walter R. (1986) R & D in a sustainable society, in: Science and Public Policy, Journal of the International Science _Policy Foundation, London; Volume 13, Number, 4 August 1986 : Special Issue : The Hidden Wealth, edited by Orio Giarini and Walter R. Stahel.

Stahel, Walter R (1987) Limiting excess waste. This paper presented at the conference on Energy in towns gives a detailed description of the Agfa-Gevaert strategy 'Mieting' (the concept of selling services, performance, utilization, instead of goods) and the waste prevention resulting from more durable goods.

1991: First case studies on sustainable consumption (waste prevention strategies in the utilization of goods).

In 1991, this research report was published in German under the title 'Langlebigkeit und Materialrecycling' (longlife goods and material recycling).

In 1992, Dr John Skinner, then head of R&D at the US EPA in Washington, had the three case studies (Personal Computers, washing machines, power tools) translated into English for EPA use.

1994: Helping to found the Factor 10 club.

The annual declarations of the Factor 10 Club (starting 1994) can be ordered from: Prof Schmidt-Bleek, The Factor 10 Institute, La RabassiËre, CarriËre des Bravengues, F-83660 Carnoules.
The most recent research on sustainability was published in:

Stahel, Walter R. (1997) The functional economy: cultural and organizational change; in: Richards, Deanna J., The industrial green game, 1997, National Academy Press, Washington DC. p. 91-100. ISBN 0-309-05294-7.

Stahel, Walter R. (1997) The service economy: 'wealth without resource consumption?'; in: Philosophical Transactions A, Royal Society London, 355 (June), p. 1309 - 1319.

Stahel, Walter R. (1994) The Utilization-Focused Service Economy: Resource Efficiency and Product-Life Extension; in: Allenby, Braden R (ed.) The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems, National Academy of Engineering, National Academy Press, Washington DC. p. 178-190. ISBN 0-309-04937-7.

In the early 1990s: our own definition of the five pillars of sustainability

Through his lectures and seminars in the early '90s, Walter R. Stahel developed a structure of sustainability based on the historic development. This structure of the 5 pillars of sustainability is today commonly used by many politicians in Europe - but most people ignore its source.

Historically, sustainability has grown on five pillars, each of which is essential for the 'survival' of man on Earth. This means that we cannot argue on priorities, or speculate on which of these pillars we can afford to lose first. In fact, we cannot take the risk of losing any single one of them.