Towards Materials Leasing

Yet another instance of commercial innovation in the provision of services is provided by the case of the organic solvent kerosene. Used in a number of applications as a degreasing agent, kerosene has been the object of successful commercial 'materials leasing' by the chemicals company Safety-Kleen in the UK for a number of years.22 Kerosene is supplied to customers on a use-and-return basis. The degraded solvent is returned to the supplier after use. It is then reprocessed and subsequently supplied to the same or another company for reuse. Soiled residues from the reprocessing operation also find use as commercial fuels—for instance in cement kilns. This is an example of the cascading of raw materials through a variety of uses as discussed in Chapter 4. Again, the important point to note is that a new commercial arrangement is implied between supplier and user of the material. Effectively, this arrangement sells degreasing services to the user.

In an expanded system of materials leasing, we would almost certainly find new structural relationships between commercial agents.

In direct analogy to the energy sector, we might find that companies which had traditionally been primary materials suppliers now diversified their activities. Instead of investing purely in supply, they would now have an incentive to invest in improved efficiency by materials users. For instance, in the case of kerosene degreasing, there might now be an economic incentive for the kerosene supplier to invest in solvent recovery in the degreasing plant. Equally, companies which had traditionally been involved in manufacturing consumer durables might choose to invest preferentially in service infrastructure rather than in product supply.

Arriving at this challenging and sophisticated form of dematerialisation would almost certainly rely on radically revised pricing policies, new regulatory initiatives and different 'ownership' structures and liability frameworks. But in principle we could foresee a system in which wealth was not dependent on the profligate trade of material goods. There might no longer be a linear chain comprising materials suppliers, materials processors and materials consumers. Instead, new service-based corporate structures might emerge in which materials management was a much less linear, but much more integrated, process.

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