From Trash to Traditions

How changing our mindset about ownership can change the planet

By Dave Bryant

VP, One Workplace & Co-Founder, Heirloom Design

The circular economy is a buzzword that is growing in popularity. But even though the idea of giving the products we use every day a new, continual life might be a great talking point, it does little good for sustainability and the environment unless we fundamentally change the way we think about the products we use. At Heirloom, one of our foundational pillars is shifting the paradigm from Ownership to Stewardship. And it’s helping us reframe the conversation.

Think about the first car you ever owned, and all the fond memories associated with it. The smell of the air freshener, how it drove, and how it looked right after you washed it. You can probably even hear your favorite tunes coming through the speakers if you try hard enough. There were so many great memories made in that car, but do you know where that car is today? Or those favorite new tennis shoes that you just had to have? Probably not. Like most of the products we use and love at one point, we simply cherish them for a moment and move on to the next year’s model, the latest and greatest. You were entitled to move on from your first car and ditch that pair of shoes because they were yours, you owned them, and you could do whatever you wanted with them.

Our mindset of consumerism has led to the waste we create. When we don’t feel a responsibility for the things we own, we do whatever we want with them. For the circular economy to work we need to be accountable for the purchases we make. We create a greater opportunity of success for things we buy to be respected and valued by others when we are done with them if we begin with the end in mind. It allows us to celebrate the things we have and understand we become a part of their stories when they are passed on.

Luxury watch maker Patek Phillipe once had an advertising campaign with the slogan, You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation. Tim Caulkins, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management said of that campaign, “A Patek watch isn’t a device for telling time. It’s an heirloom that transfers values across generations.” When we view the things we have as a way of representing our values rather than as mere possessions, our relationship to those things changes.

Heirloom hopes to help change the relationship between classically designed and well-made furniture carefully curated by designers, makers/manufacturers, and the people who use them to create the inspiring places they work and live. Our mission isn’t just to put timeless furniture into the workplace. It’s to fundamentally alter how we see that furniture –– no longer as a possession, but something that, as Caulkins aptly said, we care for and pass on to the next generation. For change to really happen and the circular economy to truly work we must see ourselves as stewards, not owners. Instead of people who discard items that no longer serve us, we should think about how we serve those items. That’s how a circular economy can start to make a global impact.