Commown offers electronics as a service – how their cooperative model benefits Product-as-a-Service

Commonown - Cooperative for sustainable electronic

Full disclosure: Authors Yana Mechielsen and Robin Angelé both work at Commown “The cooperative for sustainable electronics”.

The electronics industry generates a huge amount of negative externalities, from the mines to the products’ end-of-life. According to UNICEF, about 40,000 children work up to 12 hours a day in mines in southern DRC. Mining the valuable metals needed to produce electronics. Additionally, reported by Friends of the Earth, tin mining has damaged over 65% of the forests and over 70% of the coral reefs in Bangka. Moreover, electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world.

The overproduction of electronic devices plays a crucial role in these negative impacts. It is the aim of current electronic manufacturers to sell as many devices as possible by incorporating planned obsolescence. Devices are designed so that they are not easily repairable and stop working after a certain time. Or the manufacturer ends support for the operating system. On top of this, advertising actively encourages the purchase of new devices.

A study published by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) shows that a smartphone would need to be used for at least 25 years (and ideally 232 years!) to offset greenhouse gas emissions.The way to reduce the negative impact of electronic products is to maximize their lifespan.

Commown: electronics as a service

It is evident, we need to rethink the way we produce and consume electronics. Selling equipment is the structural cause of planned obsolescence. Here the Product-as-a-Service (PaaS) model can provide a solution. This way the overproduction of new electronic devices can be avoided. By providing electronics as a service the lifespan of the device can be maximized. Commown is a not-for-profit cooperative that supports a product as a service system for fair and sustainable electronics. Commown selects devices that are more repairable and durable, like Fairphones, and manages repairs beyond the manufacturer warranty. In doing so, the lifespan of the device is expanded and electronic waste is reduced.

Commown’s model is based on renting without the option to buy. This guarantees the interest of our cooperative to make the equipment usable for as long as possible. Preferably for multiple rental cycles. Unlike the purchase model, where manufacturers will push for purchasing new, Commown supports you throughout the use of the same device.

Renting with Commown is less expensive than comparable services in the long run. It offers a cost-effective option for smartphones and other consumer electronics like headsets and computers.

The benefits of the cooperative model for Product-as-a-Service

An uncontrolled rental model could be the ideal way for a capitalist company to exploit its customers. This is a serious risk, all PaaS models potentially face. For this reason, Commown has chosen the organizational form of a non-profit cooperative. This drastically limits possible exploitation of capital and limits possible return on investment. Thanks to the cooperative, all customers can participate in the governance of Commown: promoting transparency and democracy.

Mutual help and cooperation are the only way for us to look confidently into the future. The cooperative form allows different actors (customers, producers, employees) to become cooperative members. Here, 1 person = 1 vote, power is not linked to capital and everybody is equally appreciated.  The cooperative spirit also encourages contact with other non-profit cooperatives.

It is our goal to unite all those who want to work on a more fair and sustainable electronics sector: Customers, members, volunteers, IT manufacturers and investors. What we can’t do alone, we can do together!

Interested to learn more?

Take a look at the website of Commown ( to learn more about electronics as a service. Feel free to contact Commown, if you have any questions about their service offer, want to share ideas and suggestions for partnerships, or just want to be kept up to date (via newsletter) on their activities. You can contact Commown using the form at the bottom of the landing page.

At the moment, Commown is mainly present on the French, Belgium and German markets, but don’t hesitate to contact us if you live in another country. Not in need of a new electronic device? You can still support Commown today by purchasing a promotional voucher. Besides supporting a more sustainable system for electronics, this saves up to €40 on your monthly payments as soon as you really need a new electronic device.