Whats a sustainable circular business model? A license plate!

By the end of last year, a group of high school students, aged 15-16 approached me and asked, whether I could support their newly formed school company with 10 Euros. Those 10 Euros symbolized a small share in the company and I joyfully said yes and was excited to become shareholder for the first time in my life. I asked them ” What excactly am I shareholder of and what exactly is this part of ?” ” It is an extracurricular activity, supported from JUNIOR . At JUNIOR, high school students set up their own student company, distribute their products to customers and earn real money. learn what the reality of entrepreneurs looks like – by trying it out for ourselves.” “Super cool! What is your business like?” ” We make products from license plates that aren’t used anymore by their car owners. Our company is called UsedPlates3 – UP3 . ”

Allthough they already hinted into the direction of circularity by highlighting the concept of “waste to value”, little would I know that they would fully develop a sustainable circular business model over the next months. And little would I know how their small business idea would receive growing attention from different German newsoutlets. And most of all was I joyfully amazed, when I heard that their company and efforts had made it as far as to compete in a Germany wide student entrepreneurship competition.

Now, why am I that enthusiastic about their idea? It fully reflects not just a simple circular business model, but also a business model that is sustainable. So what’s a sustainable circular business model? To me that means that it is needs based.

First of all, many people need a car. Nowadays, a car might be almost as important as food. Something we likely cannot say no to, especially if we live rural and need to go to work. Even if we rented a car a la car-sharing, cars would still be needed. And with each car, a licence plate is needed as well. There is almost no expiration date to a licencse plate, yet each licence plate might have an end to its life such as when a car is not needed anymore.

There are of course many more needs based products. Such an example is clothing with the original aim to serve as protection from environmental hazards. However, many clothes nowadays are promoted in such a way that they do not fullfill this basic need anymore solely, but rather support the buying of new clothes that have little functional value. Let’s think of a pink glitter high heel instead of a boot that keeps our feet safe. In addition, fashion trends frequently change, particular by season and again, this encourages consumers to buy more and more, adding to the pile of sustainability disaster, form a social but also ecological perspective.

What purpose or need are these shoes fullfilling?

This differs to a licence plate, which again is needs based and therefore does not promote consumption of a new license plate to begin with. Because of that it is “sustainable” by origin. Now this product is also circular, because it can be transformed into a new product without having to recycle it. Recycling for instance, is linked to the lowest form of circularity, because a lot of energy is used to take materials apart and to transform them. A license plate on the other hand, can stay as it is , and only needs to be shaped into the desired end-product. “Only” to be used careful, because the students still create everything by hand and it takes quite some time.

What’s my favorite catch on their business model? That’s OMG that they had thought about the concept of “emotional durability” in their business model. Emotional durability bascially means that a consumer of a product feels strongly connected and therefore, wants to keep their product for as long as possible. That’s crucial if we talk about product life-cycle extension. What better product is there, than one made of a license plate of a car, with which the owner has experienced so many adventures and spent so much time with? I can’t think of one.

So you guys, your school, JUNIOR and most of all your amazing business UP3 super rock. You win my special sustainable circular business award 🙂 Interested to learn more about the work? Comment or message me and I will connect you.