Does online trade of used goods benefit the environment? Research project with eBay

The world's largest auction site eBay took part in a research project, which was seeking a “sustainable sales culture": Electronic used goods markets allow consumers an active role as a supplier of goods. This development offers opportunities for sustainable consumption by changing attitudes towards the ownership of goods: From accumulating products towards a "culture of auction" characterized by temporary possession. The re-sale of used goods on the Internet means that products can be used for a longer duration and environmental pollution can be reduced by avoiding new purchases. At the same time, however, the electronic trading of used goods leads to repeated packaging and shipping. In addition computers are online all the day to follow the auctions outcomes. These factors in turn contribute to the pollution. This IZT research project examined for the first time comprehensively the impact and opportunities of online trading in used goods.
© Springer Verlag
From Consumer to Prosumer – Development of new trading and auction cultures to promote sustainable consumption
2008 - 2010
German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)


With electronic markets and trading platforms in the internet consumer behaviour is changing fundamentally. Electronic market places offer a trading platform that reaches a lot more people than “off-line” markets. Furthermore electronic market places change the role of the consumer. The user is operating not only as consumer, at the same time he acts as provider of products and services (e.g. in second hand markets). The “con-sumer” adopts more and more of the tasks of the “pro-ducer” –  he acts as “prosumer”.

This offers opportunities for sustainable consumption. The marketing of used products in second hand markets in the internet has positive effects concerning the life span of products. The product life is extended, the purchase of new products (and the connected environmental impacts) can be avoided.

Furthermore electronic markets change the attitude towards consumption and possession: from the idea of accumulation of goods towards the idea of auction culture, temporary ownership and reselling.

But there are not only positive environmental effects: a lot of energy and resources are used for the transport and shipping of products.

The aim of the present project is to explore second hand markets in the internet and to assess the chances and potentials of second hand marketing for sustainable consumption. One of the central tasks of the project is an extensive exploration of ecological, social and economic effects of second hand markets. With an extensive survey of eBay users the project explores motivations, buying and selling behaviour and the ecological effects of second hand business in the internet.
In co-operation with the eBay International AG the research team develops different innovation strategies:

1. Ecological optimization of the present online business (e.g. opportunities for CO2 neutral shipping or strategic co-operations with transport companies);

2. Activation of additional potentials: development of communication strategies to activate unused goods for second hand markets;

3. Promotion of new “auction cultures” that contribute to increase the life span and valuation of products (as a strategy to promote sustainable consumption).

Whereas the innovation strategies are developed and tested in co-operation with eBay, the results of the project address a wide range of actors, esp. research and consumer organisations.


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