How Berlin’s largest “online storage room” is spurring the circular economy in the capitol city: an interview with GreenCircle.

March 21, 2022

Take an inside look into Berlin’s largest “online storage room” and find out how you can easily get rid of your old things while lounging on the couch – and make others happy while doing it. Friedrich Köser, co-founder and CEO of GreenCircle, gives us his insights on how second hand products can become attractive for all social classes. 

1. Almost one year ago, you brought the GreenCircle onto the scene in Berlin – would you tell us a bit about your business model?

Imagine that everyone living in Berlin shares a huge storage space, where we could store items that we’re not using at the moment. And we can view all of the stuff that’s stored there online, we can select items and have them delivered to our doors – without packaging, transported by electric cars. At the same time, we can arrange for items to be picked up which we no longer have any use for – essentially putting them into the Circle by placing them in this “online storage room”. That’s GreenCircle.  
Our business model is as follows: whenever someone buys an item from the Circle, we receive 50% of the proceeds (minimum 5€, maximum 50€), which goes toward the pick up, sorting, photographing, storing and delivery of the items. The rest goes to the person who put their item into the Circle. In addition, we also offer a subscription for borrowing products, so that items don’t necessarily need to be purchased. 
Items which aren’t in demand or aren’t any longer suitable to be “circled” are passed on to our upcycling, recycling and donation partners.  

2. Let’s imagine that I’ve chosen an item from GreenCircle online, and I also have an item which I’d like to put up for sale. How would this type of product circulation work with GreenCircle? 

The “Circle” begins on our website, where you can either arrange a pick up for your items or find some nice things in our online shop. You add the items you want to have to your shopping cart and then proceed to the checkout. At that point, you have the option to put the items that you’ve sorted out at home into the Circle. Then you choose a time you’d like for us to come by, pay and you’re finished. We’ll then come to your door within the time frame you’ve specified with one of our reusable boxes to collect the items you’re putting into the Circle. That’s all there is to it!
Your items are then brought to our warehouse, where they will be sorted, photographed, given a description and a price. Once your products are uploaded and on the website, you can make adjustments to the price or description. And as soon as someone buys your item, your portion of the proceeds will be transferred to the PayPal or bank account which you’ve specified. And we’ll be on our way to another door, continuing the Circle! In addition, there’s also a 24-hour return policy on every item which you order.  

Right now, the most popular items are decorative items, housewares, such as lamps and kitchen appliances, speakers – and, of course, clothing. Fashion is also the Circle’s category which receives the most items.  

4. GreenCircle also offers a subscription plan – can users borrow products on a monthly basis, returning them after a month? What happens if an item is returned with damages or has even been lost? 

With the subscription, you’re pretty much paying for access to the “online storage room”, so that you can take out up to 5 items without necessarily having to purchase them. You just choose the items you’d really like to try out and we’ll bring them to you. Once a month you can also opt to exchange items for other Circle items, and if you choose to do so, you can also specify which items you’d like to offer for exchange. We’ll then come by, pick up the items you offered and bring you the ones you selected. Plus, you always have the option to buy an item that’s featured in the subscription. The subscription gives you the opportunity to try out an item for as long as you like before buying it or putting it back into the Circle. That’s not only practical for things like books, baby clothing, children’s toys, kitchen appliances or board games, but also for things like an air mattress when you’re having company, a fashionable winter coat or even a TV for watching the Champions League Final. 
It’s not a problem if an item gets damaged. For us, it’s important that the article – even when damaged – gets returned. Otherwise, the subscription holder will have to sell the item themselves.      

5. What lies ahead for GreenCircle? What goals have you set for the next five years?

We want to change the way we consume. We buy way too many products which we only use once or twice – and unfortunately, they often end up in the trash (more than 40% of German households throw away unused items), simply because passing them on can be an aggravating, time-consuming process. Which is why we have “circularity levels” (how much of our resources and products enter into a circular supply chain) of 8% (the global target figure is 70 – 80%). Moreover, second hand sales account for only about 2% of all sales. Our vision for the next five years is to simplify – at least in larger cities – access to used items, so that fewer new products need to be bought. We’re transforming how to circulate and pass on items quickly and easily, so that buying cheap products won’t make sense anymore. And when we start to view the items we use as a service rather than possessions, then there’s no longer a reason to be interested in short-lived, unsustainable products. That’s what we’re looking to achieve – with lots of GreenCircles in various cities and areas.   

6. Second hand is sexy – at least we think so. Yet how can we persuade others in our communities who don’t see it that way?

That’s a good question. How can we get second hand to be the new standard for people from all walks of society? Certainly, a big starting point is for people to associate their second-hand shopping experience with convenience, good selection, trustworthy and secure buying and selling. Purchasing without chit chat, honest product photos, return policies – so that there’s at least a comparable buying experience. Another important point is the social context associated with second hand: for many people, buying new products is certainly a way to demonstrate their wealth. Yet if we can make it for trend-conscious shoppers the cooler option, and for functionally-motivated shoppers the simplest and most economical option, then second-hand will be welcomed by a broader public. Passing on unused products so that they can be used is just like eating the food you have on your plate – it’s a no-brainer, really. We’d like to convince others to get on board - whether they’ve delved into the topic of sustainability or not. The important thing here is to radiate positivity and encourage everyone to get involved – without pointing fingers and trying to “educate” others. And we’re already seeing that this approach is being well received! 

Thank you very much, Friedrich, for the interview and the revealing insights into a world where products are simply and efficiently given a new lease on life!