Renting instead of buying, curiosity instead of bans: an expert reveals how technology and sustainability are growing together

You don’t always have to buy technology: The Grover company supports the circular economy by renting out electronics. In an interview, Grover’s sustainability expert told us more about the company.

You are pushed to do it from all sides, always the latest of the latest to want (or better: to have to) have. This is particularly evident in technology: new devices are constantly coming onto the market that want to be better than the competition. But not only does this consumer frenzy affect the wallet, it is also unacceptable in view of the current environmental and climate problems.

Grover wants to be an alternative here because the company rents out technology. If you don’t want to go to the outdoor pool in summer without a Bluetooth box or don’t want to do without “Lord Of The Rings” via the projector at Christmas, you no longer have to buy the devices – renting is also possible. In addition, it is a great option to test whether the device in question suits you. We recently went to the Green Tech Festival and had the opportunity to Marianne KuhlmannHead of Sustainability at Grover, and to ask a few questions about the company, the concept of renting, but above all about sustainability.

Renting as a sustainable alternative

GIGA: Why is it worth renting technology?

Marianne Kuhlmann: “I think that is very different for the respective customer groups. So I, for example, am a clumsy. I often drop my cell phone. That’s why the convenience aspect is crucial for me. I think it’s good to know: I have a 500 euro product in my pocket and it might fall, but if it falls I don’t have to worry. I’m covered with Grover Care and they’ll fix it for me.

For others, however, it may be the case that they say they want to go traveling or climbing for the next 2 months and really only want the GoPro for the 2 months. This flexibility is therefore more important to them. And still others say: ‘I don’t want to own anything, I have a minimalist lifestyle.’ Or: ‘It’s sustainability for me.’ We just had a survey in December in which we asked our customers and we see that there are really different reasons, but they are not mutually exclusive.”

GIGA: The topic of sustainability is becoming more and more relevant, do you notice that at Grover as well – that is, that more people want to rent instead of owning?

Kuhlman: “Basically, the demand for rental and rental models is growing rapidly, and we see that at Grover too. We have big growth targets and we are constantly growing and adding new products to our portfolio because there is more and more demand for them. That’s a fundamental trend: we probably don’t do netflix because we don’t want to buy DVDs anymore for sustainability reasons, but because it’s more convenient and a good customer experience.

In December we conducted a customer survey specifically on the subject of sustainability and 40 percent of customers said that sustainability was the key reason for renting. We can see that the topic is also becoming increasingly important for customers. I also believe that this will continue in the future.”

Whether for at home or on the go: you can rent a variety of technology from Grover (Image source: Getty Images / Westend61)

Even in-ear headphones are rented out

GIGA: Are there any products that surprise you that they are so well or not so well received?

Kuhlman: “Yes, I think we were particularly surprised when it came to EarPods because they have been extremely well received. There is a huge demand there. Of course we clean them professionally and they are really completely safe and clean. But that surprised even us. […] If you know that there is a process behind it in which professional care is taken to ensure that the product is cleaned and repaired, then it works – even with products like EarPods, for example.”

GIGA: What products are planned for the future that you want to include in your range?

Kuhlman: “I think there’s a big opportunity for Grover. And I think we’re very good at getting this rental model on the road. Many manufacturers cannot do this, or not so well. Or sometimes it makes more sense for everyone to focus on something they are really good at. That’s why we have a very high number of inquiries from manufacturers who ask: ‘Couldn’t you also include our product in your range?’

Recently, an acquaintance approached me who had founded a startup. This sells technologies that can be used to determine fertility through the air you breathe and is for women who want to have children. He said: ‘We have this product and we try to rent it out ourselves, but it takes a lot of effort. Wouldn’t it be an idea that you could take it into the portfolio?’ That would be really exciting and is basically the range of possibilities where the journey can go.

In principle, however, we focus on consumer electronics and that will remain the case for the time being. There are two areas that will definitely continue to grow: On the one hand, on the physical side, e-mobility. There is generally a lot of movement on the market and we already offer a number of products. And in general: We rent out the hardware – it also makes sense to rent out the software. […] Especially in the B2B area, it’s very exciting for us to say: ‘Hey, can’t you also have the Office package directly on the computer?'”

giga: On the subject of e-mobility again: E-cars, for example, are not yet on loan. But would that be a goal for you?

Kuhlman: “I think there are completely different players in the car market. This is also a completely different category. But we have scooters and bicycles in our program.”

E-scooters can also be found in the Grover range (image source: GIGA).
E-scooters can also be found in the Grover range (Image source: GIGA)

“If you can no longer rent equipment, the question is: why not?”

GIGA: What happens to the devices after the rental?

Kuhlman: “Basically, they come back to us first. That means we record them, clean them and erase the data. […] We do technical checkups and check the smartphones, for example, to ensure that the battery, memory, etc. are working, and then they go straight back to the rental shop. Unless they are broken, in which case they will of course be repaired.”

giga: What do you do when the devices can no longer be rented – do you have your own recycling process?

Kuhlman: “If you can no longer rent it out, the question is: why not? Then the answer could be: because there is currently no demand for it in our customer group. However, that does not mean that there is generally no longer any demand for this product. […] We still want them to be used again, so we’re putting them in Second Life. Our partners then sell them in the secondary market. But the first question for us is always: Can we rent the products again? Is there anything else we can do about the price so that they can be rented out?”

A tip from the expert

GIGA: And finally, do you have a tip on how to make it easier to pay more attention to sustainability (other than renting technology, of course)?

Kuhlman: “I think it’s always interesting to just keep your eyes open in everyday life. A lot is a matter of getting used to it and you should stay curious: What is actually there? Also in nutrition, for example. I’m not a fan of saying, ‘Don’t eat meat!’ But I’m a friend of saying ‘Try the vegetarian products.’

I recently read in a survey that 50 percent of vegetarian products are bought out of curiosity. That’s cool. A few years ago the product range was still very small and rather mediocre in quality and now there are a lot of new things. I am also such a curiosity shopper and am regularly amazed at how good the products taste. Especially a spaghetti Bolognese can be made wonderfully with vegetarian mince – you don’t even notice the difference. Or some things taste different and brand new and are a totally new experience. It’s just nice if you’re a bit curious and see what’s out there.”

GIGA: I think that’s a very nice tip. Thank you for the interview!

Kuhlman: “Gladly, I was happy too!”

About our interview partner:

Marianne Kuhlmann is currently Head of Sustainability at Grover and is doing her PhD at ETH Zurich in the field of circular economy. She also founded the association Circularity eV, whose task it is to promote the German circular economy. The interview took place in June 2022 and has been edited for readability.

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