PARIS - Baptiste Langlais shows off his new watch proudly. “In my sector, we like beautiful mechanics,” jokes the car salesman from the Paris region.
His latest whim? An 8,500-euro Jaeger-LeCoultre wristwatch. “A big investment, especially these days,” he admits. But he has found a way to reconcile reason and passion.
Launched a few months ago, the website leaseawatch.fr offers a novel financing solution for watch lovers: a lease option. The idea? Instead of paying in one go, clients can lease the watch for 24, 36 or 48 months. After that, they can choose to give back the watch or buy it, by paying an extra fee.
The difference between this and regular credit? “If I have financial problems, I can just give back the watch,” says Langlais.
Also called “lease with the option to purchase,” or “hire purchase,” leasing is a mode of financing that Langlais knows quite well. It is often used in the car industry to buy new cars, in particular by companies buying cars for their corporate fleet. After originally being designed for big investments like cars or real estate, leasing was used on a large-scale by telecom companies. All of them now offer subsidized phones with their phone plans – it’s not called leasing but that is what it is.
The system is lucrative. Most often, buyers end up paying more money than if they had paid for it in one go. “On average the profitability point for the enterprise is reached after two years,” says Frédéric Canevet, a marketing consultant. “After that, the client loses money.”
An alternative to programmed obsolescence
It’s not surprising then that other companies are jumping on the leasing bandwagon. In just a few months, a dozen French start-ups have joined the hire-purchase market. Big-brand handbags, art, toys or even clothes – the concept is being developed in every sector, and it is happening in neighboring European countries as well. Since March, you can lease a pair of jeans for five euros per month from Dutch company Mud Jeans.
Start-ups are not the only ones to adopt the trend. Big companies are also starting to play with the idea. French fair-trade coffee producer and coffee machine maker Malongo launched in March a coffee machine – “made in France” – that customers can hire-purchase. “We are the only household appliance maker to offer this option,” says Malongo CEO Jean-Pierre Blanc. Eulalie de Rycker, an unemployed optician loves the scheme: “Instead of paying 150 euros at once, I pay 6,50 euros a month,” she says.
In times of crisis, the leasing solution is ideal for consumers. “They want to enjoy new products, but they don’t necessarily want to have to buy them,” says Canevet.
As a long-term option, leasing is also a good alternative for customers who are fed up with programmed obsolescence and the short lives of appliances. By providing leasing options, companies are showing that they support sustainable development. Built to be easily repaired, the Malongo coffee machine comes with a five-year warranty. Mud Jeans also promotes eco-responsibility. When jeans are returned, they are recycled; and if they are torn, they can be sent in for repair.
During this current consumer credit crunch, leasing could become a very interesting alternative. Renting consumer and personal products is a new trend that has seen an increase in 64% profits between 2000 and 2009 in France. A recent survey showed that 75% of people would be interested in renting, renting out, borrowing or trading their DIY tools – but only 39% were interested in doing the same for clothes. The revolution has only just started.
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.