Something is changing from a consumer point of view: 7 sustainable micro-communities focused on Circular Economy topics have popped up all over the globe. Each community is a different facet of the same prism. This unstoppable, fast-growing trend deserves to be analyzed. Covid-19 has definitely accelerated it, so could there be any positive effects from something so negative?

Consumer habits have been evolving in recent years, but not so fast as in the last year. People have been adopting new behaviors and are constantly looking for new valuable experiences. They want concrete, tangible benefits. This new category of consumers doesn’t want to plant trees; they want to change the world. They want to live in a better world with more money in their pockets.

Therefore, modern individuals have two goals: one focused on values like environmental protection and sustainability, the other on financial savings and opportunities to better spend their money.

These smart consumers are concerned about the environment, interested in valuable and sustainable services, and indifferent to product ownership. They are looking for quality and durability, have no time to waste, and avoid waste in general, as they don’t like the very concept. Finally, consumers also expect to save money because they want to be rewarded by the system for their sustainable choices.


So, what is the meaning of micro-communities nowadays? They help people achieve physical goals, use specific technologies, share values and environmental objectives. However, what micro-communities share most is their ability to empower others to face their fears, set new goals, act on their values, and forge paths they may not have pursued alone. We have identified 7 micro-communities you will definitely already know, but there’s added value in looking at them as a unique trend:


In Europe, domestic photovoltaic systems (<10kW) cover the 10% of roofs. Installed capacity, currently 80GW, is constantly increasing, as evidenced by Italy’s data, for example, where 5% growth has been recorded in the last year. This trend is driving the storage market as well, which facilitates better performance and further benefits. I am so proud to be part of this community with 4.5 kW on my roof and I’m planning to install storage soon, too.

Not only environmental benefits, but also economic ones are definitely driving consumers towards choosing photovoltaics. It is estimated that annual savings for an average family of 4 could be over € 500.


Thanks to an average annual growth of 50% since 2010, electric vehicles reached 3.6% of new vehicle registrations in 2019 (up from 2.5% the previous year). Despite -27% in total registrations in the first 10 months of 2020, an increase of 368% (hybrid) and 132% (electric) was recorded during the third quarter of the year! The market is currently led by Tesla Model 3 (17%), Renault Zoe (8%), Nissan Leaf (8%), BMW i3 (6%), Volkswagen e-Golf (6%).

The average user is predominantly a male between the ages of 38 and 53, but it is far more interesting to note that 2 out of 5 electric vehicles were purchased through a Product-as-a-Service model.


According to recent research by PWC, “by 2025, the sharing economy in Europe will be worth 570 billion euros”. Currently, more than 270 companies offer sharing services as their core business in Italy. Car-sharing and micro-mobility (scooters, bikes, etc.) in the Italian mobility-sharing market has grown exponentially in recent years.

The spread of sharing models can be traced back to 3 main factors: 1) the spread of digital platforms and devices, 2) growing environmental values, and 3) economic rationality. The average user is between 18 and 44 years old, peaking between 25-33 years old.


A 2018 European Commission behavioral study on consumer engagement in the circular economy showed that 64% of consumers always repair broken or damaged products. This trend is growing compared to the recent past, when consumer preference was focused on buying new products rather than repairing old ones. Nowadays, a large portion of consumers prefer to buy products designed to be durable and easily repaired, even if they cost more.

At the European level, electronic devices best represent this micro-community. In terms of environmental aspects, product repairability and durability reduces waste production by half a million tons, in Italy.


Another one of the growing micro-communities is second-hand. Focusing solely on Italy, this market is worth more than 24 billion euros (1.3% of GDP) today and has grown 33% in the last 5 years. Although more than 50% of trade occurs in the offline market still today, the online market has been catching up. Just the last year alone, it has reported a value of 10.5 billion euros (equal to 43% of the total market value). To date, 44% of these consumers are motivated by sustainability. According to a Doxa study, the second-hand economy is destined to grow again in the next five years thanks to the following motivations: a sustainable choice (48%), an excellent tool to save (or earn) money (47%), and a way to make consumption accessible to more people (30%).

Young families (under 35 years) make up most of this consumer category. However, Baby Boomers (in particular 55-64 years) and Gen Z also constitute more than 60% of consumer activity in the second-hand goods marke


In 2018, the market of organic farming products in Europe reached a value of 40.7 billion euros, up 8% from the previous year. It was the second biggest in the world, following North America (€43 billion). Producers and land dedicated to organic crops also increased in 2018, numbering over 330k units.

The sector continues to grow in the European Union member states, where the total market is worth €37.4 billion (+ 7.7%). The largest markets in the EU in absolute terms are Germany, France and Italy. Consumers spend an average of €76 per capita on organic food per year, and have doubled their purchases in the last decade.

The main consumers are mostly young families, between 30-40 years old, with small children of pre-school age and medium-high income levels. Forty-four percent of them shop at large-scale retail stores, 19% in specialized stores, buying mostly fruit, vegetables, milk and eggs.


Europeans recycle 36% of their waste annually, a trend that is increasing. Among the European countries in 2020, Italy’s performance stands out, sending 76% of its “post consuming” waste for recycling. 70% of consumers prefer to buy products with minimal packaging compared to product size and made of “lower-impact” materials, such as cardboard. Another factor 60% of European consumers considered relevant was the presence of environmental protection labels on the products they purchased. Modern gamified loyalty programs providing economic benefits to consumers are a strong recycling incentive. They help companies to achieve strong consumer loyalty and to identify recycling techniques.

Millennials are by far the consumer category that most embodies these characteristics.

Connection among micro-communities

It is very interesting to see how these communities are connected and how they interact in order to fully understand this trend and how it can evolve in the near future. At the moment, some of the micro-communities are totally separate, while some are just beginning to interact. The Photovoltaic and Electric Car communities are an interesting example of successful interaction. Photovoltaic users benefit from extra savings when charging their electric cars directly at their homes. The solar-electric car connection could enable further interactions between communities and circular business models. For instance, using a Product-as-a-Service model for electric car (i.e. without ownership) could also play a central role.

Today market data shows 2 out of 5 electric vehicles are purchased through a Product-as-a-Service model.

How is Covid-19 accelerating the growth of the micro-communities and the shaping of the Circular Consumer Identikit?

There are several factors accelerating the growth of this trend, especially:

  • Recognition of climate change: People are finally recognizing the value and importance of our natural ecosystem and how climate change is going to impact our lives and health in the future.
  • Improved digital skills: Digital skills have become fundamental. Shopping online during the lockdown was mandatory, which led to a strong trend. While there’s no evidence that e-commerce is more sustainable, one positive effect has been a giant improvement in digital skills all over the world. Consumers will definitely apply those skills to other aspects of life and generate material savings.
  • Attention to a healthier lifestyle: Due to Covid-19, people have been recognizing how important physical health and attention to what (and how) we eat are. Post-lockdown, there has been a focus on where circular practices could enhance the sustainability of food systems by introducing local supply chains to minimize waste and further promote sustainable production and consumption.
  • Self-sufficiency: During the pandemic, people’s choices have changed due to the economy. Producing one’s own energy, owning a car that’s not dependent on gas prices, and having Product-as-a-Service contracts that can be closed at any time, make financial risk management easier!
  • Enhanced quality of living and workspaces: The smart-working phenomenon could cause decentralization from large cities. A reduction in the use of vehicles, such as private cars, has pushed many people to stop owning their own car or to reduce the number of cars owned per family. These choices have also been fostered by vehicle-sharing platforms. Finally, photovoltaic investment has become even more attractive, thanks to variation in the consumption curve, which has shifted to more use during the day (i.e. during peak production) versus only in the evening when returning from home work.


Something is finally changing, and to be honest, I am so excited!

Imagination has become reality. We can see with our own eyes a new world that is shaping a new consumer. Of course, future generations will be more and more involved in this process and market rules will be totally different in years to come!

An economic system driven by sustainability and environmental issues will just naturally be part of life!

So let’s try to help this new consumer become a more concrete reality and not just an identikit! Let’s all of us, whether employees or freelancers, working for or with companies of all sizes, create connections among these communities and more and more practical alternatives to support circular consumers! Looking forward to hearing from you regarding potential connections among communities and unexpectedly positive potential effects of the pandemic!

[Sources: EU Market Outlook For Solar Power / 2019 – 2023 by Solar Power Europe; GSE Report 2020, European Electric Vehicle Factbook 2019/2020 by ICCT; ACEA -European Auto Manufacturers Association; ACI; ANFIA, Consumers and repair of products by UE Parliament; “Conversation with circular consumer” J.B. Brown, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL 2020, European Packaging Preferences 2020]