Out-sourcing is rapidly becoming a generally accepted form of selling results instead of (capital) goods or services.
Companies and regions that initiate the change toward a sustainable society rather than suffering the consequences of it through the actions of their competitors will have a head start and be able to position themselves strategically. An old, but in the age of market research somewhat forgotten, truth of economics will play its heavy hand again: Real innovation is always supply driven—the role of demand is one of selection (Giarini and Stahel, 1989/1993).
The shift in the economy toward a more sustainable society and functional economy began some time ago. However, most experts are unaware of the fundamental change, probably because they interpret the signs in terms of the old industrial economic thinking.
A functional society will not solve all the problems of this world, especially not the inherited problems from the past (e.g., pollution cleanup and unemployment of overspecialized production workers); nor will it make the manufacturing sector disappear. The manufacturing sector could well be transformed into a high-volume producer of global standardized components engaged in regionalized remanufacturing products.
A sustainable economy needs an appropriate structure. The characteristics include a regionalization of jobs and skills, such as minimills for material recycling, remanufacturing workshops for products, decentralized production of services (e.g., rental outlets), local upgrading and take-back (comparable with insurance supplemented by centralized design, research, and management centers). Such an economy will consume fewer resources and have a higher resource efficiency, and its production will be characterized by smaller regionalized units with a higher and more skilled labor input. Transport volumes of material goods will diminish and be increasingly replaced by transports of immaterial goods such as recipes instead of food products, software instead of spare parts.
For the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the economy will offer workplace mobility rather than rely on worker mobility. The more that immaterial goods are transported, the greater the feasibility of telecommuting. Flexible work periods and part-time work are compatible with, and even a necessity for, providing services and results around the clock.
Because services cannot be produced in advance and stored but have to be delivered at the location of the client when needed, the economic disadvantages of peripheral suburban zones will partly disappear, as will most of the environmental burden caused by transportation flows to centralized zones.