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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Frugal innovation with a focus on prosumers: How companies can use prosumers to become more sustainable

In the 20th century companies have been traditionally pushing mass-produced products onto a passive consumer market. Today, consumers are increasingly aware of sustainability-related issues, asking for more personalised products and conversations with brands. Companies which do not adapt to this change will disappear. To adapt, companies need consumers which proactively engage with products or services (they are termed “prosumers”). Several concepts describe prosumers, but no holistic summary exists. It is not clear how organisations can use prosumers or how they can be used for sustainability. Thus, this thesis is answering the question of how companies can use prosumers to become more sustainable. The aim of this research is to categorise existing types of prosumers and build a toolkit that can be used to help companies with the topic. Firstly, consumers of the board game industry are used to validate literature findings on the topic using a questionnaire. Secondly, this paper categorises concepts around prosumers into five distinct types. These are used to build the toolkit, which is tested on a game start-up. The questionnaire found that how effective incentives to engage consumers vary from situation to situation. It needs to be applied to a broader audience from different industries to fully support the toolkit. The toolkit was produced as a functional prototype to help companies implement prosumers into their business models. Applying it to a game start-up showed its usefulness in guiding companies, but also that it needs work in terms of further explanation and validation to effectively guide with the implementation of prosumers. The thesis successfully demonstrates that prosumers can help companies overcome crucial business challenges, while bringing other advantages which can lead to sustainable development. The caveats are made that the toolkit could be used for unsustainable purposes and might not work with a consumer base that is sceptical or unwilling to change. Further research should use company data from different sectors as well as workshops and feedback should be gathered to develop the toolkit further.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.