Kompetenzzentrum eStandards Pilot Project: Where Should Used Backpacks Go?

It is not uncommon for customers to call FOND OF, the backpack company from Cologne known for brands like Ergobag, Satch or Aevor, asking something along the lines of: “My daughter has an Ergobag for primary school, but it has been up in the attic for several years now, unused. We don’t need it anymore. Do you have an idea what we can do with it?” To date, FOND OF’s only reply option was unsatisfying: Customer service recommended donation or disposal, depending on its condition. That is about to change.

Unhappy with their current response, a team from FOND OF, made up of marketing, design, logistics and corporate responsibility representatives, worked together with experts from the Kompetenzzentrum eStandards and University of Cologne’s Enactus group in a design-thinking workshop. “We want to show people what they can do with their backpacks after use”, said Julian Conrads, sustainability expert at FOND OF. The goal is to motivate customers to maximise service time, keeping first backpacks and eventually materials in the economic cycle.

Together with the CSCP’s sustainability experts Thomas Wagner and Patrik Eisenhauer for the Kompetenzzentrum eStandards, the workshop team has developed two options to achieve that goal. The first one is a “Take back” model, where FOND OF develops a return system for backpacks that are broken (End of life). Those backpacks are not supposed to be thrown away: “We want to create a value-driven incentive to send the backpacks back to us, so we can recycle the material again. Enactus is working on ideas for new products that could be created from the material. For upcycling, we could imagine collaborating with Lebenshilfe for example”, describes Julian Conrads.

His colleague, Hannes Weber details the other possible solution: for backpacks that are still in good shape but no longer used (End of Use), “Second hand solutions offer enormous potential and create opportunities for people who cannot afford a new school bag or backpack. However, we also want to ensure a minimum level of quality for used backpacks. Customers who make sure that they are passing on full sets, complete with pencil case and sports bag, should derive added value from that”.

The next steps for FOND OF are clear: They will clarify with the management of the different brands which incentives are needed to motivate customers to participate in the take-back and second-hand model and specify the return process for the backpacks. In this, they are supported by the experts from the Kompetenzzentrum eStandards.

The Kompetenzzentrum eStandards Co-Working Space is hosted in Wuppertal at the CSCP. Circular economy thinking is key at the CSCP both from a business model and value chain perspective.

Mittelstand 4.0 Kompetenzzentrum eStandards

The Mittelstand 4.0 Kompetenzzentrum eStandards is an initiative of Mittelstand-Digital. Mittelstand-Digital informs small and medium-sized enterprises about the opportunities and challenges of digitalisation. Regional Kompetenzzentren help local small retailers as well as larger production companies with expert knowledge, demonstration centres, and networks to facilitate the exchange of experiences and practical examples. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy enables the free use of all Mittelstand-Digital offerings. Further information can be found at


Image: At the Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum eStandards, offenen Werkstatt Köln, visitors can play the circularity game. Source: GS1 Germany