Helping Hennepin County Residents and Retailers Choose to Reuse

February 8, 2022

Keeping goods in a circle of reuse is one of the easiest ways consumers can help reduce waste and save money. But understanding product life cycles and the positive impact of reuse can be daunting for consumers who want to get started. Retail merchandising students in RM 3124: Consumers of Design teamed up with the Hennepin County Choose to Reuse team to research solutions for helping consumers prioritize reuse over purchasing new.

The Hennepin County Choose to Reuse program works to increase awareness of reuse and its benefits within Hennepin County. Its goal is to send zero Hennepin County waste to landfills by 2030. “A significant number of residents surveyed by our team indicated a willingness to change their shopping habits if they better understood where to buy, share, rent, and repair used goods, and if the retail experience met their needs,” explained Kristin Pierskalla, waste reduction & reuse sr. analyst for Hennepin County.

To help consumers make that connection and get involved with the reuse movement, the Choose to Reuse team launched the Join the Circle campaign. “Join the Circle is a rallying cry, call-to-action, and messaging platform that Hennepin County consumers can join to access a huge vault of knowledge around how to live a low-waste life,” said Pierskalla.

“When the Choose to Reuse program approached us about helping support this campaign through student research we knew it was a great fit,” said Center for Retail Design & Innovation (CRDI) Assistant Director Peggy Lord. “We want our students to work on practical projects and to get experience working with real clients solving real problems. We focus on providing this kind of experience not only to make a positive impact in our community, but to increase student engagement because they know their work has a chance at getting implemented.”

For their final class project, the students were tasked with developing strategies to drive interest and participation from reuse retailers, increase consumer membership in Join the Circle, and promote the Choose to Reuse program and its partnering retailers online and on social media. Leveraging their education in consumer behavior, the class worked in groups to create case studies on how products are chosen and how consumers act in their social and cultural settings. “The experience I got with the case study really pushed me to bring out my creative side and I feel like I learned a lot," said Katie Woodward (Retail Merchandising), a student in the course.    

“The work these students did will be crucial to our continued success,” said Pierskalla. “It will help us further unite reuse, repair, and rental retailers around a single, powerful message that generates awareness, builds interest, and spurs action among consumers.”

While each group’s case study varied in its recommendations, the key themes throughout all of them were to rebrand, increase event attendance, and increase social media promotion. “I was blown away by the final projects,” said Interim Retail Merchandising Program Director Jaye Thompson. “The students really went above and beyond on their research and I can’t wait to see its impact as the Choose to Reuse team puts our students’ recommendations into action.”

Of the seven groups, two were chosen to present their case study recommendations in full to Hennepin County’s Choose to Reuse team and CRDI leadership, who were able to ask clarifying questions and select a winning group. The winning team was composed of Kelsey Fetherston, Anne France, Anne Gardner, Grace Gimre, and Chase Greene, who were each awarded $100. Consolation prizes of UMN swag were given to the runners-up.

View the winning student project or learn more about Hennepin County’s Choose to Reuse Program and Join the Circle.

The College of Design’s Center for Retail Design and Innovation (CRDI) has entered into the biggest partnership in its history with omnichannel retailer Kohl’s. Based outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kohl’s financial commitment over a three-year period will support CRDI’s work to enrich the student experience in retail merchandising.

Students, alumni, and retail leaders from across Minnesota and beyond gathered virtually on Tuesday, October 26 for Retail Connect 2021. The annual event brings industry and academic communities together to address the challenges and innovations shaping the retail landscape.

On December 3, students, faculty, and staff celebrated the official opening of the new Center for Retail Design and Innovation (CRDI).