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Less Ownership, More Use

Henry Mentink. Foto: MyWheels

Less Ownership, More Use

Entrepreneur Henry Mentink wanted to boost the appeal of fair trade stores—and incidentally, he introduced car sharing to the Netherlands.

What would you do if you had just launched your own business, you are ready to go—but money is so tight that you can’t (yet) afford the car you need? The answer is simple: “Ask your neighbours if they would like to buy one with you to share,” says Henry Mentink, a gangly, tall man with dark blond hair, silver-rimmed glasses, and a big smile.

On average, cars are used an hour per day

In 1993 the Dutch entrepreneur did exactly that and thus laid the cornerstone for MyWheels. Today, this foundation has tens of thousands of registered users who seek to borrow a car or share their vehicle with others—for weeks, days, or hours at a time. “Whatever you need,” explains 61-year-old Mentink. “Be it an economy car for inner-city traffic or a station wagon for a skiing trip.”

Moving away from car ownership toward better vehicle usage—this has been and remains Mentink’s mission, for which he received the “Green Medal” from the Ministry for Environmental Affairs in the Hague on the Day of Sustainability in 2009. First of all, the vast majority of cars are parked most of the time—that includes the 8 million cars owned by the Dutch population of approximately 17 million. On average, vehicles are in use for a mere hour per day. Second, car sharing helps the environment: “Those who share or borrow cars drive up to 30% less—which also decreases CO2 emissions by 30%,” Mentink computes. “In addition to that, our towns’ quarters are not as crammed, quieter, and child-friendlier!”

More appealing Fair Trade stores

Mentink did not originally set out to become the founder of a car sharing company. Since his college days, the dedicated young Dutchman has wanted to encourage his fellow citizens to take better care of their planet and to be mindful of those who are less fortunate. So in 1993 he took the plunge and started his own business at age 40. For 12 years he had been in steady employment, first with a pharmaceutical company, then with an international vegetable and flower seed company. Now he wanted to start his own consulting business in his home town of Grootebroek, northeast of Amsterdam—“So I could live my green and social ideals!” he explains.

He arranged his first project himself. During a visit to the luxury department store Bijenkorf, the Dutch equivalent of the French Galéries Lafayette, the sight of the enticing, lavish layout of the products there made Mentink think of his favourite shop in Grootebroek, a branch of a Dutch Fair Trade chain called wereldwinkel. Tucked away in a side street, the merchandise was displayed in a, let’s say, rather underwhelming manner, and the store was open for only a few hours at a time. “It did not exactly make you want to buy something,” Mentink explains.

The young entrepreneur decided that this had to change. With eight volunteers he raised 100,000 gulden (about 45,000 Euro), which he used to give “his” wereldwinkel a thorough makeover. This metamorphosis promptly turned it into the flagship store for the nation’s 350 other branches, which have since followed its lead.

From neighbourhood initiative to professional foundation

Mentink has his neighbours to thank for the fact that he could afford the car he needed to accomplish this first project. Three families in his neighbourhood were willing to purchase a car together and share it. “It was all very unbureaucratic,” he remembers. “We would hide the car key under doormats or in flower pots next to the front door.”

And this idea also caught on: Ten years later, in 2003, the one car had become six and four families had turned into 40. “It was time to professionalise the whole thing a little.” Mentink therefore turned the private initiative into a co-op with the name Wheels4all. Whoever was willing to invest money in it was entitled to use the cars for free: “Two Euros bought you a kilometre.” Over the years, the community was able to buy 120 cars.

The next change came in 2010: The co-op became a foundation called MyWheels. Now every car owner in the Netherlands can offer his or her own car for sharing, which 2,000 people are doing today. And about 30,000 registered users have taken advantage of the option of driving a car without owning it.

Sharing is the future

Mentink himself has since moved on to new goals. He realized that in addition to cars, people could also share houses. He joined forces with other interested parties to start another foundation. Its purpose is to purchase a charming, run-down ferry house and transform it into a centre for the arts and cultural exchange, which he hopes will generate new ideas for sharing.

“We own too many things. We will not be able to sustain this much longer,” he feels. Therefore Mentink predicts a new sense of togetherness, new forms of community. “Sharing,” he says with conviction, “is the future.”


    July 2014
    Netherlands, Grootebroek

    My Wheels
    Henry's newest endeavor: the Village Trade Center


    Kerstin Schweighöfer
    is a freelance foreign correspondent for German media in the Netherlands, reporting on the Benelux countries for the ARD public radio stations, for Deutschlandfunk, FOCUS and art magazine, among others.


    Stichting Urgenda


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    This text and the images are licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Germany License.


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