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The Sharing Economy and Sustainability: A Silent Revolution That Keeps Giving

Almost a year ago now, we published an article about how composting is one of the greenest things a person can do, but a rapidly growing movement is beginning to rival that notion. We are talking about the sharing economy, also known as the gifting economy, or collaborative consumption. The premise is this. You need to use an object, for example a bike or a lawnmower, but you can’t justify buying it, or you can’t afford to. Instead, you use the internet to access individuals who are local to you who have a bike or lawnmower they can share with you, either for free or for a small cost, or in exchange for reciprocal sharing of, for example, that two-person tent you bought three years ago and never actually used.

An article in The Atlantic recently discussed the apparent ‘shrinking’ of the American worker and his diminished worth in current times. What does this mean in a Capitalist society where money equals success? The answer is in the sharing. People are doing it for themselves. Forget hitchhiking with strangers; car, bike and ride sharing is changing the way we think about ownership, adding a new value to our things in an age of hyper-consumption, and lowering carbon emissions across the globe. We no longer need one of everything, or a plethora of dusty possessions guiltily clogging up our closets and garages, because we can borrow them instead of buying them. And we don’t have to worry about paying for things that might only be used only once, and the immense side effect of this – a damning ecological footprint. More, this new revival of sharing different is bringing communities together during a time of virtual friendships and i-individuals. Wallets are tight and the ability to buy one of everything is limited to few individuals, so what better than to pool our resources and share what we do have with others?

Modern technology has spawned this movement as much as social necessity has. Many of us have a love-hate relationship with the virtual world, but the internet is also a gateway to action and connection in the real world; it gives us the choice to do things differently and the means to connect.

There are three avenues in the sharing economy. One is to rent products rather than buying them, usually from companies, which is the concept most people are familiar with. Another is the use of redistribution markets, which involve the exchange of goods between individuals, for example Gumtree. The third method is a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly popular during this time of austerity; peer-to-peer collaborative lifestyle, where people reach out to share goods and services with their neighbors.

The potential impact of this is staggering.

Sharing is Caring

You have probably come across or used sharing websites such as  Freecycle which thrives on the premise that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, or Couch Surfing, both of which are not-for-profit endeavors. More than 3 million people from 235 countries have ‘couch-surfed’ already, and countless goods have been appropriated to new owners and prevented from ending up in landfill sites. But take this a step further. Instead of acquiring goods for free, you can create and be part of a community where each person is an investor and goods are shared out equally and according to their value. You can rent anything from a person to run errands for you to an office space for the week. It’s so convenient and easy that it’s becoming big business; the economic value of the sharing economy is estimated to be nearly $500 billion. But it’s not only businesses that are benefiting financially from the sharing economy – through peer-to-peer and collaborative efforts, people are providing for each other by reducing their consumption of new and reusing local goods and services, which takes power away from faceless corporations and the way they use the world’s resources. Also, websites that list sharing individuals usually have eBay-like rating systems, so you can see where your money or goods are going and the person they are going to.

The wastefulness of our society is staggering. According to ICM Research, in the U.K. almost £3bn has been spent in the past year on products that have rarely been used, including clothes, outdoor equipment, entertainment items, DIY tools and garden tools. By taking part in the sharing system, individuals are able to drastically and immediately reduce their carbon footprints.

How it Works

Rent a bike from its owner, cycle it round the block or across the world, and leave it at a pre-arranged drop-off point for the next person to use. Pay a small fee for this service, or offer a different one in return. This is a great way of dipping your toe in cycling, or getting fit, without having to buy your own bike and bike chain and lights and so on, and you get to know who your money is going to, which builds trust between individuals and also builds communities. Bike sharing also reduces reliance on motorised vehicles, traffic congestion, parking problems, noise and air pollution, and emissions when bikes are used instead of cars. By collaborating with your neighbor, you can cycle your neighborhood towards being a greener, safer, healthier place.

Car sharing and ride sharing are equally beneficial to us all. According to the U.S. Government Census 2009, the average distance an American worker commutes daily is 33 miles. Cars come with a huge carbon footprint and also erase footprints as roads consume towns and communities and make them less safe for children to grow up around. Car sharing is becoming particularly popular in the U.S. where the individual is insured for driving rather than the car (as is the case in the U.K.).

We’re looking past carpooling here, to people sharing vehicles in their neighborhoods, thereby cutting the number of cars on the roads, the distance you might drive to and from a rental service, and, ultimately, the need for new roads, parking spaces, and so on.  By car sharing you don’t have to worry about the drain on your finances of owning your own vehicle, having it serviced, or feeling guilty about letting it sit in the drive unused. Equally, by sharing parking spaces you can make a little money from, for example, your driveway when it’s not being used, and prevent other people from paving their front gardens to create new driveways. Sharing parking spots also builds a community of trust among local people, a sort of Neighborhood Watch for shared goods and services.

But transport isn’t the only thing the sharing economy has to offer. In this economy, everyone is valuable. You can earn money by doing odd jobs for local people, or by sharing your skills; Avi Flombaum’s earned $100,000 in a single year from teaching Skillshare classes . Instead of using expensive courier mail to deliver packages, you can ask local travellers who are already heading to the destination you’d be posting to. Instead of building new offices when your business requires it, you can share office space in your neighborhood, utilising space better and reducing the need for new builds in your hometown. Through peer-to-peer lending you can take power away from banks and put it into the hands of individuals, where it is needed most.  Instead of buying new clothes whenever the urge hits you can recycle your wardrobe through local or online swishing, thus saving yourself money, the world resources, and taking money away from faceless corporations who care more about advertising than the consumer. This is consumerism for the greens.  Charities also have much to gain from the sharing economy. Globechain in the U.K. was recently launched as a platform to connect charity shops (thrift stores) with individuals, virtually. This will greatly impact the industry because stores can only store so many donated goods at any time, and suffer when they hit low peaks of donations. It’s free for charities or businesses to obtain goods via the website, ensuring that good are reused where they can’t be sold or stored.

Get Involved

We have listed a selection of worldwide peer-to-peer sharing programs below, but there is a wealth of information on the web for getting involved in local neighborhood schemes, as well as for setting up new programs of sharing. If you don’t have a local sharing scheme, why not start one? It’s easy to sign up to sites and connect with local individuals virtually. Shareable is an online magazine with all the latest news on the sharing economy, and The People Who Share run campaigns such as National Sharing Day and Global Sharing Day. You already know what you might gain from this; now all you have to do is decide what you need to borrow, and what you have to give, and you’re good to go.

Bike Sharing

Car Sharing

In the U.S.

In Australia

In Europe

Clothes Swapping

House Sharing/Renting, worldwide

Lifestyle Sharing

Lift/Ride Sharing

In the U.S.

In Australia

Sharing Parking

In the U.S.

In the U.K.

Redistribution Markets/Stuff Sharing

Skills Sharing

  • MaestroMarket is a talent marketplace where individuals can connect with experts and skilled people­
  • Streetbank, worldwide
  • Skillshare,  worldwide
  • TheAmazings is a network of ‘elders’ who want to share their skills with the world

Tool Sharing

Travel Sharing; Tours & Activities, worldwide

Image Source: C!/Flickr