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Economy of Sharing Helps Environment, Builds Community

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By Debbie Van Der Hyde
May 28, 2012

Do you remember your parents telling you to share your toys?

Today, there is a grown-up version of sharing taking root. It is an economy in which people borrow everything from camping gear to wedding decorations to kitchen appliances and tools from their friends and neighbors.

Some call the phenomenon the sharing society. Others call it collaborative consumption or the sharing economy. No matter what you call it, sharing has its roots in the reduce, reuse, and recycle movement.  It is also a reflection of the economic times, as people are looking for ways to do more with less.

Depending on who you talk to, sharing society may be trending toward something even bigger. Author Lisa Gansky in her book The Mesh and accompanying manifesto sums it up as a fundamental realization: “Maybe the collection of more stuff, bigger houses for storing it, and more debt wasn’t the all there was to life.”

On her companion Mesh Web site, Gansky describes the mesh as “a world community and economy where access trumps ownership.” The site includes a directory of companies that are spurring the sharing economy—from Book Swim, a book rental library that ships to you in a model similar to Netflix, to 2Good2Toss, an online exchange for reusable building materials for do-it-yourself home projects—a useful option for Sierra Club Green Home readers!

The Psychology of Sharing

To many people, sharing just makes sense. Not surprisingly, the sharing society is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance, as evidenced by the success of ZipCar, a car-sharing service, or AirBnB, which helps people rent or trade usage of their homes with others around the globe.

Cars, which sit idle for long periods of time, are an especially good example. “People think cars give us freedom. But you have to buy, park, insure, and gas it,” says Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, Inc.

“Freedom is actually mobility. You want to get from place to place, on demand, efficiently and affordably,” he explains. This shift in thinking has resulted in business model experimentation as companies expand the collaborative consumption idea to clothing, computers, furnishings, travel and more.

“It’s less about product and ownership, and more about relationship and better experiences,” Makower says.

The peer-to-peer sharing society is being enabled by the connecting technologies of the Internet and social media. Web sites and mobile apps dedicated to sharing, such as Sharable, Collaborative Consumption or NeighborGoods, are a just a click or download away.

Although efficient, sharing things that you own requires a certain level of trust. Social media can help build levels of trust within your network, as it is easiest to lend to friends and neighbors. Social media can also help people work up to sharing with friends of friends or the general public by providing rating systems that expose those who do not honor a sharing contract.

According to a survey by Latitude Research and Sharable Magazine, “75 percent of respondents predicted their sharing of physical objects and spaces will increase in the next five years.” Likewise, “78 percent of participants felt their online interactions with people have made them more open to the idea of sharing with strangers, suggesting that the social media revolution has broken down trust barriers.”

Cities take charge

Some urban areas are leading the way with sharing, most notably New York, which is launching a citywide bike share system this summer, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Patrick Dunn, a Seattle resident, organized a local Share Fair in February of this year, bringing together a number of Seattle-based sharing society organizations.

“We figured it was high time to make sure our community knows the programs exist, and allow everyone a chance to explore some opportunities for collaboration,” says Dunn.

Dunn is a former shipwright who often completed jobs with tools borrowed from friends. Recognizing the need for sharing systems, he and a core group of other community members founded the West Seattle Tool Library, a nonprofit lending organization with donated tools.

“We started from scratch, modeling it after other tool libraries across the nation. It turned it into a tremendously value community asset with 620+ members using it today,” says Dunn. He adds that lending libraries have an advantage in that people don’t have to wait for peer-to-peer trust to develop.

To make the lessons learned from the West Seattle Tool Library universally available, Patrick also launched Share Starter, a website that covers the process of setting up lending library.

“We needed a way to efficiently pass along the help we’d gotten and make it easier for others to do,” explains Dunn.

Share Starter also has information about getting people involved, soliciting tool donations, and managing issues like liability and insurance. The site includes standard legal documents to complete a community lending program of any type, such as a borrowers’ agreement and waiver forms.

For more ways to join in the sharing society, visit Sharable.net, a nonprofit online magazine that includes Top 20 How-to Share Posts.

For related stories, see:
Build A Greener Block Transforms Las Vegas
Community Solar: Bringing People Together for Clean Energy
Share Cars, Help the Planet

 

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. 


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