Learning to share

Do we need to own things to enjoy their benefits or could we reduce cost and resource use by paying for what we need, when we need it? The idea is obviously not new, from car hire to hotels it’s a proven model but technology and online communities are taking it to a new level.

Collaborative consumption (or more prosaically, sharing) is one of Time magazine’s “ten ideas that will change the world.”

Rachel Botsman, co-author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, was at Ecobuild last month to convert the sceptics.  The keys to collaborative consumption, she said, are efficiency and trust.

Botsman identifies three variants: collaborative lifestyles (eg airbnb or taskrabbit), redistribution markets (eg eBay or Freecycle) and product as service systems (eg London’s Boris bikes or DriveNow, BMW’s car sharing site).

A key concept here is “idling capacity”, the untapped social, economic  and environmental value of underutilised or idle assets.

Before anyone suggests that these ideas are strictly for the geeks, Botsman’s research has found they are intergenerational, not just for the young. One example is Landshare, which connects people with surplus plots with those wanting to grow. As Botsman says, this is “using the internet to get off the internet.  Moving people from being isolated, passive consumers to engaging with the community.”

So, if people prize access over ownership could collaborative consumption be picked up by the fairly traditional worlds of commercial property and facilities management? Beyond serviced offices it’s hard to think of immediate applications but there are powerful forces at work here – a resurgence of community, extreme cost consciousness, environmental concern and a torrent of social technologies. It could be just a matter of time.

One thought on “Learning to share

  1. Interesting concept I think. I’m going to a session about it at Exeter university on May 22nd, to find out a bit more about how it works in practice, the benefits and drawbacks.

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