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Friday, 14 February 2014

Why The Sharing Economy Offers A Bright Future

The sharing economy in action at The Big Swap
Charity shops and flea markets have long offered opportunities for sharing and recycling. Recently, though, an exciting new trend has crept into the mainstream. Called ‘The Sharing Economy’, new marketplaces, most of them online, encourage people to share rather than consume. 

The Sustainability Consult ‘Big Swap’ and ‘The Good Library’ are both examples of the sharing economy in action.

Successful Sharing

Before the internet, renting or recycling resources could be more trouble than it was worth unless it was done in an informal way in the neighbourhood. 

Clothing, furniture, travel and accommodation are all easy to share online. Freecycle is one of the largest networks out there for donating unwanted items. It is non-profit, as are many others but there are other models that promote the sharing economy. Yerdle, RelayRides and Airbnb are connecting thousands of people to give away items or to share resources, like spare rooms.

All are established platforms, easy to use, but most are American. This is fast changing because the European sharing economy is catching on. 

Re-Commerce Or Peer-To-Peer?

There are two models that currently dominate the sharing economy. ‘Re-commerce’ provides a middleman between buyer and seller. For example, a third-party buys the goods to better control the customer experience. However, there is added cost because of inventory, which needs to be managed.

‘Peer-to-peer’ models connect people who have something with those who want to use it. Emerging digital technologies make it easier to connect the buyer and seller directly. Ouishare is a prime example of a successful peer-to-peer marketplace. 

A Creative Commons For Materials?

This model of sharing via social networks fosters communities. But does it yet offer enough competition for larger companies that have a stranglehold on consumers?

“There’s a lot of peer-to-peer work going on, but it’s not very well versed around issues like cooperative organisation, formal or legal forms of ownership,” says John Restakis. Restakis, a writer and expert on cooperatives, peer production and the sharing community, argues that these new models could finance a commons-oriented approach to material production. This would allow social co-ops and start-ups to embrace the sharing economy on an industrial scale.

There are obvious benefits for the environment. Digital marketplaces make acting sustainably a lot simpler. If the sharing economy continues to develop then there will be less waste for landfill and fewer new goods will be consumed.

Technology has reduced costs and social media makes sharing assets easier than ever. The sharing economy offers a bright future and in many ways we’re already there.

Blog by Richard Delahay, Communications Assistant at Brussels-based sustainability communications and PR agency Sustainability Consult.

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