By Davie Philip
How sharing will save the future
“Our wellbeing will depend more and more on what we share with others and create together.” ~ Charles Leadbeater, author of We-Think
These challenging financial times are forcing us to re-evaluate the way we interact with one another, and with the resources and assets we have around us. In this Good Life 2.0 article, I want to explore how we might solve real world problems, change our hyper-consumptive ways and flourish through the act of sharing.
There is a new economic model emerging that is built around the borrowing and sharing of goods and services. As well as reducing the amount of stuff we have, and therefore the waste we produce, this trend could help us to save money, strengthen our communities, promote sustainability and create new livelihoods.
Enabled by the Internet and social networks, new sharing initiatives are springing up that are able to operate at scale and across geographic boundaries. Although they are ancient practices, lending, exchanging and swapping have never been as collaborative as they are today.
This new, potentially game-changing trend has been described in a number of different ways – collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer asset sharing and the sharing economy are all labels used to describe it. Based on access, use and the re-circulation of goods as an alternative to traditional private ownership, it also has the potential to foster increased social connections and therefore strengthen the resilience of our communities.
In “What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption”, authors Rachael Botsman and Roo Rogers chart the growth of this system where people pay for the benefit of having access to a product rather than paying more to own it outright.
They describe it as an “emerging socio-economic groundswell”, which they say is driven by the fact that people are increasingly searching for more simplicity in their lives. A few years ago, collaborative consumption was named one of TIME Magazine’s 10 ideas that will change the world.
Will this approach improve the way we interact with one another and contribute to the creation of a more collaborative and caring society? Could this old idea of sharing, revamped by the use of technology, hold the potential to transform our mobility, work practices, and living arrangements?
Our shelves and cupboards are stuffed full of goods that could be passed on to people, and everyone has a talent or skill they could share. We are surrounded by assets that have idling capacity; the untapped social and economic value of underutilised goods, spaces and skills. Taking advantage of this is a new breed of entrepreneurs and self-organised communities who are increasingly connecting these resources with technology and creating new livelihoods and businesses.
The car, which used to be the ultimate status symbol and the provider of freedom and independence, is one of the most expensive and underutilised assets people own today. Having a car is increasingly being viewed as an extra expense, and, in urban areas, having one has become unsustainable. Car sharing or car clubs are becoming a popular alternative to ownership, especially when the costs of filling the tank, maintaining, taxing, insuring and parking your car are rising so dramatically.
GoCar is an Irish car club based in Dublin and Cork that gives you access to a fleet of cars and vans parked around the city. Cars can be used for as little as 15 minutes, and when your trip is finished you just park at a designated parking spot and walk away. At the end of the month you get a bill that includes the cost of fuel and insurance.
Airbnb, the peer-to-peer marketplace that allows people to rent their spare rooms and houses, is the poster child of the sharing economy. Its popularity, with over 10 million nights booked in 192 countries, is evidence that collaborative consumption is becoming a significant business trend. It has been reported that Airbnb hosts in New York City make an average of $21,000 annually, just by renting a room that was previously “idling”.
Sharing economy systems don’t always need cash. In Clonakilty, the community there has set up a “favour exchange” to share skills and labour. This exchange system is “an economy of goodwill” and does not involve the making or spending of money.
As I live and work in rural Ireland, it is the local application of the sharing economy that most interests me. Cloughjordan, the winner of the national Green Community award and the second best Village to live in in Ireland, according to the Irish Times, makes for a perfect environment to experiment with sharing initiatives. Due to its high level of community spirit, informal car-pooling, tool sharing, a bread club and food exchanges already exist in Cloughjordan, and more collaborative enterprises are popping up.
The Cloughjordan Community Farm is our local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project that now has over 60 member households. By sharing the cost of farm production with others, members can share the yield of the farm collectively. This is an excellent way to secure a supply of healthy and locally grown food. I am also involved in the development of a co-housing project in Cloughjordan. This will be a model of low-debt housing where people will have their own living space but will share common rooms and amenities.
We Create is a co-working space that is about to open in the Ecovillage, which will provide the space and resources needed for small businesses, independent workers, designers, developers, educators and entrepreneurs to work on their own projects. Co-working spaces are a great way to attract talent to the locality, to maintain the energy and motivation of people, and to help share resources. A Food Hub is being developed at We Create, which will provide growers, makers and food producers with space to process, distribute and market their locally or regionally-produced food goods.
This co-working space will also feature a Fablab – a digital fabrication workshop – which is an innovative way to bring prototyping capabilities to communities. Neil Gershenfeld, a professor at MIT, describes Fablabs as “a collection of commercially available machines and parts linked by software and processes developed for making things.” By sharing open-source blue prints and plans across the Internet, Fablabs give us the capacity to be creators rather than just consumers.
This new collaborative way of living and working is a potential economic regeneration strategy for communities, particularly those in rural areas. This approach could activate underutilised spaces and help us to see our unused stuff as a revenue stream, not just matter on its way to the waste stream.
I think this trend will grow to dominate business in the future and, as well as giving us a renewed sense of community, will fundamentally change how we consume. In the new sharing economy, people and communities will have more choices, more tools, more information and more power. Where sharing exists, communities flourish; and these collaborative systems could be good not only for our wallets but for our neighborhoods and our planet.
If you are interested in the We Create Co-Working Spaceand would like to find out how you can get involved, contact Ben Whelan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Davie Philip runs the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate. He is a resident of the Cloughjordan Ecovillage, a catalyst for Transition and a board member of GIY Ireland. email@example.com