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50 shades of green: the collaborative consumption movement

Reuben Sagar

November 15th, 2012

If you witnessed any of the activity surrounding Global Sharing Day, and feel inspired to learn more, read on. Here, Reuben Sagar reviews five green enterprises adding considerable momentum to the Collaborative Consumption movement.

When people on the other side of the world are not strangers it tends to get you thinking globally

Globally there are are 161 resource sharing partners with a reach of over 60 million people in 147 countries. These enterprises inspire the citizens of the world to share both tangibles and intangibles, including vehicles, clothing, skills, food, equipment – the list is endless. 

The Collaborative Consumption movement is not just significant for shifting consumer mind-sets, but has considerable environmental benefits. With growing wealth and a burgeoning population leading to an unprecedented demand for resources, a more collaborative form of consumption will be crucial for sustainability.

Reuben points out that most of the goods, buildings or vehicles that we already have spend their life dormant and gathering dust. This isn’t just true for Las Vegas hotels or vintage sports cars. School halls, for example, spend every evening, weekend and holiday as quiet as a mausoleum.

The five companies reviewed here are removing digital barriers and allowing the consumer to cut down their requirements for new goods, instead realising the potential of the resources already in existence. Four of these enterprises have recently launched and the fifth, Couch Surfing, is something of a legendary figure in the industry, having set the direction and built international confidence in the concept of resource sharing.

A clear winner for a greener environment, goCarShare connects paying passengers and drivers so that they can travel together, saving money for both parties. The environmental saving results from a reduction in the number of under capacity cars making the exact or near same journey. With an estimated 38 million empty car seats travelling around Britain every day, the opportunity for cutting down emissions is huge. An average commuter produces their car’s weight in carbon emissions every year. By contrast, if they choose to car share in a full car, carbon emissions per passenger become comparable with taking the train. Technology provides the tool for linking passengers and drivers. Drivers can quote prices for journeys and passengers can read peer reviews to find out more about their chosen ride.

One of the key drains on our natural resources is the increasing demand for the construction of new buildings, whether they are for sports facilities, meeting rooms, yoga studios or conference facilities. Our question is can we stem this thirst for building more facilities by being more creative about connecting resource owners with those who want to hire, allowing us to use what we have more efficiently. By creating this platform Hire Space gives schools the ability to market their space for use by local community groups, and provides a small gallery with a tool for hiring out its space to a local yoga teacher. The public benefits through being able to compare venues, reed peer reviews and pay online, whilst the venues gain a substantial income stream. In addition, schools and community spaces benefit from greater engagement with their local community.

Set up in 2010, after a neighbour asked if they could store a couple of bikes in the founder’s house, Share My Storage focuses on providing a communication tool to bridge the current disconnect between those who have space with those who need it. The environmental benefits here are twofold. First, there is a clear benefit in the reduction of new builds required to store these goods. The second benefit might have been overlooked prior to sky- rocketing petrol prices, but is now much more acute. Rather than using your petrol guzzling car to shift your belongings to an out-of-town storage centre, you can simply use your hands and feet (or your kids’ hands and feet) to shift it into Rob’s garage down the road. 

Perhaps the most vividly green example of the new collaborative companies mentioned here, Landshare connects people who want to produce their own fruit and veg crops with people who have unused green space. Environmentally, this means we are significantly cutting down on food miles because not only do we save a tomato being flown into the country but we also save it being lorried to our local supermarket. Furthermore, a lot of Landshare users are unable to manage their garden themselves, and by offering up their garden for use as an allotment, they not only get a cut of someone’s lovely home grown veg, but also find someone who is happy to trim their hedge. These difficult-to-manage gardens may otherwise have been paved or gravelled over, removing carbon dioxide loving plants and preventing rain water from permeating into the ground, thus increasing water shortages and flooding.

As we have already noted, CouchSurfing is the Godfather of the Collaborative Consumption movement and its most strident advocate. The site provides a platform for offering your spare room or couch as a free place to stay for others within the CouchSurfing network. You are rewarded in kind with offers of free accommodation but, in addition, and for many this is the biggest draw, you also get to meet wonderful, like-minded people from around the globe. Whatever the attraction, this reduction in demand for hotel rooms again cuts the environmental impact of new builds. Additionally, at a much more local level, CouchSurfing is providing environmental benefits by reducing an individual’s drain on resources. It encourages the sharing of heating, the collective cooking of food and the general shared use of resources which would otherwise be needed twice over.

The common theme of the above enterprises is connection; connection of the owners of underused resources with those who require them - the environmental impact of which is truly substantial. Certainly, a new electric vehicle is preferable than a petrol fuelled one, and an LEED building is better than one with poor insulation. But, even better, even more ecologically sound, would be to not build any of these resources in the first place. Instead, we should make more optimal use of what we already have. 

What is perhaps most exciting about these ideas, however, is that they are helping us move towards a greener world in a more abstract sense, by giving individuals the chance to connect and become part of a global community. As Heather O’Brien from CouchSurfing puts it, “When people on the other side of the world are not "strangers," it tends to get you thinking globally, which can ultimately affect your decisions about how you impact our shared planet.” 

Reuben Sagar, is part of an entrepreneurial team starting up London based



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