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Collaborative Consumption

08 January 2014

collaborative consumption

Lauren Anderson explains why we have only partially tapped what the internet and technology has to offer us.

We live in a smart age – one where devices can track and measure our every move, monitor their own energy efficiency, order food from an empty fridge and keep us connected 24/7. But despite the accessibility of data telling us how much and when we use certain things, our lives are still full of untapped environmental, economic or social potential – what we like to call ‘idling capacity'. From the tools in our shed to the clothes on our back, our stuff lies unused for a large percentage of its life, or is disposed of well before it’s are worn out. So how can we harness the powerful technologies at our fingertips to ramp up the effectiveness of our lifestyles, while also helping us to make more economical or environmentally friendly choices, and perhaps even a few new friends along the way?

One solution lies in a growing socio-economic movement sweeping the world, helping us to define not just what, but how, we consume. We call this shift collaborative consumption, defined in my colleague Rachel Botsman’s book, What’s Mine Is Yours, as the reinvention of old market behaviours – such as bartering, swapping, exchanging, renting or sharing – through new social, mobile and location-based technologies, which enable us to trade with each other on a scale and in ways never possible before. At Collaborative Lab, we have been researching this movement for the last four years. What we have observed is that while humans have been informally trading with each other for thousands of years, the act has taken on a new technological meaning since the early days of eBay and Freecycle as we learned to trust each other in online transactions. Fast-forward to the Facebook age and there are literally thousands of new startups launching around the world helping us to borrow, trade, pass on or rent anything and everything, and bringing a new kind of efficiency to our lives. So what does this movement look like in real life?

Take the example of cars, which have long been a part of modern society, and the purchase of which has become a rite of passage for many young adults. Despite the fact that it costs more than $7000 per year to own and maintain, the average car sits idle up to 23 hours per day in a parking space, driveway or even on the street – not very efficient use of one of our most expensive possessions! This doesn’t even take into account the fact that our roads are congested, our air polluted and our lifestyles unhealthy. Carsharing services such as GoGet Car Share and Hertz On Demand aim to address these challenges by providing a shared fleet of vehicles parked around city areas, which members of the service can book by the hour and return when they are done.

It is estimated that for every carsharing vehicle on the road, between 10-15 privately owned vehicles are taken off the road. Even more interestingly, carsharing members actually drive less, as they think twice about whether they need to use the car before booking. All this leads to fewer cars on the road, healthier drivers and, importantly, cars that are being used to their maximum capacity by being shared.

But while getting access to a car rather than owning one outright maximises the use of that shared vehicle, it is not the only way to adopt collaborative consumption into our every day lives. There are plenty of other places where we are either not making the most of the assets we have, such as our wardrobes. It is often said that the average woman wears 20% of her clothes around 80% of the time, meaning a large proportion of her closet lays unworn or unwanted. Yet at the same time, the demand to keep up with fashion means things like accessories and handbags fall out of favour quickly, and dresses for special functions often only get 2-3 wears before they are old news.

In the world of collaborative consumption, there are a number of fixes for the wardrobe. As one example, the popularity of events like The Clothing Exchange’s clothing swaps are sweeping the world, helping women clean out their closets of gently-worn but no-longer-loved items, and offer them up to be swapped for something they might like. This way, the lifecycle of perfectly good clothing is being extended, while wardrobes are getting an exciting injection of (almost) new life, which can feel as good as getting a bargain at a sale. For accessories with a limited life, or special one-off event outfits, a number of couture and designer fashion rental businesses such as Dressed Up and Bag Borrow or Steal are enabling women to rent coveted items and designer labels for a short period, before they trade them in for something else, helping them keep fashion budgets under control.

Beyond just maximising the utility of the physical stuff in our lives, collaborative consumption companies are also tapping into the idling capacity of our less tangible goods. From WeTeachMe, a community marketplace for courses and events, to global peer-to-peer accommodation marketplace Airbnb that lets you rent out your spare space; to Airtasker, which help people outsource odd jobs to an errand-running taskforce; collaborative consumption platforms are helping to make our own lives more efficient, as well as leveraging the spare time and abilities of many others. But perhaps more importantly, these platforms are also forging stronger community connections by bringing people together over a shared interest or experience – something that is hard to put a dollar value around.

Whether redistributing unwanted items to a better home, providing access to, rather than ownership of, expensive or infrequently used goods to maximise their usefulness, or tapping into underutilised skills or space and making them available for the benefit of others, collaborative consumption is emerging in all parts of our lives and leveraging the idling capacity of our possessions and assets. We can see examples of what’s possible taking off all around the world, but believe there is even greater opportunity up ahead. So what are you willing to share?

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Lauren Anderson is Chief Knowledge Office, Collaborative Lab. Having played an instrumental role in building the global Collaborative Consumption movement, named by TIME as one of the '10 Ideas That Will Change The World', Lauren has researched the latest examples for international book editions of What’s Mine is Yours, and built a global network of ambassadors for the movement. She is a leading source of strategic knowledge for global entrepreneurs, journalists, and venture capitalists who want the latest market insights and best practices to stay ahead of the curve on new goods and services in the market.

She will appear at Social Business 2014, Australia's premium social media conference on in Melbourne February 18-19, 2014. Register here to see Lauren and many more social business experts. 

Ruby members receive a 20% discount off the Registration fee.  Use the promo code:RUBYSB14

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