WHAT IS THE SHARING ECONOMY?
The Sharing Economy is a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources such as property, knowledge, cars, skills, food, jobs, goods, ideas, responsibility, power and time.
The term ‘Sharing Economy’ emerged from the the global crisis of 2008-9 and the need to do more with less. Its birth demonstrated that necessity is often the best mother of invention. Fuelled by technology that was able to match people who had spare or idle resources with those that wanted or needed them, the term became associated with new types of ‘peer-to-peer’ or person-to-person online marketplaces like Airbnb. In reality, the Sharing Economy is much more than a collection of new types of Silicon Valley backed ventures, it is wide-reaching and changing society as we know it. It is at once an economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources and a mind-set. I define it simply:
The Sharing Economy is a system to live by where we care for people and planet and share available resources however we can.
Widely misunderstood, it’s an umbrella term and includes different types of Sharing. Rent, borrow, swap, exchange, collaborate, reuse, recycle, vintage, all these terms refer to different types of Sharing. But how can renting someone’s spare room be classified as ‘Sharing’? If you are paying for something, where’s the Sharing in that? Here’s where it gets confusing. The ‘Sharing’ in a Sharing Economy, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free. Often, ‘Sharing’ refers to accessing a shared resource, such as when you pay to be a member of a car club. If we rent a shared item rather than buying it new and owning it outright, we are using fewer planetary resources, have less of a negative impact as we only use what we need, we save money (access is cheaper than ownership) and we make social connections. If we buy vintage clothes, we are reusing a pre-existing resource -- in both of these cases, we are ‘sharing available resources,’ creating social impact, even though we are paying.
Money doesn’t mean it’s not a form of Sharing, though money does change things. How can it not? But that doesn’t discount the Sharing and the positive impact that’s created. So a Sharing Economy is known as a hybrid economy - sometimes you exchange money, sometimes you exchange something else. If you fix my laptop and I cook dinner for you, there’s a value exchange, even if we’re not paying with money as we know it. In this new economy, three types of value are recognised and counted – economic, social and environmental. All of this value exists in the world, often hidden, we don’t usually account for it in any traditional sense.
The Sharing Economy is made up of 5 parts:
CATEGORIES: what we share. This includes tangible and intangible assets e.g. homes, goods, food, transport, skills, time, power, knowledge, responsibility.
SUBSETS: the broad spectrum of the Sharing Economy e.g. cooperatives, crowdfunding, social enterprise, volunteering, philanthropy, fair trade, micro finance, mentoring.
MODE: how the Sharing happens in practice e.g. borrow, swap, exchange, rent, repair, recycle, collaborate, peer-to-peer, co-create, co-operate, crowdsource.
CHARACTERISTICS AND VALUES: the qualities of the economy e.g. sustainable, transparent, inclusive, positive, circular, fair, compassionate
IMPACT: why we share, the social impact created e.g. poverty reduction, social mobility, environmental protection, equality, community, wellbeing, social cohesion, sustainability.