How To Embrace Collaborative Consumption

“The corruption of the American soul is consumerism.” ~Ben Nicholson

My son and I recently discovered a toy library at our local community centre.  What a great idea.  It’s a wonderful resource for children, and for parents such as myself who are raising their children with minimalist values.  Of course libraries are not new, but this unique application of the concept is encouraging.  It’s an sign that society’s values about ownership are changing and the concept of collaborative consumption is being embraced.

Collaborative consumption is an economic model based on sharing, swapping, bartering, trading, lending, gifting or renting access to products and not paying to own them outright.  The concept has been championed by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, co-authors of What’s Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption Is Changing The Way We Live, as a new socio-economic revolution in the way we consume.  TIME has named collaborative consumption as one of the 10 Ideas That Will Change The World.

Traditional applications of collaborative consumption include libraries, laundromats, gymnasiums, second-hand clothing stores and even neighborhood yard sales.  But now, technology has allowed the concept to flourish on a scale that has never been possible before, creating an unbound marketplace to match millions of people who have with millions of people who want.


There are three primary systems by which collaborative consumption happens:

1. Redistribution networks
This is essentially the redistribution of used products.  eBay was one of the pioneers to leverage technology and open an enormous redistribution marketplace for people to sell and trade products.

2. Product service systems
These systems allow consumers to share ownership and the associated expenses of products.  Car-sharing co-op such as Zipcar are an excellent example.

3. Collaborative lifestyles
This is a system in which users exchange no-product assets such as time, space, resources and skills.  For example, Task Rabbit has created a marketplace where individuals bid on the opportunity to do chores and odd jobs that others will pay to have done for them.


There is no doubt that collaborative consumption is disrupting outdated modes of business and reinventing both what we consume and how we consume it.   But why should you embrace collaborative consumption?

1. Save money
Whether you choose to purchase a used item from someone on Craigslist or swap one item for another on, you’ll save money.

2. Be green
Collaborative consumption reduces the environmental impact of product manufacturing and distribution.  The Story Of Stuff does an excellent job of illustrating just how much impact our consumer habits have on our world and the way we live.

3. Make space
You don’t want the drill, you want the hole that a drill can make, so why do you store one in your home when you rarely use it.  Forego ownership and simply rent a drill when needed.  Not only will your save money, you’ll free up the storage space and enjoy the benefits of a more minimalist home.

4. Support the source
Technology has helped collaborative consumption by connecting the creator with the end-user.  Now, instead of paying $100 for a painting and having half of the money go into the pockets of a middle-man, you can connect with an artist online and have 100% of the money support the creator.


How can you embrace collaborative consumption in your day-to-day life?

1. Sell, swap and gift
Take a look through your house.  Chances are you’re surrounded by things you haven’t used in a very long time.  Consider selling these items, swapping them for things you want, or giving them to someone in need.

2. Commute consciously
The average car costs over $8,000 a year to own, yet sits idle for 23 hours a day.  Why not share that cost, enjoy the benefits of a car-lite lifestyle and join a car share co-op.  Or, have you considered peddling your way around town?  Many cities now have public bike sharing programs where you can pick-up and drop-off bicycles at various points throughout the city for a small fee.  Bixi operates bike sharing programs in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, Canada.

3. Share
Some progressive neighborhoods have implemented peer-to-peer programs where everything from lawnmowers to barbeques are purchased and shared by neighbors.  Why not start a peer-to-peer sharing program in your community?

4. Use electronic media
Chances are you own books, DVDs and CDs that you’ll never use again?  Redistribute them into the marketplace and the next time you’re making a purchase, avoid the waste of buying a hardcopy.  Instead, consider borrowing an e-book from the library, renting a movie online, or purchasing music online.

5. Exchange resources and skills
Find creative ways to work with others.  For example, Landshare in the United Kingdom connects growers to people with land to share.  Have some land in your backyard that isn’t being used?  Why not let a gardener use the land to grow and in return you can enjoy fresh vegetables throughout the year.

6. Invest in others
Organizations such as Kiva match investors with third world entrepreneurs.  To date Kiva has arranged over $224 million with a 98.79% repayment rate.

7. Work smarter
Self employed?  Perhaps you should consider sharing office space with someone who will not only share costs, but who could also offer a complimentary business relationship.  Wish you could work less overtime or work from home?  Ask your employer if they are open to job sharing or virtual offices.  Both have been proven to increase productivity and save money for employers.

8. Travel for less
Why pay to stay in a small hotel room while traveling when you can stay in a full-sized home?  Home Exchange matches travelers who agree to stay in each other’s homes while on vacation.  Vacation Rentals By Owner eliminates the travel agent and puts you in touch with a homeowner looking to rent their property to vacationers.


Interested in learning more about collaborative consumption?  Visit the Collaborative Consumption website and watch Rachel Botsman’s presentation at TEDx Australia.

How do you embrace the concept of collaborative consumption?

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  1. Thanks for this insightful post… really made me pause for a minute and realize how true your words are…. Would be a long path to reorganize my life in conjunction with Collaborative Consumption, but you have my wheels turning now… thanks for sharing!

  2. Jason Billows |

    Thanks for the comment, Steve.

    I agree that reorganizing your life could be a long path, but it’s much more manageable when you tackle it a little bit at a time. Considering whether you can purchase something used vs. new is a great place to start. For example, I know someone who got a great tri-bike frame for much less that buying new would have been. I also shared a drive and motel room with him on a recent triathlon race weekend – another great example of collaborative consumption in action. 🙂

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