Today I was reading an article about clothes swaps as a way of being more environmentally friendly. According to a source, UK shoppers purchase 2 million tonnes of clothes and throw 1 million tonnes away every year! In an attempt to turn this into a more sustainable system, clothes swaps are gaining popularity. I’ve heard of clothes swaps before and even of ones happening close to where I live. However, the article went on to mention the term collaborative consumption, something I hadn’t heard of before.
So I decided to research this a bit and ended up on this web page: http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com, a website dedicated to explaining the movement and offering a really good range of examples of collaborative consumption practices. Collaborative consumption basically describes a movement which has been gaining popularity in the past few years, involving people engaged in the sharing, trading, bartering, swapping, renting and gifting of goods and services. These practices have been around for a long time, but collaborative consumption involves engaging a vast number of people – a critical mass – in them, through the use of technology, in particular new media and social networks.
For people who are reading this and thinking they’d like to get involved, chances are you already have! If you’ve ever bought something from someone on Ebay for example, you’ve participated in collaborative consumption!
Car sharing services are one of the areas where collaborative consumption has had its biggest successes. When living in big, congested cities like London or New York, having your own car isn’t very practical because public transportation is good and driving is a nightmare. That doesn’t mean that at times you won’t need a car to move something or do a big shop. Instead of having to invest in a car that you use once in a blue moon, car sharing services allow you to use and pay for a car for only as long as you need it. These kinds of practices are trying to fundamentally change the way people consume. Just because it’s ‘normal’ for people to own a car, as part of a consumer economy, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t alternatives. Indeed, when I lived in the US I was shocked that people considered it normal to change their car for a new model every couple of years, or even yearly, while hundreds of cars sit unwanted in second hand lots.
The car sharing example is a good one but tourism has also embraced collaborative consumption. Websites like Couch Surfing and Airbnb offer people the opportunity to put their spare rooms up for potential visitors (the first for free and the second for a charge) but are also social networks, where people can share their travelling experiences. In the long run, these offer a more authentic and life-changing travelling experience, an alternative to the package holidays which are often unimpressive and make you feel like you haven’t even left home.
From my reading, the areas where collaborative consumption is becoming a viable and established alternative to the mainstream are numerous. From solar power to textbook swaps to neighbourhood support services, the possibilities are endless. You can check out some of the examples and even discover something that you didn’t even know you were looking for by taking a look at this page!