In Australia’s biggest cities there should be little need to own your own car – you can share with neighbours on your street, pick one up by the hour, or ride-share to work. If you need a lawnmower or drill, just head down to OpenShed. Plus, there are all sorts of preloved goods on Freecycle and Ziilch. It’s possible to rent out your spare room or whole house to travellers on Airbnb, and for those on a budget, there are sofas around the world to camp on at Couchsurfing. This is the world of “collaborative consumption”.
The idea of collaborative consumption, also known as the sharing economy, is a revival of traditional market forces, according to Lauren Anderson, co-founder of the Sydney-based hub of global movement the Collaborative Lab.
“Now it’s just being reinvented through technology and Facebook which enables peer-to-peer sharing of anything from goods, services, transportation, space and money,” she says.
In the US, already about 40 per cent of the population are “sharers” – that’s some 80 million people – and it’s projected that this figure may double in the next year.
This growing popularity is mirrored in the UK, and Australia isn’t that far behind, with a recent Collaborative Lab report revealing that 53 per cent of Aussies had participated in some form of collaborative economy in the past year.
How it’s changing us
“Over time, we’ll be looking at a massive change in what, and how, we consume,” Anderson says. “The collaborative economy empowers individuals to make and save money, whereas a traditional consumerist society is really about passive consumption.
“Initially what attracted people was more choice and convenience. What they’re coming back for are the engagements they’re having with other people – the human connection – and being part of a bigger community.”
Dr Chris Riedy, associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute of Sustainable Futures, says another major benefit of a sharing economy is environmental sustainability.
“It’s one of the most promising movements of the 21st century. Potentially there’s a real shift in the models that dominated the 20th century – that growth and ownership is good,” he says.
“People are more interested in getting access to what they need and not needing to own everything,” he adds. “It means we use less resources and have less impact on the planet.”
Car sharing saves big bucks
Will Davies, CEO of peer-to-peer car-sharing business Car Next Door, started his business in 2012 with the hope of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from excessive cars on the roads. “People who car-share use their cars 40 per cent less than those who have their own car,” he says. “One share car can take seven cars out of operation.”
The business works on the premise of making it more convenient for people to car-share by connecting neighbours who want to rent a car – for as little as an hour through to a week – with those who have a car to rent.
“When I went to pick up a car, the closest one was a kilometre away – it was annoyingly far,” Davies says of one of the other car-sharing programs. “I remember walking past all these cars and thinking there must be a better way to do this.”
There are also fiscal incentives for both the owner of the car and the borrower. According to an NRMA survey, owning a car costs between $5000 and $10,000 a year. Davies says the average owner who rents their vehicle out on Car Next Door can make a profit of $250 a month, or $3000 a year, after taking into account extra wear and tear and petrol.
The top sharing sites
Go Get, Flexicar, GreenSharecar
Professional car sharing sites.
Car Next Door and DriveMyCar
The sites connect car owners with people in their local area who want to rent one.
Freecycle, Ziilch, OzRecycle, TuShare
Sites where you can give away and get free stuff in your area.
Brings people together who are looking for cheap local storage with those who have space to rent.
Connects people who want to rent out a room in their house, or their whole home, with travellers looking for alternatives to hotels.
Connects people with land to share with those who need it to grow food.
Allows you to rent appliances, tools and gadgets from private owners.
A crowdfunding site raising money for creative projects and ideas.
An online marketplace that enables users to outsource everyday tasks. Users describe the task and indicate a budget; community members then bid to complete the task.
“We only use Airbnb and Couchsurfing to travel”
Anthony Carney, 31, and partner Jetaime Best, 32, (pictured below) both of Newcastle, NSW, have managed to travel the world using the share economy
In the past three years, the couple has clocked up some 40 stays around the world in private properties listed on the website Airbnb. They also offer their couch to passing travellers.
“If you stay with someone, you get local knowledge,” Carney says. A lot of the people we’ve stayed with through Airbnb are now Facebookfriends… You can make such a good human connection travelling this way. We use Airbnb exclusively for travel these days.”
There’s also the price factor, Carney adds.
“You can find just as good accommodation as a hotel, but much cheaper.”
When Carney and Best were in Switzerland three years ago, they tried out couchsurfing.org – which connects travellers with hosts offering spaces such as sofas to sleep on – and are now hooked.
“We didn’t pay our host in Switzerland as such, but we provided dinner and took them out for a few drinks,” he says. “They shared their accommodation and we shared our hospitality.”