Collaborative Consumption Gains Traction

Some of us (ahem) have lived long enough to remember when collaboration was not all that radical a concept, in the business world and even in Congress.

Alas collaboration lately has become a buzzword, something that businesses and their PR departments are eager to pay lip service to and perhaps aspire to achieve with their partners. (Take Congress and the notion of bipartisanship out of the collaborative equation entirely.) But talking the collaborative talk is one thing; true collaboration these days is an exception.

Trewin Restorick, chief executive of the UK environmental advisory body Global Action Plan, this week added the idea of “radical change” to the mix in a thoughtful post:

One of the fundamental challenges constantly facing the environmental movement is the disconnection between the scale of the problem and the solutions proposed. Are we really surprised at public apathy when on the one hand we talk about climate change as the biggest challenge facing humanity whilst on the other we recommend unplugging mobile phone chargers? Clearly more fundamental change is required if we are to get anywhere near an 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050.

He says that might be the “radical change” that’s required to actually make progress.

The Collaborative Collaboration Hub describes this burgeoning “what’s mine is yours” movement. Briefly, collaborative consumption embraces “the rapid explosion in swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting being reinvented through the latest technologies and peer-to-peer marketplaces in ways and on a scale never possible before. Collaborative Consumption is disrupting outdated modes of business and reinventing not just what we consume but how we consume.”

Peer-to-peer marketplaces such eBay and Craigslist are early examples and merely the tip of the iceberg of this movement. The real idea is to pay for the benefit of using a product without needing to own the product outright.

A multitude of examples exist, from car sharing (Zipcar) to Movies (Netflix) and peer rental (Zilok).

Using modern technologies to transform the oldest form of marketplace transactions will benefit consumers and contribute to sustainability. How this translates into benefits for the environment and for business collaboration is less clear. “The bigger the buying groups, the bigger the savings and the bigger the reduction in carbon emissions,” Restorick notes.

At some point businesses have to produce the products that are traded or swapped on-line. Will they be able to fully collaborate with their suppliers and consumers to make this movement really takeoff while protecting profits and shareholders?

It is impossible to collaborate and compete for profits and market share at the same time. Businesses have a long way to go on the “what’s mine is your’s” concept.

[Image Credit: Collaborative Consumption Hub Infographic: The Collaborative Home]

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