The rise of the sharing economy has been a financial and social windfall for those of us who have taken advantage of new ways to rent accommodation, get around town with wheels and borrow or rent goods. But the sharing economy, or “collaborative consumption,” is not just about saving money and using resources wisely: in a world where many bemoan how technology often isolates us, that same technology has helped build relationships and trust between people who otherwise would have never crossed paths. For example, Airbnb has been particularly good to me: it has helped put a roof over my head around the world from Croatia to Korea, and I have made (Facebook and real) friends as a result. Yesterday, in fact, I finally put my spare room on Airbnb to snag some visitors on their way to Yosemite or nearby national parks.
Many early adopters who flocked to these sites are quick to complain about how these sites have changed and even become more mainstream, but the sharing economy is still in its infancy. And speaking of mainstream, now leading news outlets are not only discussing the sharing economy: they are touting it, including Forbes and The Economist.
The fact that both major business news outlets are discussing the sharing economy in a favorable light brings more legitimacy to this movement. The mainstream press has often been skeptical about the viability of these shared services, though in fairness these new business models are new and are untested for their long term economic sustainability. Tomio Geron of Forbes, for example, wrote about the better customer experience users gain from services such as Airbnb in a world where consumers have become tired of overpaying for travel–not to mention the forum for self expression and new forms of entrepreneurship these shared services sites offer. Last month, Geron also lauded the sharing economy for disrupting the conventional model of companies controlling assets for consumers’ consumption–and meanwhile, folks hammered hard by this punishing economy can find new income streams and pursue new creative exploits.
The Economist, which usually displays a healthy skepticism of just about everything, ran an article on the sharing economy as the cover story for last week’s issue. “The web fosters trust,” the Economist exudes, and describes the brave new world of this “access economy” with its environmental and social benefits. True, there have been hiccups as the sharing economy surges, such as car accidents and the occasional lout trashing a room he or she found on Airbnb. These new companies, however, have been agile enough to learn “teachable moments” from these setbacks–Airbnb botched its handling of a customer whose apartment was ransacked two summers ago, but righted its ship and is now stronger than ever. In sum, The Economist is bullish about these new ways of conducting business between peers. And while sharing economy enthusiasts have expressed dismay that large businesses are edging into this movement, this next step in this trend is not necessarily a negative. Witness Marriott and its partnership with LiquidSpace to lend or rent out nooks in hotels lobbies and conference rooms on the fly for a competitive price.
The best result coming from the sharing economy hitting the major magazines is that it more consumers, still wary of sharing assets, not to mention carrying out simple transactions on the web, will immerse themselves in this movement’s benefits. With more consumers pulling away from purchasing and edging towards sharing, the outcome will be a plus for those of us who have already used these services for several years running. And in the end, more participants in the sharing economy means more competition, more sites and more choices. If my parents and more of my peers jump into the still muddy waters of collaborative consumption, than Forbes and The Economist have done us all a favor.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. Most recently he explored children’s health issues in India with the International Reporting Project. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credit: Leon Kaye]