Is Collaborative Consumption a Movement or a Business Model?

Gerrilla Futures/CC BY-ND 2.0

From Zipcar's big money expansion to informal neighborhood tool lending libraries, the term "collaborative consumption" covers a pretty broad spectrum of activities.

But is this new found love of sharing an ideological movement, a money-driven business model, or both? And does it really matter?

Musing off an interesting article on the rise of the sharing economy over at Mashable, a concerned Weileen Ng asked fellow Quorum users whether a focus on money as a driver for sharing risks diluting the potential for a paradigm shift:

I just read this article on Mashable that is quoting some opinions about the rise of collaborative consumption. Some of those have troubled me. Quoting:
“[Peer-to-peer marketplaces] are not driven by the ethos of sharing, but by the fact that people are making real money,” he [SnapGoods founder Ron J. Williams] says, cautioning startup founders from pushing the hippy-dippy movement message. “Most people are talking about this as a movement, but most people don’t care about movements. They care about convenience — people use ZipCar because it’s convenient.”

Yes, it *is* convenient to share and it *does* save people money. But ditching "the hippy-dippy movement message"?! Am I misunderstanding the man? Indeed it helps to promote your sharing startup when you tell people that they can save money. But the "movement message" should always be there, in my opinion. Don't we* want to make a paradigm shift? That is, convince people that sharing is better, not because they save money but also because it's more humane to be in a community than to live in private, and because it actually is better for our planet and our lives.

This is one of those questions that invariably trips many people up in the environmental movement. If someone is inclined to share only because it saves them money, do the motivations negate the end result?

For me it is a question of strategic communication. What is the hook that will bring most people in to the sharing economy? Once they are in, the conversations flow naturally about how sharing builds a better community, or improves our lives, or protects the environment.

So yes, we want to create a paradigm shift. But in order to shift paradigms, you have to start conversations. And to start conversations, you must meet people where they are at.

Tags: Activism | Collaborative Consumption | Corporate Responsibility | Economics | United States

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