live|work: Access — A New Luxury?

I know that Branson has committed $1 billion to alternative fuel development in the next four years; I didn't know he was operating a product service system (PSS) that is (almost) Treehugging, until Dave Chiu pointed it out to me. Limobike only really deserves a mention because it puts a service in place of a traditional product paradigm. It advocates the servicising of motorbikes. (But the motorbikes themselves aren't that Treehugging being Yamaha FJR1300's). Limobike is a passenger motorbike based in London. It provides the quickest and, apparently, one the of the most glamorous ways to get from A to B. Celebrities, business people et al use it to move around congested London or get to the airport. It's a bit elite — clearly targeted at a niche market — but the concept does require some credit.

It's a much more efficient way to shift people around an already congested city and the vehicle is accessed and used by many people — that is the beauty of PSS. Typically, with a service model, the vehicle is run and managed in a way that ensures optimum use and life out of it. It's the providers' incentive. No doubt I will get hounded for this post (red is not the new green), but it is worth pointing out the trend for services that provide access to a premium or privileged experience. It is kind of changing the notion that being rich means having to own things to prove so, like a Bentley. I recently had tea with a Bentley owner in London who confessed that it is very near no longer being acceptable to drive around in his carbon intensive baby (although I'm not sure he was quite ready to exchange it yet). Access to a premium service, like Limobikes, provides a different way to satisfy, a new form of 'luxury' and expression of self.

Last year The New York Times "Cars" special section covered articles on car sharing and fractional ownership. "At Your Disposal" cites John Caron, the president of the Otto Club, saying: "Ownership is not the privilege. Access is the privilege. Ownership is the burden." Apparently the access to our luxury fantasies (like cars and vacation homes) is a growing market. The young man who is doing well financially, has discretionary income, is looking for something fun to do on a weekend with his buddies. The privilege comes from joining and participating in the service, with others, not owning these vehicles that are an expense and difficult to maintain. It's like a private members club. Seems that there's a social component to this trend.

I've been thinking about 'Carbon consciousness' lately: an ever increasing understanding that what we consume has a carbon tag. 2006 was the year of climate change awareness; slowly this is translating into evaluation of Carbon contributions and meaninful ways to effect this. So, Carbon data is beginning to reflect our choices, interests and values. Hhm - what will luxury mean in the context of this type of personal algorithm?

Written by Tamara Giltsoff