Access is the New Ownership: Poptech 2010


Image: The Mesh, by Lisa Gansky

One of my favorite ideas to crop up at Poptech -- a conference that's full of them -- is Lisa Gansky's concept of the Mesh: Or, how business is moving away from models of ownership and towards that of access. The rise of product service systems (things like Netflix, Etsy, your public library, etc) has been a phenomenon we've covered for years at Treehugger: it promotes efficiency and lowers consumption through plain ol' sharing. Gansky's illuminating talk touched on all of this, and she made a compelling case that ownership is on the way out -- and access and sharing form the foundation of tomorrow's business model.Over the course of her talk, she unloaded a laundry list of compelling points to support her argument, which she delves into more deeply in her book, The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing Consider:

By eschewing ownership, we're presented with an opportunity for much greater access -- compare perusing the DVD aisle at Best Buy to watching instantly on Netflix. The same potential lies in just about every product domain: Clothing, cars, music, tools, and so forth.

And Gansky makes a great point: companies that capitalize on a sharing network -- on the Mesh, as she terms it in her new book on the topic -- aren't strictly in the product business. Zipcar, for instance, she says, "is an information company disguised as a car company." If you buy just one car, she notes, there's just one exchange, one transaction. With a service like Zipcar, consumers create a veritable database of information as they use it, improving upon both their own experience and the company's ability to adjust and improve their service.

Gansky explains that the newest generation of consumers are sometimes skipping over ownership altogether in many situations -- young people are more likely to want to own an iPhone (itself a portal to many such sharing services) than a car. The next generation, she says, might skip ownership altogether, and opt for access.

Which would be great news in the long run -- ownership is often a wasteful and inefficient thing. For instance, Gansky says, owned cars are only in use 8% of the time -- they lay idle the rest. Yet entire infrastructure systems are designed to support them. Compare that to mass transit like subways, which is far more efficient. The sort of product service systems, or the Mesh, that are increasingly replacing the current inefficient ownership paradigm stands to reduce energy and waste by large margins. We'll be watching.

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