Green Sky Thinking: Sharing Economy alive and well in SA
by Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) Innovation in technology has spawned many new business models, one of the more interesting being access over ownership and the sharing economy.
“Collaborative consumption” as it’s become known, was called out by TIME magazine as one of its 10 ideas that will change the world; it refers to sharing what is already in the system. This is a win-win for various reasons.
Owners make money from underused assets and renters pay less than they would if they bought the item themselves (or used a traditional provider). Doing more with less means that the environment benefits, too, as renting a car, lawn mower or holiday apartment on a needs-only basis vs owning one means less consumption and fewer resources required.
We can now holiday in other people’s homes (Airbnb), drive shared cars and scooters (Zipcar, Scoot, Getaround), lift share (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar), share workspaces (The Hub, Hatchery, RocketSpace), skills (Skillshare) and experiences (Vayable). We can outsource errands (TaskRabbit) and even lend money (Prosper, Kiva).
Built on the same premise
While representing very different categories, all of these business models are built on the same premise of creating efficiency through sharing resources, and giving customers access to goods and services without the hassle of ownership. From the customers’ perspective, this means getting what you need, only when you need it, and without having to pay for what you don’t use.
While it may seem like a modern take on the somewhat old-fashioned bed-and-breakfast or school car-pooling scheme, the big difference now is scale-ability. Technology has made sharing assets simpler and cheaper than ever before. More data means owners and renters can be matched up to meet specific needs, smart phones with GPS allow for finding the nearest cab or rentable car, and being able to pay online makes billing easier.
But, ultimately, for sharing to work effectively it must be underscored by trust. The growth of online shopping has largely paved the way here (remember when shopping on Amazon was perceived as a security risk?).
Online reviews and ratings increase accountability and augment initial background checks performed by platform owners. What’s more, social media sites such as Facebook and Google+ allow for people to identify friends and friends-of-friends, make recommendations and engender trust further.
With high crime rates, trust is more of an issue in South Africa, yet Airbnb has over 1000 rentals listed in Cape Town alone; we saw the launch of Uber in December 2013; and relative newcomer Vayable already lists experiences by private tour guides.
It seems the sharing economy is already alive and well in our country.
Just what our economy needs
By promoting entrepreneurship and creating new niche businesses, it may also be just what our economy needs. In addition, access over ownership models also reduce debt, encourage more sustainable behavior through decreased consumption, and promote local community building.
Our parents taught us that “sharing is caring” but then we grew up and reverted back to “what’s mine is mine”. Technology now enables us to connect with people who have common interests and to engage in transactions that are rooted in sharing what we already have — as opposed to consuming more stuff.
Strategic consultant Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) brings a global perspective to the issue of sustainability, having lived and worked in London, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Cape Town. She contributes the monthly “Green Sky Thinking” column on sustainability issues to MarkLives.
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