8 December 2015

The Rise of the Sharing Economy

A socially responsible consumer movement is rising and exposing the cracks in our ethically questionable world; pioneered by a new generation that prefers accessibility to ownership. Consumption obviously wouldn’t exist without production and events like the Rana Plaza disaster have exposed monstrous flaws across various levels of the production process. A natural move towards a Sharing Economy would close these unnecessary gaps while the adoption of sustainable and ethical practices should be, without doubt, a societal norm. 

“The People Who Share” is a social movement that is aiding the development and exposure of the sharing economy and trying to help it reach mainstream status. They define the sharing economy as

“a socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human and physical resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations”. Websites such as Airbnb and Uber are pioneering the movement as they match up owners and users while eBay, Freecycle and Gumtree match up owners and buyers. The adoption of this emerging model puts weight behind its intentions and truly shows the ease, money-saving potential and sheer convenience of the modest Sharing Economy.

A pillar of a sharing economy - vital for its structural stability - is of course, people. People supply the goods, with their actions getting the momentum going and forming a movement creating behavioural change. Looking in-between and around-and-about the lines is the only way that you can find value in anything and everything. For example, waste has value in a sharing economy as it’s simply viewed as a resource in the wrong place so is reallocated to where it is needed. Efficiency on local, regional, national and global scales is crucial to the distribution system in an economy where ownership is inferior to the newly established lure of access.

Sustainability stands as a core concept for which models and cultures are created. The umbrella term of “sustainability” is by no means limited to fairtrade coffee and recycling plastic bottles, it can also be challenging the structure of power and its often-hierarchical nature. The eyes are very much on the prize: a democratic ecosystem promoting fair pay and reduced inequality, with an equal distribution of power and decision-making. It would create an air of eager development, allowing the positive enhancement of the natural environment within its limits. Easy enough, right?

H&M is a key retailer heavily promoting their responsible methods and manufacturing, with the “conscious range” being their cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. In reality, this sustainable approach is limited to a singular range of clothing among the many ranges they produce, so their apparent hard work is most likely out-done by the faults contaminating their existing lines. The issue here is that their sustainable approach is treated as a separate entity, *cough* marketing ploy *cough,* as opposed to a core business value.

Arguably, the most important element of a sharing economy is knowledge. The economic system is dependent on the movement of intelligence and information across generations to ensure that people are aware of the skills and tools that they need, making communication crucial. In order to work and work effectively, the sharing culture must be viewed as a natural lifestyle choice that is obvious and easy, not a rigid structural change that has to be forced upon people. Present day consumers’ actions have a great impact on the stability of future generations and their marketplaces. The long-term nature and systematic approach of the sharing economy recognises and considers this so aspires to provide solidity and security to our planet and its destructive inhibitors, i.e. us.

Flattening the mountain of power that retailers hold knowing that consumers are oblivious to painfully questionable supply chains is a hefty challenge. Simply put, there is a lack of consumer knowledge and awareness as there is no readily available information on the supply chain, or the knowledge to decipher this information if it was out there. This has resulted in little understanding of what effect unsustainable and unethical practices have on us as consumers, the exploited workers and the increasingly frail ecosystem. Even the most traditional marketplaces are evolving, giving products a longer lifecycle while consumers are trying to go out of their way to find alternatives in an economy that doesn’t provide enough choice. Slowly but surely, we’re realising that we need to start caring about sharing.