Zipcar, sharing, and swapping

There’s an alternative model of consumption that greatly reduces waste and excess. It’s called “collaborative consumption,” and it takes advantage of sharing, swapping, and bartering to provide people with the items they need””without all the clutter of items people buy and then use only a few times

Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers thoroughly developed the concept in their book, “What’s Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live.” The book documents the increasing popularity of the collaborative consumption model and the ways its growth will fundamentally change the workings of our economy.

Collaborative consumption offers consumers the opportunity to borrow items at a lower cost than purchasing them. This helps prevent the accumulation of unwanted and unnecessary items in the home. But best of all, collaborative consumption is green. Purchasing sustainably produced goods is certainly important, but collaborative consumption provides a model that circumvents the excess production of items.

Borrowing and lending items allow consumers to obtain products for the length of time they need them without necessitating the resource-robbing hyperproduction of goods that has been responsible for environmental degradation around the world. Instead, producers can focus on creating a fewer number of higher-quality, sustainably constructed goods. A decrease in production may lead to an increase in cost, but the price paid by end-users would still be less because they no longer have to foot the entire bill for the product being borrowed.

This model has actually been around for quite some time. Libraries and movie rental stores practice collaborative consumption. But the advent of the internet””and more specifically, social networking sites””has created new and exciting opportunities for people around the world to lend, borrow, trade, or rent a huge variety of items including clothes, media, tools, appliances, and transportation.

Chances are you’ve heard of a number of companies and networks that deal with collaborative consumption. Zipcar and Smartbike offer urban dwellers around the country the mobility of cars and bikes, respectively, for less than the cost of ownership. Websites like Couchsurfing provide a network for travelers to find people willing to host them at a highly reduced cost or even for free. Internet giants Craigslist and Ebay serve as portals for people to redistribute the unwanted products they may have lying around their house. And if you’re looking for something that you can’t find with any of those companies, Botsman and Rogers have compiled a great list of collaborative consumption organizations on their website.

The opportunities are plentiful and new ventures are constantly being created. So the next time you think you need to buy something, consider borrowing first. You’ll save money, you’ll save space, and perhaps best of all, you’ll help save the planet. And who knows? You may make some new friends in the process.

This is a Center for American Progress cross-post.

10 Responses to Zipcar, sharing, and swapping

  1. Gord says:


    It’s quite an ancient concept.

    But now, it’s being hauled out and put to a very modern use.

    In the West we have defined ourselves by our possessions. Why this is the case has many different explanations and probably goes back as far as Edward Bernays. This self definition will have to change somewhat in order for the modern form of Usufruct to flourish.

  2. Paulm says:

    Population pressure has to come down first for this to work on a big scale.

  3. EdH says:

    I knew it was happening but the book outlines a stunning number of collaborative consumption opportunities. Makes you realize the opportunities in a new way. (Opening chapters on growth in consumerism will be page flippers for those of us with any gray hair)

  4. Joy Hughes says:

    This happens naturally when you get to know your neighbors.

  5. Bill W says:

    How do we address the argument that this model leads to lower overall consumption, thus lower economic activity, thus lower employment, while our population continues to grow?

  6. peter whitehead says:

    John Lennon – ‘imagine no possessions’. IS it easy if you try?

  7. The greatest joy in life is “SHARING”.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  8. Martin L says:

    RE 5. Bill W

    Interesting point, but based on a fallacy. If we consume less, we don’t need to work as much to pay for what we consume. So we have more free time. It’s called climbing out of the pit that capitalism + excessive consumption has trapped us in.

    The one millstone left is Great Housing Protection Racket (also know as paying rent/ mortgages). It’s only once we no longer have to pay Protection Money to avoid being kicked out of our homes that we”ll truly be free.

  9. Pati B says:

    Saving the planet and making new friends are at the top of my “favorite things” list. There’s actually a social travel community I recently discovered called Tripping ( which makes it easy to combine both. It’s a great site for anyone traveling who wants to meet locals who are intersted in hosting them (and it’s free).

    I’m also a big fan of sites like eBay and Craigslist. I just used the former to sell a big ticket item I had stored in the basement (for over a year)and am using the proceeds to buy a used bike on the latter. It wasn’t that long ago that it would have been far less straightforward to sell and buy items to and from strangers. Now I can do most of it from my own living room. With technology making it so convenient,why wouldn’t you participate in collaborative consumption? It just makes sense!

  10. SteveG says:

    Zipcar is great, but peer-to-peer car-sharing is even better. RelayRides got things going in Boston, and now, by integrating the idea with social networking and giving vehicle owners full control of who comprises their borrower networks, is taking it one step further. They provide full insurance and a great platform to share your car — with your neighbors only, or with the world. And you set the car’s availability and price. Very slick!