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.