Friday, May 11, 2012

Collaborative Consumption

When Ray Anderson, founder and CEO of Interface, the worlds largest commercial carpet company, decided to go environmentally friendly he also realised he had so stop selling carpets - and rent them instead.  This seemed to work out well for their customers who had the carpets serviced and replaced when they got old and meant that Interface could take the old material and recycle it into fancy new carpets.  What a wonderful idea.  Last year on a visit to our local recycling and refuse centre, Xtreme Waste, I was struck by how much waste is created by corporations - like Coca Cola with their plastic bottles - and yet the responsibility and cost of their disposal is redistributed to people and the environment.  Why aren't these companies made responsible for the waste they manufacture and market?  Imagine a world where it was illegal to sell a plastic bottle, one simply rented the plastic for a period of time, consumed the content and returned it to its manufacturer to deal with at their cost.

I'm currently reading What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers.  It's a damn good book documenting and promoting the development of a new consciousness around consumption where possession and ownership are overlooked in favor of the use and usefulness:

"The relationship between physical products, individual ownership, and self-identity is undergoing a profound evolution.  We son't want the CD; we want the music it plays.  We don't want the answering machine; we want the message it saves... in other words, we want no the stuff but the needs or experiences it fulfulls.  As our possessions "dematerialize" into the intangible, our preconceptions of ownership are changing, creating a dotted line between "what's mine," "what's yours," and "what's ours."  This shift is fueling a world where usage trumps possession." (Page 97.)
This book explores a number of examples including tool lending libraries and the like, car sharing, clothes swapping, spare room rentals, and land-sharing networks (of particular interest in my line of study) where people who have unused land allow people who want to grow food to garden on said land and the produce is shared.  It also briefly describes the beginnings of some of the bizarre practices (now so common they are part of the cultural goldfish bowl water that we barely notice) like credit cards (to spend all they money you don't have on things you don't need) and rented storage space (to house all the stuff you don't need, but can't bare to give away.)  The latter, according to this book, has grown exponentially since it's post WW2 creation, so that every person in the United States could comfortably stand in the amount of rental storage space the US has.  Sometimes when I read about these ridiculous things I want to start quoting the Cheshire Cat and hanging from the rafters.  But when I read about the changing consciousness around ownership it gives me tingles and warm fuzzies. 

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