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Sharing Economy, Part 2

October 4, 2016

NERC’s new Reuse Explorations Guide: Innovative Programs & Strategies is now available for free download. The Guide is a result of our two-year USDA funded Reuse Project. To help promote the Guide, here’s Part 2 of the excerpt on the sharing economy.

As with other types of reuse, the advantages and benefits of the sharing economy can be fostered by public agencies, through promotional campaigns and opportunities for community dialogue. Providing funding or incubator assistance for entrepreneurial projects, technical assistance, and adoption of regulations, policies, and practices to encourage new and innovative models, also help support sharing entrepreneurs.

Public entities and private enterprises can also lead, by elevating the shared economy into their daily practices in a number of ways: the adoption of carpooling/car sharing platforms; contracts that promote long-term renting; leasing instead of purchasing; and establishing in-house or community tool lending libraries and similar sharing opportunities, are but some examples.

Public entities also have an important role in shaping the sharing economy to benefit the social good. They can encourage the development of projects that promote the exchange of goods that are durable, repairable, and ultimately recyclable, for example. Local adoption and promotion of the sharing economy helps to limit the distances goods will travel to better benefit the environment. The opportunities are there to shape the sharing economy, not just to be one about money, but also sustainability.

The sharing economy is a huge growth opportunity for reuse. While not without its controversies—Uber vs. traditional taxi drivers, and Airbnb vs. traditional hotels, to name two prominent examples—the sharing economy moves us closer to the essence of reuse and sustainability, by promoting the value of renting or sharing instead of owning. Leadership is needed now to ensure that the sharing models we embrace benefit everyone in society. The impact of Airbnb, for example, goes beyond competition with more traditional models of short-term lodgings. The rise of Airbnb accommodations in popular tourist destinations is having an impact on residential neighborhoods through increased car and foot traffic.

Fairness in permitting and taxation, in order to account for the impact of “sharing” businesses on their more traditional counterparts, must be addressed if acceptance of peer-to-peer enterprises is to grow. Our regulatory environment must adapt more rapidly to embrace entrepreneurial efforts, while also protecting the health and safety of consumers, societal norms, and fair economic practices. Accounting for lost revenue sources for local, regional, and state governments must also be considered. This includes addressing corporate taxation for companies which are largely internet-based, and often headquartered elsewhere. How to tax and regulate individual participants who do not report their revenue from participating in these web-based sharing and peer-to-peer enterprises must be resolved, as well.

Entrepreneur and author Lisa Gansky calls peer-to-peer and sharing economy businesses “the Mesh.” State’s Gansky, “Mesh companies create, share and use social media, wireless networks, and data crunched from every available source to provide people with goods and services at the exact moment they need them, without the burden and expense of owning them outright.” Gansky goes further to say that the Mesh is fundamentally changing how consumers shop and it is the “future of business.”

Leading the Way

  • Collaborative Consumption hosts a directory of sharing economy platforms, as well as presentations, research, and other information on collaborative consumption.
  • Getaround is a car sharing platform that allows users to list vehicles they have to share or rent.
  • Little Free Libraries promote literacy and book sharing. There are nearly 40,000 book swaps around the world sharing millions of books annually.
  • Peerby is a search platform and app that allows users to search for a wide range of items. Users can list items they have available for sharing, or search for available items nearby.
  • Shareable is an online sharing platform which includes both resources and events.
  • SnapGoods is a platform for lending and borrowing high-end household items, such as cameras, kitchenware or musical instruments.
  • Programs like TaskRabbit offers a way for people who need quick repairs, or help with moving or similar tasks, to connect with a qualified person to assist them.
  • The mission of the San Francisco- based benefit corporation Yerdle is to reduce the number of new things that consumers purchase by 25%. To that end, the company operates an online swap shop where people can post items they no longer want and search for items they need.

By Athena Lee Bradley


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