Saturday, 15th December 2018

The Sharing Economy

When Millie was two she liked to stand in front of the TV and watch the Sesame Street ‘Sharing Song’ on repeat. Despite the entire family being able to sing the tune backwards, the transition from theory to practice was a bumpy road for Millie. However, I am pleased to tell you that if you engage in a crisp-swap with her today you will receive an entire, similarly-sized crisp in return for your own, not a mere crisp-crumb, which was not always the case- ask Bella.

It appears that Elmo and Ernie were onto something in their resolution, sharing has been offered as a key solution to reducing the quantity of material goods we produce and so creating a more sustainable economy. Not only is it potentially a more sustainable option, it’s also proved to be highly lucrative; you’ve probably come across the sharing economy in the form of Airbnb or Uber which have both experienced a meteoric rise from start-up to multibillion international enterprises over the course of a few years. Although the industry is in need of some formal regulation, it is forecast to grow exponentially in the coming years; PWC has estimated that the sharing economy will grow from it’s current $15bn to $335bn by 2025- with figures like these it would be silly not to take it seriously.

In addition, the sharing economy has been offered as an opportunity for social change and the alleviation of poverty. You might be fortunate enough to be surprised by the fact that poverty is still a huge problem for the UK; according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an astonishing 14 million people are currently living in poverty in the UK, that’s just over one in every five people who cannot afford to meet their basic needs! Most worryingly is that the number has increased over the previous years rather than decreased and includes a large number of people who experience in-work poverty; you don’t need to fly to an exotic destination to experience poverty, sadly it’s right on your doorstep. The sharing economy offers the opportunity to fulfil needs at a much cheaper, more widely accessible price whilst still making a profit.

This is exactly what London collective, 'Library of Things', attempts to deliver. Translating the theory into practice, the Library of Things works like that of a traditional library- you pay an initial joining membership fee (currently £1) and then are able to borrow any of the available items at a small fee per day. The London store currently has items ranging from a vacuum cleaner to a PA speaker system, all things donated by the local community. The London store is not alone, others similar include Berlin’s ‘Leila’ and Utrecht’s ‘De Deelkelder’. The idea is a fairly simple but effective one; a malleable business model that by nature allows individual libraries to fit their market- imagine a beachside library kitted out with surfboards, wetsuits, buckets and spades, or a student library with waffle-makers, speakers, fancy-dress costumes and air beds for when your friends come to stay.

The moral of the story? your Mum was right again. Sharing is not only caring, it also ticks every box of the triple bottom line, making environmental, social and financial sense. If you didn’t learn to share as a kid it looks like you’re going to have to fairly soon: the universal revenge of the younger sibling.

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