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‘Sharing Economy’ Will Save Our Economy and the Environment

gutterman, sara, green mediaI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the rift between the people campaigning to save the economy and those crusading to save the environment—both groups at odds, both claiming the moral high ground for their holy quests. The great irony of their conflict comes down to the fact that neither group can be successful without the other, and that they’d be so much more effective if they put aside their political and ideological differences and worked together towards a shared goal.

It’s not difficult to understand that when the economy is bad, individuals are consumed with worrying about the fundamentals—paying their bills, putting food on the table, caring for their families. They’re more likely to look at lowest first cost as opposed to full lifecycle cost.

With that said, if we don’t have clean air to breathe, enough water to drink, or productive soil to cultivate our food, then we have no chance of maintaining a healthy economy. And, if we continue propagating a fossil-fuel based, pollution-belching economy, then it’s simply game over for life as we know it.

To better understand how we can profitably unite our economic and environmental needs, I recently interviewed economist, author, and futurist Jeremy Rifkin. During the interview, Rifkin elaborated on the main theme of his latest book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, outlining how the emerging Internet of Things is transforming our economy, ushering in a new era of free goods and services, precipitating the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons (otherwise known as the Sharing Economy), and facilitating solutions that address excessive consumerism and massive resource over-use.

“We’re plummeting towards a dangerous end game, but, fortunately, the sun setting on expensive and dirty fossil fuel leads—and not a moment too soon,” says Rifkin. “We’re witnessing the first new economic paradigm since they industrial revolution, which is being fueled by innovations in energy, communications, and transportation—namely renewable energy, the Internet of Things, and electric vehicles.”

These advancements are enabling the Collaborative Commons to flourish alongside capitalist systems, and Rifkin believes that, based on financial and resource efficiencies, the Sharing Economy (which reduces marginal costs, increases productivity, and decreases resource use by emphasizing access to goods rather than ownership) will quickly eclipse our current capitalistic system (which is capital-intensive, requires tremendous amounts of natural resources, and produces excessive waste), offering the possibility of dramatically narrowing the income divide, democratizing the global economy, and creating a more ecologically sustainable society.

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4 thoughts on “‘Sharing Economy’ Will Save Our Economy and the Environment

  1. Nice article, very balanced. Once we can move from either/or to yes/plus conversations like what has taken place in Germany, the US could help raise the bar. But for now….is there enough willingness to change?

  2. Living in Portland and Airbnbing by house — I can say that the sharing economy is generating a more vibrant and collaborative economy as a city and on the personal level as well. The ways that Airbnb and Uber business models are altered as they become accepted and integrated into city policy is very much afoot right now. Would love to use the current example of how Portland is going to incorporate Airbnb to help New York City and other less collaborative towns learn from our example. I am hopeful that we will do a decent job of it, but more media attention will help others learn from any mis-steps that our city government and the people make. Cheers! ~Eric

  3. One issue that comes to mind when sharing things like tools and the like is what happens when something breaks? Take a lawnmower, for example–who is responsible for repairing it or any mechanical/electronic thing that is being shared? Because they will all inevitably malfunction and in the ethic of using the least resources, we would want to continue repairing them to eke out the longest useful life possible.

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