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Summary:

The old idea of reuse is at the heart of the web-based sharing economy which uses the maturation of the Internet and mobile to enable the sharing of under-utilized resources. Is it a trend that can have a real impact on reducing waste?

reuse

Peer-to-peer apartment rental company Airbnb isn’t a green company. Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky is the first to say so, and did, in an interview with me at our RoadMap event on Thursday. But the emergence of an industry around peer-to-peer renting, led by companies like Airbnb, car sharing company Getaround and many others, is leading to a new type of sharing economy that could one day potentially lead to more goods used more efficiently, and less goods bought and produced. It’s the age-old hippy mantra of re-use over consumption, with a new web twist.

Chesky describes it as a move away from ownership and more toward access, and he thinks people are being more defined by their experiences and less by the things they own. Today, when you move apartments, you bring a whole bunch of stuff with you, but architects and designers actually like to design furniture and objects to fit into rooms that stay with those rooms, Chesky told me backstage before our interview (he and his co-founder are designers from the Rhode Island School of Design). He thinks that one day, it could be normal that when you move to a new space you leave all the items in it behind.

Like Airbnb with apartments, peer-to-peer car sharing companies are leading to cars used more efficiently and as a service, instead of the traditional idea of car ownership. According to the University of California Transportation Center, car sharing leads to the reduction of personal vehicles owned, or in other words, when someone joins a car sharing network, they commonly get rid of their own car.

Reuse of things

Chesky sees Airbnb as more similar to the peer-to-peer car sharing companies like Getaround, rather than Zipcar or CityCar Share. Zipcar and CityCar Share buy, own and operate fleets of cars and park them around cities for use by the hour. Getaround, on the other hand, enables people who already own cars to rent out their cars to neighbors and strangers in the network, much in the way that Airbnb does with apartments.

On a side note, Airbnb could one day connect with car sharing in some respect. The company has been querying its users to see if they’d be interested in renting out their cars along with their apartments, and Chesky told me on stage that Airbnb users seem to be interested in car sharing.

The connection would be about giving Airbnb users more access to more things that are being underutilized. “We create a more efficient economy for people to leverage their unused assets,” explained Chesky in our interview. The things that can be shared best in this new trend of collaborative consumption are things that are expensive and are used infrequently — i.e., homes/spaces and vehicles.

Green by-product

Companies like Airbnb and Getaround didn’t start out to be companies to be green. But it seems like a by-product of the service. In much the same way that GPS and navigation devices can lead to less fuel used for driving places — because drivers are commonly taking the most direct route to get where they’re going — the sharing economy could lead to more sustainable living.

It’s about “using what you already have. This is a wave that is going to happen. Imagine all the assets you have; there’s probably someone in the world that wants access to that.”

In a world that has now surpassed 7 billion people, there are a finite amount of resources. Shifting our economy from one that was based around accumulating goods and owning things, to one that is about accessing goods more efficiently, could be a very important way to reduce waste and share limited resources.

Connectivity makes it happen

Of course, cheap silicon, fast broadband, mobile devices and social interaction over the Internet is behind this trend. The sharing economy was created by the web, because digital technology has a unique way of being able to divide goods up between people — an online reservation system, a digital key fob that opens a shared car door, web reputation systems and profiles pioneered by sites like Yelp and eBay.

Peer-to-peer rental sites are also examples of the way that the Internet and mobile are disrupting older infrastructure-heavy industrial business: housing, cars, brick and mortar stores. Chesky said that he hasn’t gotten much pushback from the hotel industries, but a site like Airbnb is disrupting the entire idea of what it is to be a hotel.

At the end of the day, it will be the companies that aren’t marketing or selling services and products as “green” that will likely have the greenest impacts. Not many consumers will buy products that are greener, they’ll buy Tesla’s Model S or the Nest thermostat because it’s cooler and a better device. People use Airbnb because it provides a new way to visit cities, find spaces and sublets and meet people, but they inadvertently are contributing to the new web-based reuse revolution.

Image courtesy of ninasaurusrex.

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  1. million dollar idea – could the car locking devices that are being used with the car sharing service be used at apartment doors? i mean the device you unlock by an smartphone app. or is it already?

  2. Rentthings.ca from Canada is supporting this green idea.The green companies keep growing but we support the one that they will really know what to do with green bills that they get for their service.
    http://www.rentthings.ca Canadian Peer-To-Peer Rental Marketplace

  3. Katie Fehrenbacher Friday, November 11, 2011

    @xy, I’ve heard companies are looking into that.

  4. Mathieu Le Roux Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Great post, showing evolution from earlier one to many servicizing suppliers like xerox or safechem (95% of your copier is made out of an old)…
    It will be interesting to see what happens once 3d printing becomes mainstream, and you get access to open source design (watch grabcad for that…)

  5. Great post. Love seeing more articles about the peer to peer commerce space. Huge fan of companies and business models working on things where green is the byproduct. I think if you start with profit motive it has long term viability.

    My company ToolSpinner (http://www.ToolSpinner.com) is doing peer to peer commerce for tool rentals.

  6. Stefania Savluc Friday, November 18, 2011

    How the #Internet is revolutionizing reuse http://t.co/GvfUUMSY | #Green

  7. Sunshine Brightly Friday, November 18, 2011

    : How the Internet is revolutionizing reuse http://t.co/Om9LAec3

  8. SCJ Greener Choices Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Interesting: How the Internet is revolutionizing reuse http://t.co/K4ohTc1u

  9. RT @holoplex: How the Internet is revolutionizing reuse http://t.co/8Aeptgh7 via @GigaOM #collcons #neweconomy

  10. Green Kitchenware Sunday, November 20, 2011

    How the Internet is revolutionizing reuse http://t.co/0wcOXXip via @katiefehrenRSS

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