I live in a flat in a six-flat apartment building in Abuja, Nigeria. While I have all other facilities to myself, the water source is shared. This means that water is distributed to all the flats through a singular storage tank system. When this system develops any fault, we would convene a small meeting, designate a collector and contribute money to fix it. Recently the system had a fault and there was a delay in the repairs. This was chiefly because some of the flats did not pay up quickly and when they did, the repairmen did not show up as planned for about two days. Those were not very pleasant days as everyone had to provide for their own independent water supply. It was an expensive, tiresome and awful experience. We blamed some of the flats for not having paid up fast enough and the designated ‘repair project leader’ for not making better arrangements with the repairmen.
Eventually, it was repaired and all was well with the world.
Now even though it would be more convenient for each flat to have their own water source, we continue sharing, because that is what we do. We share. We understand that sometimes to save more (money and energy for starters) it’s crucial to share. And for that, we are willing to suffer some minor inconveniences.
In my society and Africa in general, this sharing culture runs deep. I say culture because it is a way of life. It is desired, it is expected and it is respected that you share. From food to housing, from cars to knowledge, we almost always share. It is actually not a thing of much praise or commendation if you share in the African society. Indeed, an individual is more likely to be noticed if he or she does not share than if he or she does. Now sharing is not unique to Africans. From neighbourhood carpooling to drive kids to school to helping fix each other’s roofs, people share bits of their lives with others all over the world. But I daresay it is most visible in Africa because acts of kindness and cooperation are not isolated moments. It is our way of life.
In the age of technology and the internet, this sharing culture has become the “sharing economy”. The sharing economy is defined as “an economic model often defined as a peer-to-peer (P2P) based activity of acquiring, providing or sharing access to goods and services that are facilitated by a community based online platform.”
From the transport and automobile industries to the housing and tourism industries, the sharing economy has taken a strong foothold in many facets of life.
The gold standard of the sharing economy is Uber. Uber’s ridesharing business model completely disrupted the transport sector. People who don’t own cars can now easily afford to take luxurious rides. And the owners of these cars can make additional income while helping others solve their commute problems simultaneously. Even though the company may not have reduced vehicle purchases, it has been shown to reduce the usage of cars already purchased.
What Uber did for transport, Airbnb had done for hotels and lodging. Airbnb has shown that less energy is utilized by their guests than in hotels by at least 88%. This is largely because the guests are in complete control of their accommodation and can determine and control their energy use. Fashion, of course, is not to be left out of this sharing economy. Sharing platforms and services such as Rent the Runway and Tumnus offer their users the ability to hire, borrow and share fashion items, from shoes to dresses.
Looking at the overall impact, I believe that the sharing economy is our best bet for a sustainable future. It is not rocket science to know that where two people share a house or a car, it greatly reduces the carbon footprint that would have accrued in the production and maintenance of an additional car or house. Imagine if we could extend this to other areas of life. Imagine if others could use the clothes you aren’t using. Imagine if people could use closed office buildings at night to run their businesses; the possibilities are endless.
All this is not to say the sharing economy is a magic wand that will bring sustainability into all our lives; no solution ever is. One of the biggest hurdles of this economy is social acceptance. A core offering of the sharing economy is that it saves money, but in many of our societies, spending more money, owning multiple cars and houses are regarded as status symbols. Despite how exclusive and convenient it is, some people will not use Uber as it is still regarded as “public transport” and a step removed from using the bus or taxis. Also, as a matter of fact, in my country, a number of people have been known to not drive for Uber because it will somehow create the impression that they need the extra money. In the same vein, people refuse to use services such as Airbnb and would rather rent hotel rooms for thousands of dollars more.
Another hurdle that confronts the sustainability of the sharing economy is the rebound effect. When people share, they save money. The money saved gives them the buying power to spend more. Now, this rebound effect is when we lavish this money saved on purchases that are unfriendly to the environment. In the long run, this may result in an equal or increased harm to the environment.Click To Tweet economy is social acceptance. A core offering of the sharing economy is that it saves money, but in many of our societies, spending more money, owning multiple cars and houses are regarded as status symbols.'” quote=”‘One of the biggest hurdles of this [sharing] economy is social acceptance. A core offering of the sharing economy is that it saves money, but in many of our societies, spending more money, owning multiple cars and houses are regarded as status symbols.'”]
Still, of all the solutions proffered for a more sustainable future, the sharing economy is my favourite for two reasons. First off – it is easy to understand and simple to implement; when I share, I save more. And I can share almost everything.
Secondly, it is one of the few solutions that go beyond merely appealing to people’s emotions to be eco-conscious. It appeals to something more practical; their finances, water supply, energy consumption, to mention but a few. So if I share my car or house for the weekend, I save money. This, in my opinion, makes it more likely to succeed as a solution.
What is left remains the human factor. So, if we shared a little more wouldn’t it be easier, saving our planet?
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