Collaborative consumption

Forget spending up big on things you don’t really need—the sharing revolution is here, and it could change the way we live and work, forever. Welcome to the age of Collaborative Consumption—a sustainable way of doing business, which is already changing the economic landscape on a major scale.


Imagine a world where rather than buying and selling, the economy is built on swapping and sharing. Where borrowing is valued above ownership and where your personal reputation is every bit as important as your credit rating. It may sound like some sort of socialist utopia, but it’s a very real and growing trend. Welcome to the age of Collaborative Consumption—a sustainable way of doing business, which is already changing the economic landscape on a major scale. It’s a concept which Time magazine dubbed one of the ‘10 Ideas that Will Change the World’.

You may not realise it, but if you’ve ever rented out something you don’t need to someone who does, traded an unwanted item for something you want or used a car share or home swap service, you’ve been a collaborative consumer. In fact, there are hundreds of online sites, which operate on this very idea. From Gumtree (where you can buy, sell, barter and swap), to Airbnb (an international peer-to-peer marketplace that matches space to rent with people looking for a place to stay), and Air Tasker (where you can hire people for their skills, to do odd jobs or chores)—it would seem that sharing, hiring or borrowing, rather than buying outright, is the new way forward.

The paradox of the sharing revolution is that the technology that facilitates it is helping to take us back to a simpler time and enabling trust between strangers. “We’re living in a global village where we can mimic the ties that used to happen face to face but on a scale never seen before,” says Rachel Botsman, who is regarded as the global thought leader on Collaborative Consumption. She coined the phrase in response to her observation around how easy it was to form crowds for a purpose— and what the power of people in numbers could achieve. Her groundbreaking book, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (coauthored with Roo Rogers) explains how Collaborative Consumption relies on digital technology to create a new era of trust between strangers, which is changing the way we live, work and consume.

“The collaboration at the heart of Collaborative Consumption may be local and face-to-face or it may use the Internet to connect, combine, form groups and find something or someone to create ‘many to many’ peer-to-peer interactions,” she says in her book. “Every day people are using Collaborative Consumption— traditional sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting and swapping, redefined through technology and peer communities. Collaborative Consumption is enabling people to realise the enormous benefits of access to products and services over ownership, and at the same time, save money, space and time; make new friends; and become active citizens once again.” There’s no denying that sharing goods is an attractive— and sustainable—way of making money, certainly preferable to throwing unwanted sundries into landfill. In the course of Botsman’s research, she’s discovered three main Collaborative Consumption categories. Redistribution Markets, which expand the life cycle of a product and reduce waste by reusing, recycling and repairing. Collaborative Lifestyles, which includes the sharing of resources and skills and Product Service Systems which offers the benefit or experience of a product without the need to own it—a car for example, or a power drill.

“I believe we’re actually in a period where we’re waking up from a humungous hangover of emptiness and waste, and we’re taking a leap toward a more sustainable system, built to serve our innate needs for community and individual identity,” says Botsman. Sharing, collaborating, community spirit—it’s a very real possibility that the ‘What’s Mine Is Yours’ economy is not only a brilliant business model, it may also be helping to create a kinder, more connected world, one online interaction at a time.