The sharing economy is an emerging phenomenon in which more than 25 percent of the populations in the U.S., UK and Canada currently participate. It contains the seeds of positive social and ecological change. Yet for these seeds to bloom, businesses will need to question the assumptions by which we live our lives in today’s modern societies. It is by challenging conventional wisdom that sharing-based businesses can support their own survival as well as the development of both the overall economy and green living.
The primary challenge is in the arena of social capital – the relationships that form the foundation of society. In today’s modern capitalist societies most relationships tend to be money and transaction-based, and there is a high emphasis on self-centeredness and individual desires. Today’s consumption-based economies are also based on the assumption that people are going to be dishonest and cheat others who are involved in their transactions. An entire multi-billion-dollar legal industry has been built to handle the disputes that arise as this assumption manifests itself in reality.
In direct contrast to this assumption is the fact that the core currency of the sharing economy is trust between people who start out as strangers. Such trust can be built only by creating positive peer-to-peer relationships. Within the sharing economy, this means we will enter into sharing relationships with others based first on recommendations by those whom we already trust, including friends, family, peers and business colleagues. These exchanges will be further supported by a step-by-step process of getting to know who the other person is, and then building personal relationships that deepen the trust that each person has for the other.
Instead of trusting centralized massive bureaucracies (think oil companies), the sharing economy asks that we enter into trusting relationships with each other, mediated by businesses that offer information exchange and identity verification (think Facebook). As the sharing economy grows, trust-based relationships will increasingly become a new social norm. It is the structure of the trust-building process and the quality of these new relationships that offer the greatest hope for green living.
When we perceive the natural environment as a party with whom we are involved in a sharing relationship, our assumptions about the world shift. When we understand that we are in constant exchange with our environment – air, water, food and energy – then the natural world ceases to be a resource to be exploited for personal gain and becomes instead a partner with whom we are engaged for mutual value exchange, including life support.
Following the precepts of the sharing economy, we will want to get to know this partner – first by recommendations from those whom we already trust, and then by building personal relationships with nature. We may use recommendations from friends to guide our purchases of environmentally friendly products, travel to home-sharing destinations that offer green accommodations, or simply plant a garden. We will come to trust the promise of green living: what is good for the world is good for us.