Use the sharing economy

Using instead of owning - the principle of the "sharing economy"

Buy your own car? Carsharing might be enough. Do you need a new outfit? There are sure to be some nice things on the Internet clothing exchange again. Will the shelf finally be screwed on at the weekend? In the online neighborhood group there is sure to be someone who lends out his drill.

These examples seem commonplace - but they are often cited as part of a relatively recent development in consumption with which there are many hopes. It's about the so-called sharing economy (often also: "share economy"). The term can be translated as "economy of sharing". It is about the mutual provision of objects or rooms. That alone is not new; after all, libraries, for example, have been around for thousands of years. However, the Internet also plays an important role in the term "sharing economy".

For some years now, sharing, swapping and lending has been a trend and an alternative to "classic" consumption. A few years ago the term "sharing economy" was even more present than it is today. In 2013 it was the subject of the then important electronics fair Cebit. In 2011, the Time magazine "Sharing" was one of the ten outstanding ideas that will change the world.

The principle is no less relevant today, on the contrary. It is now established in some areas of life. Individual platforms are better known than the term "sharing economy". These include Airbnb, the platform for brokering private accommodation, the Blablacar car sharing agency and the Kleiderkreisel platform.

On the one hand, various hopes are associated with the principle of systematic sharing, on the other hand there is criticism of some of the platforms that exist today. One example is the brokerage of private accommodation. In some regions that are particularly attractive for tourism, it is feared that living space will be permanently misappropriated.

Some so-called ride sharing platforms are also criticized. They arrange trips in private cars, which can conflict with the applicable rules for driving services.

But many approaches have the potential to conserve resources and reduce the impact on the environment and climate. In addition, they can set new impulses for society.

Consumption is becoming a stress test for the environment

Approaches to reducing resource consumption and environmental damage in the area of ‚Äč‚Äčconsumption are fundamentally very interesting. Because there is a great need for action (see background text: environmental awareness, consumer behavior and sustainable consumption).

What people own and how they consume plays an important role in the economy and society - especially in industrialized countries. In 2019, private consumer spending made up 52.2 percent of the gross domestic product in Germany. At the same time, intensive consumption worldwide has an ecological and social downside.

Overall, our consumer behavior is becoming a global stress test for the environment. For example, it affects greenhouse gas emissions. The annual emissions per capita in Germany are 11.61 tons of CO2 equivalents. This makes them almost twice as high as the global average.

Household consumption expenditure in Germany rose by 14 percent from 2014 to 2019 alone. Households with higher incomes spend more on consumption. This is accompanied by higher energy consumption and more environmental resources are used.

Criticism of the "throwaway society"

Overall, more and more households have more and more goods. The number of one- and two-person households is increasing, as is the level of household equipment.

In addition, many goods are laboriously produced, but only used for a relatively short time and rarely - although they could often have a longer lifespan. Cell phones contain valuable raw materials and are usually still usable when they are replaced by new, more modern devices. This often happens after a year or two. Not all products are recycled by any means.

Every fifth item of clothing sold in Germany is almost never worn. Many items of clothing are only bought for one season ("fast fashion") and their quality is accordingly negligent. Such a lifestyle and consumption style, in which products only have a short lifespan, is also described by critics with the term "throwaway society".

What potential does the "sharing economy" have?

Sharing, swapping and lending make it possible to use things and spaces more efficiently. This saves resources and reduces the impact on the environment and the climate.

The example of car sharing illustrates the potential of the principle of sharing. A private car is only moved one hour a day on average. So it stands around unused for 23 hours a day. One car sharing vehicle can replace several private cars. The Blue Angel, the federal government's environmental label, has award criteria for car sharing providers.

The principle can be applied to many things, including drilling machines. American trend researcher Rachel Botsman, a well-known advocate of the "sharing economy", cites this example. There are many households with power drills, but they are only used for a fraction of their life.

We don't need the drill, but the hole in the wall.

Botsman thinks that society is undergoing a cultural change in which the relationship between people and things will radically change. Owning new products is becoming less important for social status and everyday life, according to Botsman. It is no longer the ownership of things that counts, but access to them.

How does the Internet make "sharing" easier?

Exchange and partial models need certain requirements in order for them to work. A key requirement is trust. Traditional forms of sharing were mostly limited to the close social relationships between family, neighborhood and circle of friends. Here trust is based on knowing each other.

Another requirement is to find partners: who has what I need? Who can I share with?

With the internet, the possibilities have grown to pass things on or to use them together - not only with friends, but also with strangers. Sharing platforms typically include features to build trust and mitigate risk.

And they have to create a sufficiently large market. A critical mass of participants is necessary so that the offer is worthwhile for everyone.

One way of building trust among people who are unknown to one another is used by numerous platforms: users rate and comment on one another. The payment processes are organized via the platform, there are in some cases security measures against payment defaults.

What are the central features of the "sharing economy"?

In practice, a wide variety of possibilities is attributed to the "sharing economy". What they have in common is that it is about sharing and passing on - in contrast to exclusive ownership.

Some projects are commercial, others are non-commercial; some ideas are about sharing, others about passing on used items to other users; It can range from material or virtual goods to services, knowledge and skills - such as repairing broken objects.

Another common feature is that the practical handling takes place via internet platforms. Their functions enable individual people to enter into direct exchange.

From car sharing to second hand

Car sharing services are among the best-known examples of systematic sharing. For a long time, owning a car was an important status symbol. Studies show that this is less and less the case in younger people.

There are a number of commercial car sharing providers. The users register there. If you need a car, reserve it online or via the app and pick it up. The fees are billed automatically. With some providers, the vehicles are picked up at fixed stations and then parked again. With others, the vehicles can be parked flexibly in a certain area. If you need a car, you can use the app to show the vehicles nearby on a map.

There are also car sharing platforms for private vehicles. If you own a car and don't need it all the time, you can use these services to rent it out to others.

Carpooling and carpooling are almost classic, however. There are also special internet platforms for them. In recent years, new platforms have emerged in this area, especially in the USA. They are known as "ridesharing" services.

Another well-known example is the brokerage of private accommodation.

There is also a wide range of platforms for consumer goods. It ranges from markets for second-hand products through exchange and gift platforms to forms of renting and lending. There are specialized platforms for clothing, books, electronics and toys, among other things.

Second-hand platforms allow items to be used for longer. For their users, they offer financial advantages and thus make it easier to purchase the goods they are looking for.

The same applies to non-commercial file sharing networks. The items are still the exclusive property of individuals - but only temporarily. Here, too, there is an alternative attitude to consumption: A used product has its value as long as it fulfills its function. What you buy doesn't always have to be brand new.

Challenges and criticism

A number of platforms of the "sharing economy" have come under fire in the past few years. Sometimes it is about misuse of the platforms, sometimes also about problematic developments associated with their use.

One example is the brokerage of private apartments on a temporary basis. The model is extremely successful in many attractive cities - which has led to living space becoming increasingly scarce, according to the criticism. Because renting can be a very good deal. Many apartments are therefore now rented out permanently.

Individual platforms for carpooling have also been controversial in recent years. This included, above all, new so-called "ride sharing" platforms from the USA. Private drivers offer their services and their vehicles. In Germany, this led to criticism mainly because the platforms thus represent a kind of taxi service, but do not comply with the standards applicable to taxi services.

On the one hand, the "sharing economy" could set markets in motion, create jobs and expand the possibilities of consumption, according to a study by the Federal Ministry of Economics. On the other hand, it could be difficult to enforce rules. Basically it is difficult to weigh up the opportunities and challenges of the "sharing economy" because the approaches are very heterogeneous.

How can I become part of the "sharing economy"?

The possibilities of sharing, lending and swapping are extremely diverse. Many platforms for used items can be easily tried out - be it to search for things or to offer something yourself. This not only saves resources compared to buying a new one, it also saves money. It can also be a lot of fun.

Special apps and internet platforms are not always necessary. Anyone who needs a commodity can also take the opportunity to look around in the neighborhood or at the nearest flea market. In addition to the ecological benefit, this is also a social benefit.

In addition to special platforms, neighborhood groups also offer opportunities for lending and swapping in social networks.

Related Links

Federal Environment Agency: Lending, swapping, sharing

Federal Environment Agency: Car-Sharing

Federal Ministry of Economics: Sharing Economy in the German Economic Area

Federal Environment Agency: Social innovations on the rise

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