In a very compelling article somewhere in Lonely Planet’s Blog, Vivek Wagle, head of content and marketing at Airbnb makes the compelling argument for “collaborative consumption,” the basic business and ethical underpinning of his wildly successful “places to stay” service and website.
Basically, he points, we are living in a world of “social accommodation services,” where “being able to benefit from the good (a tangible or intangible good) is better than actually possessing that good.”
Or a world where access trumps ownership…and “the social context that allows for cross-border interaction is now available on a global scale” because of the Internet.
What this means, whether it’s Airbnb or Zipcar where “sharing is an alternative to ownership” is huge. Economically, in the case of Airbnb, money is not spent just in the hotel or tourist areas of a destination, It’s spread throughout a region.
Environmentally, Zipcar says that every time someone rents from them, that’s 20 personally-owned vehicles taken off the road, multiplied by the 9000 cars in their fleet.
More, after joining Zipcar, 90% of its members drove 5,500 miles…or less per year, leaving 32 million gallons of crude oil left in the ground, and if 10% of the people buy into “collaborative consumption” via Zipcar, that’s millions of people saving billions of dollars of oil and gas.
Lance Salemo, music director for the Family Music Stage at the famed Newport Folk Festival points out that in music, “collaborative consumption” has impacted the environment (and saved serious bucks) by reducing the number of plastic DVD’s and CD’s that used to be made, bought and discarded by music lovers. Now they can access content via Spotify, Pandora , Google and other streaming services. Reduce the clutter, save the community.
And of course the proliferation of bike-rental companies from Boston’s Hubway, Toronto’s Bixi, and Chicago’s B-Cycle.
But here’s the rub.
According to Neal Gorenflo writing in PandoDaily, collaborative consumption has peaked and has basically been corrupted.
Zipcar is now owned by Avis. Airbnb, he says, is less of a personal experience than it was when it started. Why? Because, Gorenflo says, the company is adding “new properties at the fastest rate possible, through every channel, including the fount of mediocre customers, Google Adwords.”
It’s not that Gorenflo thinks that “collaborative consumption” doesn’t work and isn’t good for society, it’s that he thinks they ought not to be functions of VC-backed Internet startups. What he thinks will radically change the world economy from owning to accessing are member-financed, member-owned, democratically-managed cooperative businesses.
But we think Airbnb, Zipcar and companies like them have shown the way and still have lots to teach us.