The Rise of the Sharing Economy in my Community
“Our well-being will depend more and more on what we share with others and create together”. Charles Leadbeater, author of We-Think
As I live and work in rural Ireland, it is the local application of the sharing economy that most interests me. Cloughjordan is a small heritage village located less than two hours from Dublin and is reachable by train. In the past the village had suffered from population decline and some of its key services were under threat before the ecovillage project first arrived in 2003. The term ecovillage is actually a little misleading, as we are very much a neighbourhood of Cloughjordan that is experimenting with good practice in community regeneration.
The ecovillage project has now attracted over 65 families to move to Cloughjordan contributing to the flourishing of the whole village and is now seen as one of the healthiest communities in Ireland. In the last two years, it has won the National Green Community Award, in 2012 was voted runner up in an ‘Irish Times’ contest looking for the ‘Best Place to Live in Ireland’ and this year has been nominated for an Irish Pride of Place award and a UN award for liveable communities.
The Welcome Centre at Cloughjordan Ecovillage
The Cloughjordan Ecovillage is a Transition initiative and due to its high level of community spirit, informal car-pooling, tool sharing, a bread club and food exchanges already exist and more collaborative enterprises are popping up.
The Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery
The Cloughjordan Community Farm is our local (CSA) Community Supported Agriculture project that now has over 60 member households. By sharing the cost of farm production with others, members can share the yield of the farm collectively. This is an excellent way to secure a supply of healthy and locally grown food. I am also involved in the development of a co-housing project in Cloughjordan. This will be a model of low debt housing where people will have their own living space but will share common rooms and amenities.
Cloughjordan Community Farm
School Gardens on Cloughjordan Community Farm
Out on the fields of Cloughjordan Community Farm
‘WeCreate’ is a co-working space that is about to open in the Ecovillage, which will provide the space and resources needed for small businesses, independent workers, designers, developers, educators, and entrepreneurs to work on their own projects. Co-working spaces are a great way to attract talent to the locality, maintain the energy and motivation of people, and help share resources. A Food Hub is being developed at WeCreate, which will provide growers, makers and food producers with space to process, distribute, and market their locally or regionally produced food goods.
WeCreate the co-working space and FabLab in Cloughjordan Ecovillage
This co-working space will also feature a Fablab, a digital fabrication workshop, which is an innovative way to bring prototyping capabilities to communities. Neil Gershenfeld, a professor at MIT, describes Fablabs as, ‘a collection of commercially available machines and parts linked by software and processes developed for making things.’ By sharing open-source blue prints and plans across the Internet, Fablabs give us the capacity to be creators rather than just consumers.
A Permaculture Course in WeCreate
This emerging collaborative way of living and working is a potential economic regeneration strategy for communities, particularly those in rural areas. This approach could activate underutilised space and help us see our unused stuff as a revenue stream, not just matter on its way to the waste stream.
Distribution at Cloughjordan Community Farm
I think this trend will grow to dominate business in the future and, as well as giving us a renewed sense of community, will fundamentally change how we consume. In the new sharing economy people and communities will have more choices, more tools, more information, and more power. Where sharing exists, community’s flourish and these collaborative systems could be good not only for our wallets, but our neighborhoods and our planet.
We are already seeing wider trends. These difficult financial times are forcing us to re-evaluate the way we interact with one another, and with the resources and assets we have around us. In this blog I want to explore how we might solve real world problems, change our hyper-consumptive ways and flourish through the act of sharing.
There is a new economic model emerging that is centered around the borrowing and sharing of goods and services. As well as reducing the amount of stuff we have, and therefor the waste we produce, this trend could help us to save money, strengthen our communities, promote sustainability, and create new livelihoods.
Enabled by the Internet and social networks new sharing initiatives are springing up that are able to operate at scale and across geographic boundaries. Although they are ancient practices, lending, exchanging, and swapping have never been as collaborative as they are today.
This new, potentially game-changing trend has been described in a number of different ways - collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer asset sharing and the sharing economy are all labels used to describe it. Based on access, use, and the re-circulation of goods as an alternative to traditional private ownership, it also has the potential to foster increased social connections and therefor strengthen the resilience of our communities.
In ‘What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption’, authors Rachael Botsman and Roo Rogers chart the growth of this system where people pay for the benefit of having access to a product rather than paying more to own it outright. They describe it as an “emerging socio-economic groundswell”, which they say is driven by the fact that people are increasingly searching for more simplicity in their lives. A few years ago collaborative consumption was named one of TIME Magazine’s 10 ideas that will change the world.
Will this approach improve the way we interact with one another and contribute to the creation of a more collaborative and caring society? Could this old idea of sharing, revamped by the use of technology, hold the potential to transform our mobility, work practices, and our living arrangements.
Our shelves and cupboards are stuffed full of goods that could be passed on to people and everyone has a talent or skill they could share. We are surrounded by assets that have idling capacity; the untapped social and economic value of under-utilised goods, spaces and skills. Taking advantage of all this is a new breed of entrepreneurs and self-organised communities who are increasingly connecting these resources with technology and creating new livelihoods and businesses.
The car, which used to be the ultimate status symbol and the provider of freedom and independence, is one of the most expensive and underutilised assets people own today. Having a car is increasingly being viewed as an extra expense and in urban areas having one has become unsustainable. Car sharing or car clubs are becoming a popular alternative to ownership, especially when the costs of filling the tank, maintaining, taxing, insuring and parking your car are rising so dramatically.
GoCar is an Irish car club based in Dublin and Cork that gives you access to a fleet of cars and vans parked around the city. Cars can be used for as little as 15 minutes and when your trip is finished you just park at a designated parking spot and walk away. At the end of the month you get a bill that includes the cost of fuel and insurance.
Airbnb, the peer-to-peer marketplace that allows people to rent their spare rooms and houses, is the poster child of the sharing economy. Its popularity, with over 10 million nights booked in 192 countries, is evidence that collaborative consumption is becoming a significant business trend. It has been reported that Airbnb hosts in New York City make an average of $21,000 annually, just by renting a room that was previously ‘idling’.
Sharing economy systems don’t always need cash. In Clonakilty the community there have set up a ‘favour exchange’ to share skills and labour. This exchange system is ”an economy of goodwill” and does not involve the making or spending of money.
Credits: All images courtesy of Davie Philip
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