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green and sustainable business

Collaborative Consumption: Another Buzzword?

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Once upon a time collaboration was not all that radical a concept, in the business world and even in Congress.

Lately collaboration has become a buzzword, something that businesses and their PR departments are quick to pay lip service to; maybe they even aspire to collaborate with their partners; maybe they really believe they are collaborative. (Shall we take Congress and the notion of bipartisanship and collaboration out of this discussion entirely? Let’s do.)

Talking the collaborative talk is one thing; true collaboration these days is the exception.

Trewin Restorick, chief executive of the UK environmental advisory body Global Action Plan, added the idea of “collaborative consumption” to the mix in a thoughtful Trewin’s Blog post. His blog post begins:

“One of the fundamental challenges constantly facing the environmental movement is the disconnection between the scale of the problem and the solutions proposed. Are we really surprised at public apathy when on the one hand we talk about climate change as the biggest challenge facing humanity whilst on the other we recommend unplugging mobile phone chargers? Clearly more fundamental change is required if we are to get anywhere near an 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050.”

He says that collaborative consumption might be the “radical change” that’s required to actually make some progress.

There’s even a Collaborative Collaboration Hub that describes its burgeoning “what’s mine is yours” movement. Briefly, collaborative consumption describes and embraces “the rapid explosion in swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting being reinvented through the latest technologies and peer-to-peer marketplaces in ways and on a scale never possible before. Collaborative Consumption is disrupting outdated modes of business and reinventing not just what we consume but how we consume.”

Peer-to-peer marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist are early examples and today merely the tip of the CC iceberg. The idea is to pay for the benefit of using a product without needing to own the product outright.

A multitude of examples exist, from car-sharing (Zipcar) to movies (Netflix) and peer rental (Zilok).

Using modern technologies to transform the oldest form of marketplace transactions will benefit consumers and contribute to sustainability. How this translates into benefits for the environment and for business collaboration is somewhat less clear. “The bigger the buying groups, the bigger the savings and the bigger the reduction in carbon emissions,” Restorick notes.

At some point businesses have to produce the products that are traded, bartered or swapped on-line. Will they be able to fully collaborate with their suppliers and consumers to make the CC movement really take off while protecting profits and shareholders? A good question, but given current economic and financial conditions along with the parlous record of collaboration in the business and political arena in general, perhaps the answer must wait.

It is impossible to collaborate and compete for profits and market share at the same time. Businesses have a long way to go before joining the “what’s mine is yours” concept.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

23 August, 2011 at 2:00 am

One Response

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  1. Another company that you could add to the list of examples: WebThriftStore (http://webthriftstore.com)

    JB

    2 November, 2011 at 10:16 pm


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