Can the 'Sharing Economy' Go Mainstream?

5 years ago

Following years of consumerism, technology has offered new interpretations of ownership. Competitive services touting the benefits of “sharing” and “access over ownership” have gained ground as viable alternatives. Consumers have revisited past generations’ routines of sharing, swapping, lending, and bartering. Businesses are allowing access to both tangible items and less tangible assets of space and skills. Sharing services are progressively gaining traction in densely populated areas. However, the question remains as to whether they can cross to the mainstream and gain massive adoption?

Image: ClizBiz via Flickr


Enacting consumer behavior change is a challenging endeavor. In a recent review of consumer behavior change, psychologists Wendy Wood and David Neal suggest that consumers often “act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behavior with little regard to current goals and valued outcomes.”

In contrast to ownership, the sharing economy while founded on the concepts of community and sharing, attempts to find value through financial savings for consumers. Like the sharing economy, sustainability initiatives are focused on advancing social equity. Both sustainability and the sharing economy minimize waste, optimize the allocation of resources and reduce carbon emissions with communities. When considering their adoption, however, it seems to come down to the intent and behavior of the individual.

Recent findings suggest that pro-environmental campaigns emphasizing financial savings (self-interested) over protecting the environment (self-transcending) have generally been ineffective. Although advocates promoted financial benefits in order to accelerate adoption of eco-friendly behaviors (i.e., saving energy results in lower bills), researchers Thogersen and Crompton found that financial incentives may make people less likely to carry out environmental actions in general. Self-interested values, such as economic welfare, wealth and power were found to be in conflict with the self-transcending values of protecting the environment.

Another study, conducted by researchers Fowler and Christakis, reveals that acts of kindness and generosity travel in social networks up to three degrees of separation. They believe that “cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks” and that “there is a deep and fundamental connection between social networks and goodness.” They added that “groups with altruists in them will be more likely to survive than selfish groups.”

The resounding message of the sharing economy is that it fosters relationships and builds communities. So far, it has focused primarily on the self-interested values of saving money and making money from the idle resources in order to appeal to consumers. The sharing economy should incorporate self-transcending values such as sustainability and goodness to its core message in order to achieve behavior change and cross to the mainstream. 

~Tamar Burton

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