Sharing Economy: Sharing Instead of Owning?
News & Stories

Sharing Economy: Sharing Instead of Owning? 

The "sharing economy" is portrayed as a sustainable alternative to the traditional market model, its motto being "Share, don't own." At the 23rd Lifefair Forum, experts provided tips on various sharing economy platforms. 

Sharing Economy: THE Sustainable Alternative – or Maybe Not?

The way in which we do business and consume affects the degree to which our society is sustainable. Sharing, and the use of goods and services for a temporary period, is proving increasingly popular: The "sharing economy" is set to grow in significance – not least thanks to ongoing digitalization, which also makes it a lucrative business model.

But what does "sharing economy" mean in concrete terms? The idea behind this collaborative economic model is that resources can be used by several people on a temporary basis, instead of ownership and access being confined to individuals. Digital technology is playing an important role in this development. Through platforms designed to coordinate services and the use of resources, this shared consumption leads to savings in terms of cost and time. Booking a taxi on Uber or a vacation apartment through the Airbnb portal would be hard to imagine without the internet and smartphones. That is how the professionalization and commercialization of sharing have really taken off. The trend reflects a society that is increasingly actively seeking a more sustainable way of living. Thus the sharing economy is very much in tune with the times: People want to waste fewer resources, in an antidote to the throwaway society.

But at the the 23rd Lifefair Forum in Zurich also critique was voiced. The debate (see box) showed that the economic, social, and environmental implications of the sharing economy are not all positive. First, easier access to services can cause a surge in demand that wipes out the positive effect on environmental and other resources or in an extreme scenario can actually turn it negative. Second, services can be supplied more easily as well. This can result in a lack of control and quality, culminating in a race to the bottom that benefits no-one. Also, occupational safety and insurance protection can be reduced if sharing-economy platforms only see themselves as intermediaries and therefore fail to take responsibility for the quality of their offerings. The panelists at the Lifefair Forum therefore agreed that an overall set of rules needs to be defined for these platforms and also that a degree of regulation is necessary.

But the discussion also showed – and participants agreed unanimously – that there are many exciting, innovative platforms in existence that enable a sensible sharing of resources and that the sharing-economy model offers a tremendous opportunity to address the goal of achieving a more sustainable way of life.