Collaborative Consumption Alive and Well
By Marianne Comfort, Justice Educator, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
The concept of collaborative consumption caught my attention recently, as part of the discussion among the Sisters of Mercy about how to promote environmentally sustainable lifestyles. What a lovely idea to consider sharing things rather than having to own everything that I might need or want – and how countercultural in a society where self-reliance is prized.
But collaborative consumption isn’t just some ideal buried along with 1960s hippie communes. It’s alive and well everywhere I look.
Members of religious orders have been living models of this for centuries. Women and men who take vows of poverty in their service to God and people in need typically don’t own their own houses or cars; they share in the order’s property, rent living space singly or with others and have the use of a community-owned vehicle as needed. Their guide is the sharing lifestyle found in the Acts of the Apostles.
Then I thought of all the ways I’m also participating in collaborative consumption as a single woman living alone.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., I learned of several opportunities to take a room in someone else’s home. I didn’t feel quite comfortable with the idea of living so closely with strangers at this stage of my life, but I did end up renting an apartment in the basement of a family’s bungalow. We share a washer and dryer, wireless Internet connection and heating and electricity expenses that, most likely, would have been greater for each of us individually if we had our own independent spaces. During a post-hurricane power outage, we “borrowed” power several hours a day from a neighbor with a generator to keep my floor dry and our food from spoiling.
A few months ago I donated my car to the local public radio station. Now, in addition to riding the bus and Metro, I’m sharing rides with others to hiking trails throughout Maryland and Virginia and accepting nighttime rides home after weekly volunteering as an English-as-another-language instructor.
I rarely buy books, frequenting the library instead, and there’s an independent video store nearby for renting movies. My mom buys me clothes she finds at a thrift store she volunteers at, and I have a set of beautiful Japanese china she got at a bargain price there. A neighborhood listserve includes regular emails offering giveaway items, or requests to borrow something.
At other times in my life, I participated in community supported agriculture, in which I bought a small share of the harvest of a local farm and then was blessed with some of its bounty – and, sometimes, shared the pain of crop loss in a difficult growing season. I also was a member of Freecycle, a website where people promote items they are looking to give away and others scan for items they need or want. One of my sisters got a new-looking flat-top stove that way.
And there are plenty of options that I haven’t even looked into, like transportation companies Zipcar and Capital BikeShare.
You may read more about collaborative consumption here. And please share ways in which you are participating in this modified consumerism model – or options that you would like to see available but aren’t yet.