Our present way of life is unsustainable. We produce billions of products every year with the only goal is to turn a profit. Not saying turning a profit is a bad thing but when it is the only thing, then that is where the problem lies. Manufacturers now largely produce goods to be used for a short periods and then discarded. We’ve been sold this idea that cheap, replaceable products are somehow more forward thinking. The “upgrade” or "what's next" or "2.0" has found its way from technology to everyday products and we are always needing to have the latest and the greatest. Our cell phones are filled with rare earth metals that are disastrous to the environment yet most of them ultimately end up in landfills when a newer model is released. We don't care about really recycling recycling important things like electronics.
By 2025, the World Bank estimates urban areas alone will produce nearly 5 trillion pounds of trash annually. A truly circular economy is a pipe dream at the moment so we first should look to design products that produce the least amount of trash and embrace new cultural, economic and technology trends until we re-embrace the golden age of manufacturing and craftsmanship when we built things and produced things that last.
A viable solution to reduce our waste lies with the “sharing economy”. The digital revolution made it possible to connect with billions of people around the world and online commerce exploded. In-person barter systems and reseller markets exploded online to become eBay and Craigslist. Suddenly there was an efficient avenue to receive money for things we no longer wanted. We were given an incentive not to throw everything in the trash. We could rent our tools or patio furniture; expensive purchases that many of us only use hours per year. We could find a room for rent or someone to carpool with. But that’s where the solution became a problem for many, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s impossible to discuss the sharing economy without mentioning Uber and Airbnb; two companies that have disrupted industries long plagued by extensive regulation. The idea of communal exchanges threatens a host of large industries whose goals are to turn a profit and maintain the status quo. Quasi-monopolies never had a reason to innovate and consumers suffered. These industries were ripe for disruption and Uber and Airbnb succeeded with models that were very easy to scale.
Industries and cities have fought back with stifling regulations in an effort to limit the two giants, particularly in major metropolitan areas. However these marketplaces have become too big to smother. Our consumption habits have changed. The overall trend in renting vs. owning has shifted, particularly in urban areas where space and money are limited resources. We have co-working office spaces. We collaborate and fund amazing ideas that traditional investors may not give the time of day. We stream our entertainment and eliminate tons of physical waste. We outsource small tasks to others and conserve arguably our most valued resource; time.
We have learnt how to collectively generate ideas, solve problems and become more efficient with our resources. Yes, the criticism of this model has been loud. Many have tried to stop the sharing revolution with over-regulation under the guise of protecting the consumer. But as the Supreme Court ruled, we need to be weary of overregulation that masquerades as a shield. We need a revolution. We need to rise up for our sustainable future.