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Socially Responsible Business

Collaborative Consumption: Doing More with Less…Together

A look at three new sharing enterprises.

Regardless of the economy, the United States is still a land of plenty. However, many Americans can no longer afford to continue to buy items that they use to buy. Smart entrepreneurs are focusing on how to redistribute all of the “things” we already have so that using them is less expensive, builds community, and becomes more environmentally friendly. This is called collaborative consumption, and companies such as ZipCar, Air B&B, Craigslist, and Netflix have proven it works. But what is next?

Earlier this week, nine collaborative consumption entrepreneurs pitched their ideas in a rapid-fire format and competed for $30,000 in prizes at the Common Pitch event in Brooklyn.

The winner was Good Karma, a service that helps new parents provide right-sized clothing to their fast-growing infants (newborns to 24 months) through a reusable clothing subscription service. Parents can choose between $27.99 per month for basic clothing, $44.99 for more exclusive brand-name clothing, or $74.99 for designer clothing. Outfits are exchanged by mail in a reusable shipping bag, and cleaned with eco-friendly products and methods. The company also “upcycles” worn-out clothing into other products such as bibs, doll clothing, and quilts. Good Karma estimates that parents who use the service instead of buying new clothing save around $1,000 per year.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Sir Richard’s a brand of socially conscious condoms. Sir Richard’s is based on the Toms Shoes model of “buy one, donate one.” If you buy a box of Sir Richard’s, you will be providing someone less fortunate a box for free. The company’s latest awareness campaign promotes the purchase of products to help provide 500,000 free condoms for Haiti, which saw a spike of unwanted pregnancies after the disastrous earthquake. They are growing rapidly based on über creative branding and an ethos that in the realm of influencing healthier sexual behavior, it pays to be aspirational instead of preachy.

As a 2.0 for ZipCar, Zimride offers Americans the ability to sell available seats in their cars when they take longer trips. “Save money and meet people heading your way,” is the company’s tagline. The ride share idea is simple and has been around for decades.  Zimride takes the idea online, and allows people to post their empty car seats and look for a ride if they need one. The service is linked to each driver’s Facebook page as a way to verify that whether the driver or passenger is someone with whom you want to ride.. Zimride has the benefit of also reducing carbon emissions and helping people meet each other (one wedding has already been recorded as a result of a Zimride match.)

The majority of the collaborative consumption entrepreneurs at the event presented ideas that improve quality of life, reduce costs, are kinder to the environment, and build community. In an era when we are increasingly wary of depending upon a revived economy to restore our quality of life, perhaps these entrepreneurs are on to something.

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COMMENTS

  • BY Navi Radjou

    ON February 17, 2012 11:59 PM

    Dear Stephanie:
    “Collaborative consumption” can support frugality—which is fast becoming a virtue in economically-stretched America. Interestingly, collaborative consumption models are quite prevalent in emerging markets such as India, China, Brazil, and Africa where many social entrepreneurs have come up with inclusive business models that deliver more with less (e.g., SELCO’s “pay as you go” solar energy distribution model). Interestingly, Western multinationals are also starting to embrace & even enable “collaborative consumption”: for instance, Johnson & Johnson has invented a *reusable* surgical stapler in India (who would have thought of that?!!). In my upcoming book Jugaad Innovation, my coauthors and I explain how with more Americans choosing to “downshift” their lifestyle, US firms must reinvent their business models to create reusable products rather than disposable ones!

  • BY Anne Scarlett

    ON February 20, 2012 04:46 PM

    Thanks for sharing highlights from the Common Pitch event; inspiring stuff!

  • BY Imran Azam

    ON February 22, 2012 01:38 AM

    All CC platforms share in socialist values.  Thats no bad thing BUT like all socialist movements it requires buy-in from all sides not just the converted.

  • Stephanie Wolcott's avatar

    BY Stephanie Wolcott

    ON February 23, 2012 10:16 AM

    Navi, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your fabulous examples and look forward to reading your book!

    Do you think though that the labels ‘developed vs. emerging’ connote a linear trajectory of advancement that isn’t really true or good for us?  Every society is not either further along or behind, but one of numerous options.  For instance, how would you label Kerala, India? It has a relatively low income per person, but rather high rates for longevity, health and education.  Or, traditional cultures who don’t actually want to ‘develop’ in the Western model?

    I look forward to a time when we finally understand what sustainable prosperity means and leave it up to each society to select the learnings that work best for them, regardless of from where they came.

    Personally, I haven’t found that operating in the collaborative consumption model is ‘downshifting’, but rather, giving me a richer sense of community and more experiences vs. things. I would be interested in others’ thoughts on this…

  • BY Erika Napoletano

    ON February 25, 2012 09:48 AM

    I met another great collaborative consumption company at SXSW Accelerator last year: NeighborGoods.net. Community-based sharing platforms—and a lot of it is free. Love the founder’s story (she’s a fireball) and how they’re bootstrapping their way into new communities.

  • Thanks for the continued collaborative consumption coverage.  Some more resources, where one can find aggregated lists of collcon businesses are: http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com share,able.net, and meshing.it.

  • BY Aaron Hurst

    ON February 29, 2012 07:00 AM

    Some great consumer models.  What are some enterprise models?

    Stock photos?  They are able to be used by many to make the cost viable relative to custom photo shoots.

    Corporate jet sharing?  Kind of like ZipCar.

    Nielson’s ratings that give data to all the media companies so they don’t have to each do the research viewership.

  • Leilson's avatar

    BY Leilson

    ON March 4, 2012 08:30 AM

    Check out this site of collaborative consumption. The BuscaLá http://www.buscala.com.br in Brazil

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