Do you have a car pool at work? Car-sharing revenues in North America have been predicted to reach $3.3 billion by 2016. There are many start-ups in this field, includingZipcar, which floated last year for $174 million. Enabling the more efficient exchange and sharing of products and services, in order to increase human well-being while reducing the consumption of natural resources, is a key dimension to the sustainability transition. The increasing penetration of the internet means new systems of exchanging and sharing products and services are growing in many areas. Facebook’s CEO has even emphasised the potential for developing new sharing enterprises as key to its future financial success, after floatation.
These developments in “collaborative consumption” bring a new dimension to the existing forms of alternative exchange systems, such as business barter networks or countertrade agreements, and community currency systems that help connect underused assets with unmet needs. Countertrade accounts for around 20% of world trade, while one national barter network now involves 1 in 5 small or medium-sized companies in Switzerland, amounting to over $1.5 billion a year. The new sphere of peer-to-peer financial-lending has taken off and is predicted to reach $5 billion next year. It appears to be a time of disruptive innovation through new forms of sharing, exchanging, renting and co-owning.
Some of these activities are important to sustainable development and, therefore, to the broad field of responsible enterprise (whether we label our work corporate social responsibility, sustainable business, social enterprise, shared value, responsible or impact investment, or some other term). For business executives to contribute to a positive sustainability outcome from these developments requires enhanced understanding of how to explore ways to become involved, including by adapting their own business models.