The 'sharing economy' is on the rise, as online communication connects people with skills, time or objects that can be of use to others. Here are 4 ways that sharing can work for you.

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The word "share"

image: Carlos Maya / flickr

The Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, based in Somerville, MA has everything an up-and-coming craft brewery needs:  great recipes, good distribution and a very loyal following.  One thing they don’t have? An actual brewery.

You see, the four-person start-up is part of a growing trend in the craft-beer world called itinerant brewing. Instead of making a huge capital investment in a building of their own, they simply rent space and equipment from existing breweries when not in use. This tactic has allowed Pretty Things to turn their ideas and ingredients into a marketable product while keeping the initial barriers low. The result is a thriving business for the entrepreneurs, extra income for the established breweries, and a delicious product for East-coast beer lovers. Everyone wins!

And if you think this clever concept only applies to beer, think again.  Itinerant brewing is just one example of similar trends that are blossoming all over the place. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve already participated in one. Have you ever done any of the following:

  • Rented a Zipcar
  • Gone couchsurfing
  • Attended a skillshare
  • Used a Creative Commons photo (like the one above)
  • Joined a carpool
  • Finished a book and passed it on
  • Shared a house with someone?

These activities, and others like them, may look different from one another on the surface.  But collectively, they all make up what’s known as the sharing economy.  At the heart of the sharing economy is this concept of sharing access to limited resources.

This trend is already big, and it’s growing fast (check for the latest developments). And like the Pretty Things example, this is one of those rare situations in life that could turn out to be win-win for everyone who participates. Let’s look at four of the powerful ways that a thriving “sharing economy” can work for you.

Rack of bikes

Bike sharing in Vancouver (image: slettvet / Flickr)

1. Save Resources and Reduce Waste

For an example, take a look at the company Yerdle. It’s essentially the social-networking incarnation of the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Any items you own but don’t need anymore can be offered up to your friends. Old baby clothes, an accordion you never learned to play, or an extra computer you’re not using. The effect of giving things away is two-fold: One, the receiver acquires something without asking any more of the world’s already-strained resources – no additional plastic, metal, chemicals or anything else needs to be produced. Two, the giver reduces their home clutter without filling up a landfill or causing pollution.

2. Save Money

Let’s turn to Zipcar as an example here. As anyone who owns a car can attest, the advantages of a personal auto come with a huge financial burden. Taxes, fees, gas money, maintenance, and insurance add up quickly. Especially if, as The Mesh author Lisa Gansky claims, that car is only in use an average of 8% of the time (source). That’s an awful lot of money that’s going to waste the other 92% of the time. The brilliance of car-sharing services (of which Zipcar is only the most well-known example) is that they distribute this financial burden among many people, proportional to how much they actually use the car. Customers gain access to a vehicle, and its attendant freedoms, for much less money than if they had to buy one outright.

3. Make Money

Have some extra space in your home you’d be willing to rent out to travelers?  Check out AirBnB, and offer up your couch, your guest room or an entire apartment.  Suddenly, your unused property has gone from empty space to a source of income, with minimal investment on your part.  You’ll get a warm fuzzy feeling from using your property to its full potential, while the other benefits of sharing accrue directly to your bank account.

4. Get Smart

Not every kind of sharing revolves around physical objects. Knowledge, for example, is an awesome thing to share because you can give it to someone else and still have it. Some skill-sharing services, like SkillShare, are kind of like a marketplace for teachers: you can sign up to teach people skills that you have, in exchange for fees. Others, like Time Banks, pay you for your teaching with time credits – which you can then spend to learn new skills from someone else. In either case, you get to enrich your life, or someone else’s, without the intervention of an expensive, exclusive institution like a university.

These are some of the biggest ways the sharing economy can have a positive impact on our individual lives. What would you share with others if you could? And what do you think of a future full of sharing?