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August 14th, 2013

Simple sharing can help save the environment



In a shareable world, things like car sharing, clothing swaps, community dinners, childcare coops, potlucks, international playdates, and co-housing make life more fun, green and affordable for all parties. Photo:Clapstar, via Flickr

Dear EarthTalk: Some green groups are promoting the simple notion of sharing as a way to green communities and combat waste. Can you explain?

- Becky Lipscomb, NY

The convergence of environmental awareness and consumer culture has created a whole new movement today whereby sharing is cool. Indeed, some environmentalists view sharing as key to maintaining our quality of life and our sanity in an increasingly cluttered world.

"Sharing is a relatively simple concept and a basic part of human life," reports Janelle Orsi on Shareable, an online magazine that tells the story of sharing. "What’s new is that people are applying sharing in innovative and far-reaching ways, many of which require complex planning, new ways of thinking and organizing, and new technologies. In short, people are taking sharing to new levels, ranging from relatively simple applications of sharing to community-wide sharing initiatives - and beyond."

"In a shareable world, things like car sharing, clothing swaps, childcare coops, potlucks, and cohousing make life more fun, green, and affordable," reports Shareable. "When we share, not only is a better life possible, but so is a better world."

The non-profit Freecycle Network, which runs a Craigslist-style website where people can list items they want to give away, pioneered using the Internet to facilitate diverting reusable goods from landfills when it launched back in 2003. To date, more than nine million individuals across 5,000 different regions have used the group’s freecycle.org website to find new homes for old items.

According to Shareable, other examples such as Zipcar, Wikipedia, Kiva and Creative Commons show how successful sharing can be. "They show what’s possible when we share. They show that we don’t act merely for our own good, but go out of our way to contribute to the common good. They show that we can solve the crises we face, and thrive as never before. They show that a new world is emerging where the more you share the more respect you get, and where life works because everyone helps each other."

Shareable and the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit that highlights the connections between consumption, quality of life and the environment, have collaborated on the production of the new "Guide to Sharing," a free downloadable booklet loaded with practical ideas about exchanging stuff, time, skills and space. Some of the ideas in the guide include: organizing a community swap; starting a local toy, seed or tool library; launching a skills exchange where community members can swap professional skills like carpentry or grant-writing; or setting up a food, transportation or gardening co-op. Some other sharing tips include car-sharing, gift circles, sharing backyard chickens with neighbors and launching a "free market" where people meet to trade skills and stuff.

For her part, Janelle Orsi envisions a future where public land is dedicated to community gardening, public libraries also lend tools, equipment and other goods, and citywide bike sharing, carpooling and wifi programs are all the rage. Orsi and others warn we had better get used to sharing, as it is here to stay.


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