Sharing, A Truly Radical (and Green) Idea


One of the first lessons we teach kids is to share, so you’d think our grown-up society would be all about give and take. In our super-consumer culture though, we’re all convinced by companies that we each need our own versions of everything. But do we? Maybe sharing is one of the keys to saving our own personal economies- and the planet. Since one of the main tenets of the environmental movement is to consume less, sharing is one way to have it all without giving up quality of life.

When I look around in my neighborhood I see every family has their own mower, multiple cars, and washers, and while some folks probably use these frequently, many don’t. (Hey, I’m guilty as well. I only do laundry twice a month and drive only on the weekends and I use my mower for a few months in the summer three times a month, but I own a washer/dryer, car and mower). After reading about the modern sustainable communities that are springing up around the country I realized that most of them involve collective use of resources in some form or another, from clothes washing centers (with washers, dryers, irons, sinks, etc.) to tool libraries and parent’s centers.

But I live in a turn-of-the-century neighborhood on the Connecticut shore- so how can I incorporate the concept of sharing without moving?

Several companies with punny names like Bag, Borrow, or Steal or From Bags to Riches rent or borrow designer handbags so you don’t have to toss another purse just because it’s last season’s look. (To be really environmentally responsible, buy a gorgeous bag in a timeless style that’s made sustainably, and will last for years to come. Buying one thing that will last for years is easier on your wallet and the planet.) But if you’re an inveterate trendmeister, or need a bag for a special event, this makes so much sense.

Office Space. The NY Times covered the newly popular phenomenon of sharing office space a couple months back. In Good Company is an office space that’s set up so that multiple businesses (in this case, women-owned and run) can claim an office, complete with conference rooms, phone lines and meeting areas. E.B. Moss, who rents space from In Good Company says, “It fits in with the green division of my company. I like to keep my footprint small.”

Your Soul.
OK, so this one takes the concept of sharing out of the box. At Rentyoursoul you “rent” your soul for a period of time in order to benefit the cause of your choice (a $10 donation). While the concept of the soul might be ineffable, there are people willing to pay to rent yours, and what could be more of a gift than your spirit? Give it away (just for a bit) to do some good and when it comes back to you it will be worth even more.

Books, DVDs and CDs. I predict that CDs and DVDs for sure (and books may be) obsolete in a few years, and I welcome the change. Printing, shipping, and discs and books uses plenty of energy in the form of fossil fuels and after a few listens (or even 50) or a read through, most media ends up gathering dust on a shelf. Downloading music, movies and books is a low-impact solution, but for now, these formats are rife with usage and transferability (not to mention legal) issues.

Until downloading a book or album becomes simpler, check into media sharing sites like Neighborrow and Swaptree, where you can trade a book for a book, a CD for a movie, or any other combination with your neighbors, cutting your carbon footprint. And unlike a library, you can keep that ‘new to you’ album as long as you want before passing it on again. Freecycle and Craigslist are two other sites to find free or almost-free stuff or get rid of yours.

Cars. I understand the attachment to owning your own personal car, but with gas prices hitting $3.40 a gallon in my neighborhood (and that’s at the cheap place with the huge line!) my car days are numbered. I just can’t justify it, especially since I use the car so little, and I know there are plenty of people out there like me (though I know for some a car is a necessity). So, when I make my next move in a few months, I’m getting rid of my old Saab and will sign up for Zipcar, a car-sharing service now available in quite a few cities. I will still have the freedom of a roadtrip (or a vehicle for a huge grocery haul) when I need it, but I won’t have the responsibility or expense of my own ride (not to mention no more carwashing!) If you live in NYC, Chicago, London, check out RideAmigos, a taxi-sharing service.

When I lived in Berkeley, California in 2000, the city had sensibly put together a tool-sharing library. It’s still going strong, and these borrowing schemes have popped up around the country, in nearby Oakland, Grosse Pointe, Kansas City, Missoula, Buffalo, Rochester, Columbus, Portland, Burlington, and Seattle. Do you really need a garage full of electric clippers, mowers, leafblowers, chainsaws and weedwhackers that you only use a few times a year? If you don’t have one of these centers in your community, how about getting together with neighbors on your own?

What can you share in your life? I kept myself motivated during my exploration imagining all the fossil fuels and resources I would be saving- and the extra space I’ll have in my office/garage/life when I share instead of hoard.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.