What’s next for the sharing economy?

What’s not to like about the sharing economy? It’s convenient, good for the environment, resource efficient, and has the potential to save money or generate side revenue for sharers. The combination of new technologies, which enable a connection between service ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’, and a cultural shift away from ownership, are expanding the horizon of what can be shared. What’s next?

Ten years ago, car sharing was for hippies in Vancouver, San Francisco, and “some places in Europe“. The thought of charging strangers to sleep on your couch or rent out your basement suite for the weekend was relegated to scheming ahead of in-law visits. Now, the concepts of car sharing and Airbnb are mainstream–Seattle just announced that Car2Go, one of many car sharing companies in the city, will grow its fleet to 750 vehicles and Airbnb was recently valued at $10 billion (USD), more than the entire Hyatt chain of hotels.

It’s clear that the sharing economy is being tested and proven. Sure, certain models won’t always work out and there will be hills and valleys in terms of growth and success stories, but there’s still a lot of unexplored territory. Here are a few concepts that might make good candidates for broader sharing.


Office sharing


Real estate prices keep on rocketing, especially in urban cores, and companies are under pressure to cut costs while keeping commute times down for workers. The potential for specialized enterprises or co-operatives to sprout up and fill a niche for in-demand small work and meeting spaces is too big to ignore. What’s more, a simple technology platform that facilitates financial transactions, rating systems, and basic insurance could allow for existing offices to farm out underutilized space to room-seekers. Vancouver’s Hive is an example of pioneering co-workspace.


Industrial and working space


If unused office space is bad management, then expensive and underutilized industrial space is a sin. Sure, you could make an argument that having strangers play around with your expensive machinery is risky and potentially dangerous. But, this could be more about setting up a system that’s designed for sharing from the get-go. I’m talking start-ups with highly specialized processes that don’t yet have the business case for intensive capital (like 3D printing) or micro-entrepreneurs who work 5-10-20-40 hours a week on specialized endeavours.


Food truck sharing

sharing-food trucks

Food truck businesses in a state of rapid growth–the model didn’t exist before 2008 and had $700 million (USD) in sales in 2013–and are breaking down the entry barriers to the food service industry. As inexpensive as they are to purchase (they’re ~$30K and up here in Vancouver on Craigslist), food trucks also have non-significant fixed and variable operational costs associated with them. Specialized branding aside–and you could argue that branding is everything in this business–why couldn’t you rent them out in half-day or day blocks to multiple users? This could be particularly beneficial for companies that specialize in foods that are appealing at different times of the day.


Moving vehicle sharing


Already in motion, delivery/moving vehicle sharing is a new and rapidly expanding sharing space. There’s Lugg and MOOV and a plethora of other start-ups who are trying to find their way. According to Tech Crunch, “Lugg is a mobile app that’s basically like having a friend with a truck who’s available at any time for on-demand, small moves.” These services allow anyone with a truck or moving vehicle to respond to requests for one-off transportation services, while generating revenue for their trouble.


EV battery sharing


Is it part of the sharing economy? While the Vehicle-to-grid concept is nascent in every sense of the word, from technology to legislation to infrastructure to the financial model, the ability for electric vehicles (EVs) to plug into the grid is too innovative to ignore. Pilot projects in Delaware have demonstrated that EV owners will never get rich from supplying juice to their neighbourhoods. However, this arrangement could solve multiple social, environmental, and energy problems by avoiding the construction of base load electricity generators or smooth out intermittency issues for renewable energy power sources.

Different shades of theses sharing concepts are being experimented with all over the place and it’s only a matter of time before they catch on in an even bigger way. Once coordination, demand, and the right platforms sync up, all bets are off in terms of the growth potential of sharing underutilized resources.

Next ArticleThe new transportation habits of urbanites are complex and efficient: A 30-day travel journal