"Surplus capacity" is the difference between the maximum amount of time a machine can be used and the actual amount it is being used. Many machines or products in our lives are severely underutilized, and therefore possess a high amount of surplus capacity. We should be creative about how we can use more of this capacity, thereby reducing costs for individual households and lowering our environmental impact both at the source and at the landfill.
Consider, for a moment, your power drill. How often do you use it? According to Alex Steffen, "The average home power drill is used somewhere between six and 20 minutes in its entire lifetime depending on who you ask. And so what we do is we buy these drills that have a potential capacity of thousands of hours of drill time, use them once or twice to put a hole in the wall and let them sit. Our cities, I would put to you, are stockpiles of these surplus capacities. And while we could try and figure out new ways to use those capacities -- such as cooking or making ice sculptures or even a mafia hit -- what we probably will find is that, in fact, turning those products into services that we have access to when we want them, is a far smarter way to go."
View "The Shareable Future of Cities," Alex Steffen's TED talk, here:
The solution to lowering surplus capacity in products we don't use very often, as well as keep a little more of our money in the bank rather than on our shelves, is to engage in collaborative consumption. Collaborative consumption operates on the premise that individuals or households can rent or borrow machines when they need them, rather than purchasing them new. CollaborativeConsumption.com documents the many ways we can share, barter, lend, trade, rent, gift and swap.
Rachel Botsman, co-author of "What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption" gave an excellent TED talk about this movement. She talks us through the different arenas of redistribution markets, collaborative lifestyles and product service systems and gives many compelling examples of how collaborative consumption is occurring.
View "The Case for Collaborative Consumption," Rachel Botsman's TED talk, here:
Personal vehicle ownership is one arena where collaborative consumption is making an impact. According to RelayRides (via a great infographic on futureofcarsharing.com) "the average car is used for only one hour a day," but "costs $715 a month." We are all familiar with Zipcar and other companies that have created extensive car-sharing programs. RelayRides is a new concept that allows individuals to put their cars up for rent just like zip car (but with 65% of the proceeds going to the car owner, not a corporation). Car-sharing benefits the environment: "In 2009, car sharing diminished global carbon dioxide emissions by 482,170 tons" (Frost & Sullivan).
CollaborativeConsumption.com has an extensive list of initiatives that have been launched in cities and countries around the world. These collaborations are an exciting development that should be fostered and implemented on a wider scale.
This article was featured April 2, 2012 on the Sustainable Cities Collective site.
How 'Collaborative Consumption' is Transforming Startups, Huffington Post