From car-sharing to swapping clothes or staying in an Airbnb – the sharing economy is helping us all to maximise our resources, all at the click of a button.
With COP26 fresh in our thoughts, this is a sector with sustainability at its heart and built on the principle of finding creative ways to maximise efficient use of resources.
Millions of people across the globe routinely trade spaces, skills, and stuff using peer-to-peer platforms, and the number is rising due to growing awareness around the importance of making sustainable choices.
This, combined with ever-increasing use of technology across almost every aspect of our lives has caused a boom in the sector.
Products within the sharing economy tend to offer different locally targeted services. They range from apps to reduce food waste to ride-share options, but fundamentally have the same aim – to reduce waste.
So, as both households and businesses head towards a low carbon future, it will be interesting to see how the sharing economy will support us on that journey.
Take the decarbonisation of transport. The UK and Scottish governments have been clear in their intention to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel cars, while bolstering electric vehicle use.
As the country makes the switch to EVs in the coming years, technology firms – which underpin car-sharing – will be vital to help make car usage more efficient overall.
Another important example of the shared economy in action has emerged is around the important issue of food waste.
There are a host of good apps and web platforms related to this issue.
Some connect charities to food outlets, allowing them to pick up leftover food that would otherwise be thrown away. Others enable users to buy surplus food from the hospitality sector – this has an immeasurable social impact by helping customers to eat more sustainably.
And it’s not just restaurants. Retailers are keen to play their part.
In 2018 when UK farmers faced a glut of cherries early in the summer due to a heatwave, Tesco stepped up and ordered an additional 115 tonnes to avoid the excess product going to landfill. Tesco then sold the cherries at a heavily discounted price to customers.
Within its own operations, Tesco has not sent food to landfill for more than a decade.
We have also seen lots of exciting new initiatives emerging among small food producers during lockdown.
With cheesemakers and other producers finding it impossible to move product due to business closures, local communities stepped-in to buy-up those products, reduce waste, support the environment, and support local businesses too.
There are also interesting examples of the shared economy operating in some of the community energy projects that have grown in popularity in recent years.
Across Europe we see projects where households can join up to invest in local renewable energy supplies or even just link-up to purchase gas or electricity at wholesale prices.
Industry has the imagination, technology and collective will to address the world’s carbon challenge – targeting the critical drivers of innovative technology and customer behaviour. But we need government support to get there.
At the CBI we’ll continue to work tirelessly with government at all levels to ensure that climate change policy unlocks green investment, green innovation and supports low carbon and waste reduction behaviours.
If we keep the focus on action, we can set ourselves on course for a better world – one where we all share more and waste less.
Without doubt, the shared economy will play an important role in delivering our net-zero future.
Tracy Black is director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Scotland