Recently, an article about the failure of the sharing economy has been circulating around social media. It is a precautionary tale about how this idea failed to scale up to a global level. In the article the authors also clarify that Uber or Airbnb are far away from the original idea of the sharing economy.
I found this article quite honest about the current situation of many startups that believed in the idea and wanted to bring it out to the world. I myself was one of them, back in 2007 when I started my own project for clothes swapping. It started as an awareness project related to consumerism and environmental impacts. After 5 years of running the events, we were approached by an expert in internet based business and he sold us the idea of going online. We never make it to launch mainly because the revenue model seemed too complicated to ever happen.
One thing that the article I am referring to misses, though, are the reasons for such failure. They only mentioned how people got very excited about the idea, how they signed up to the services massively and how they, at the end, all bailed out. What they didn't go into detail, were the reasons for this behaviour. They just said that it was because "nobody gave a s***".
This reason is very enlightening despite its simplicity. The sharing economy idea didn't failed because of economic inadequacy, or environmental reasons or social awkwardness. It didn't work because it didn't make cultural sense.
Our societies have been bombarded for the past 40 years with ideas that favor individualism, competition and wealth. Our decisions are deeply permeated by these concepts, and the sharing economy naively thought people would forget about them and start sharing everything.
How have these ideas become part of our DNA? That is the question promoters of the sharing economy should be asking, and the answer should be used for creating strategies that would turn the tide towards different values. If such change happens, sharing businesses would have a better chance.
Having in mind that the sharing economy is frequently associated with the circular economy, these concerns might also apply to the other circular strategies. Are business, consumers and governments ready to give up their values regarding the economy? What strategies can the promoters of the circular economy create to facilitate such change? How to transform corporate culture, consumer behaviour and public ethos towards a circular economy?
These are questions that can't be answered by management consultancy firms, they do not work at that level; it is a task for organisations and institutions that deal with discourse, culture and practices. They have to be onboard for the transition to happen at a relevant scale.
I have followed the process of promoting the circular economy in Europe for the past 2.5 years and I have only read one person talk about this, Nick Liddell from Dragon Rouge. In that interview, he highlights the implications of marketing for a circular economy which is key in our economic system. Alongside with this, we also need to re-write most of our modern world narratives so they promote the new values behind the circular economy and avoid its failure, like the sharing economy.