Open Design for an Access Economy

Neal Gorenflo

Like any innovation, open design by itself is neither good nor bad. Its social value depends entirely on how it’s used. It can be used for the common good, or it can be used to destroy the human and biological communities we depend on for survival.

The latter would not only be tragic, but boring. We deserve a better story than this! Our species has already accrued 2.5 years of ecological debt. 1 And the debt is mounting rapidly – this year we’ll use an estimated 150% of the resources the earth can generate. 2 TREND: SCARCITY OF RECOURSES Despite this profligate level of resource use, a billion of our fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth live in extreme poverty. This is an EPIC FAIL!

So the question is: how can you help reverse ecological debt and raise a billion people out of poverty? This is a challenge worthy of your remarkable ingenuity. Sure, there’s time to create that sculpture of Obi-Wan Kenobi with your 3D printer, but set aside some time for this EPIC WIN too! Don’t you think our species has more exciting places to go than oblivion? Let’s look at the problem at the level of products for a possible road map.

What’s obvious is that we don’t need more stuff. 99% of the stuff humans make becomes trash after just six months. 3 And most of our stuff is idle most of the time. For instance: Cars are idle an average of 22 hours a day; Power drills are used an average of 20 minutes total; Most lawn mowers are used 4 hours a year. 4

Learning from Car-sharing

So what can we do about this? Car-sharing offers a clue. Duh, we should share! Car-sharing statistics show the positive change that could come from an access economy, one where products are services accessed on demand  DOWNLOADABLE DESIGN by users. A 2010 study 5 of over 6,000 North American car-sharing members found that 51% joined who didn’t have a car but wanted access to one. Almost a quarter of members shed a car, 1,400 cars total. A 2004 UC Berkeley study of City Carshare 6 found that members drove 47% less after joining and saved 700,000 pounds of CO2 emissions. If you’re wondering if car-sharing makes things worse by increasing access to cars, consider that the average ratio of users to cars in North American car-sharing systems is 1:24. 7 Compare this ownership in the US where cars outnumber drivers by 1.2 to one. 8 And more benefit is coming – car-sharing companies 9 are partnering with ride-sharing companies to increase the number of passengers per car rental.

I don’t know of another innovation that increases access to a resource and decreases the environmental footprint. Our environmental and energy crises have some people thinking we must scrimp to survive. Sharing offers a better story – it suggests that we can live well and still reduce our footprint.

But the impact goes beyond material concerns. Research shows 10 that sharing makes us happy and can prolong life.  SHARE In addition, the New Sharing Economy study 11 done by Shareable Magazine 12 and Latitude Research 13 showed that car-sharers share across dramatically more categories than non-car-sharers – 11 versus 8. Not only does sharing offer many benefits, it also begets more sharing. Now that’s an elegant hack.

The news gets better – entrepreneurs are applying the car-sharing template  TEMPLATE CULTURE to a wide range of assets that include parking spaces, 14 planes and boats, 15 camera lenses, 16 textbooks, 17 children’s clothing, 18 handbags, 19 spare rooms 20 and houses, 21 office space, 22 household items, 23 and a lot more. 24 What’s more, the New Sharing Economy study suggests there’s a big future in sharing – 75% of participants felt that their sharing of material goods will increase in the next five years. Rachel Botsman, 25 author of Collaborative Consumption, 26 believes that the access economy could be as big as the Industrial Revolution. REVOLUTION

So I invite you to help build the access economy. Aside from that sculpture of Obi-Wan Kenobi, there may be no better use of your talent.

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