Swap, don't shop
Good green marketers push the innovation of different products. Better products. But can we profit from making less products in the first place? “Swap Don’t Shop,” the most recent of the Columbia Business School Alumni Club’s Making Green from Green events, explored this very dilemma.
The panel began with a sobering point. Moderator Cameron Tonkinwise of the Parsons School of Design Strategies reminded his audience of green business advocates that for all the sustainable sourcing, the holistic manufacturing, the reusable materials, and whatever else constitutes our so-called green products, efficiencies are cancelled out the moment we manage to sell a greater quantity of those products.
If, however, we use our efficient products within business models that require fewer of them to be in circulation, we’ll most certainly reduce waste. The real question, then, is whether there’s money to be made in doing so.
The “Swap Don’t Shop” panelists – all entrepreneurs within the “sharing economy” predicted to reach $110 billion in value – answered this question with a resounding yes.
Take Carpooling.com, for instance. The company’s International Senior Product Manager Odile Beniflah explained how the tremendous demand for this car-sharing service has grown to two million users a month across 45 countries. She’s now preparing for their launch in the U.S., where the average car is used merely one hour per day while having 3-5 empty seats.
“The greatest public transportation infrastructure we have is the empty seats on the road,” Beniflah explained.
This correlation between wasted materials and wasted money was a common theme throughout the panel discussion. When products aren’t being used to their fullest capacity, or when they could be resold on a secondary market, why not take advantage of these unrealized opportunities for profit?
This is the goal of “mesh” companies, or those companies that use websites and social media to convert a product need into a service offering, therefore extending the life and use of each product while removing the need for consumer ownership.
A mesh company can even avoid holding inventory altogether by facilitating peer-to-peer product trading, as demonstrated by the “Swap Don’t Shop” panelists. Carpooling.com enables people to advertise empty seats in their personal vehicles. Snap Goods uses an innovative tool to help people find the members of their own social networks most likely to trade certain goods with them. Similarly, Closet Raid helps people sell, swap, or give away products to their own social media contacts. Key WiFi helps people rent their Internet connection to those who can’t afford to be connected in hopes of fostering a more efficiently connected society.