How can a sharing culture make Berlin more socially sustainable?

On Wednesday 21 September 2016 GreenBuzz Berlin, organised and hosted its 20th speaking event. This most recent event was a panel discussion on the topic of ‘how can a sharing culture make Berlin more socially sustainable?’. At the event five panellists from local representing Berlin start-ups and organisations shared their views and actively encouraging a ‘sharing culture’ amongst Berlin’s residents for the benefit of all. Organisations represented included Sharecy, fairleihen, Polly & Bob, Baumhaus Berlin, Mein Grundeinkommen and Leihbar. On why the panel discussion was organised to begin with, GreenBuzz Berlin co-founder Ulrike Hinz, says “In our view, a sharing economy is an important topic in sustainability. It does not only increase the efficient use of products and brings welfare to society but it also has a very important local impact. People come together and share things and services which strengthens trust and neighbourhood relations.” 

According to Lessig (2008), a share economy means collaborative consumption made by the activities of sharing, exchanging, and the rental of resources without owning the goods. While it was evident that all the panellists encouraged the concept of sharing, their ways of inspiring it differed greatly. Whether it be sharing time with people from your community in order to develop relationships and get to know them better, depositing unused and leftover food into a fridge or storage place where those who are interested in reducing food waste or are in need could easily access the food, to sharing appliances which you rarely use (such as tools) there are many different ways in which sharing can take place.  

Also evident was the potential, and need, for increased collaboration between individuals and organisations on many different levels. With an increased knowledge of what others are doing people can act in a more sustainable fashion by reducing repetition, maximising resources and helping to inspire community integration. For some, sharing can be seen as simply as a way of giving back to their communities but for others it makes business sense, and can be profitable for them, if they are able to enable an environment of sharing to occur. Hinz comments, “of course the sharing economy itself is not a new concept. But in the last years, it has lived through a renaissance where not only big companies such as BMW created DriveNow, a very popular car sharing service but also local actors have developed new business models to increase the value by sharing and make everyone profit from it. I am sure, there is still a lot of potential for further developments, also in digital services.”

As the culture of sharing develops, becomes more widely promoted and is practiced by increased numbers of people, new challenges and issues will inevitably arise that will need to be addressed. One possible issue is how to insure products that are shared widely while another will be the role of the city or state in regulating such an environment. A balance will need to be found between maintaining safety standards, ensuring fairness and not encouraging corrupt practices helping citizens to become aware of sharing opportunities and the practices involved in benefitting from them. In order to help make it a mainstream practice people will have to overcome ‘traditional’ personal ownership mindsets. On this delicate balance, and the challenge to make it a mainstream practice, Hinz believes that “as younger generations evolve and older ones possess less market power, habits can change and new concepts such as sharing the neighbour´s drill to computing power or electricity in a peer network will evolve.”

Written by Ken Fullerton