While collaborative consumerism has many social and sustainable benefits, its potential to redesign the role of consumers and the economy remains just that—potential.
In a world where corporations have relegated consumers to a primarily passive role, Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers have suggested in their book What’s mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption that collaborative behaviours have the ability to break this cycle of passivism by giving consumers a more active role in the economy through sharing, lending and trading goods and services.
From a theoretical standpoint, collaborative consumption has the ability to alter the role of the consumers within the economy and cease the cycle of unsustainability. Collaborative consumption relies on individuals to actively engage their community and either work with them to solve common needs that exist within the group together or they can utilise the group as a pool in which to resolve an individual need. Both of these actions establish the consumer as an active participant in a system of exchange and increase their ability to influence the economy by situating them in a larger network. In turn, collaborative consumerism is also creating a shift in businesses whereby the focus is no longer on the increasing production of products but to the provision of services.
This is not to say that collaborative consumption is an ideal approach.
There are problems that need to be addressed in order to increase its effectiveness in redirecting consumers and economic process. While collaborative consumption attempts to reduce the sheer amount of products that exist, it is yet to address other important factors that contribute to sustainability such as increasing the effectiveness of an object or ensuring a product is wholly consumed. Additionally, some aspects of collaborative consumerism perpetuate the individualistic tendencies of that which it is attempting change.
However, the most limiting issue of collaborative consumerism is its inability to fulfill one of its own primary criteria—the notion of critical mass. In order for collaborative consumption to be at its most effective, it needs to be adopted by the majority of people. While this is something that takes a considerable amount of time, it may be the case that the structure of collaborative consumption needs to be re-designed so that it can develop towards a more widespread adoption.
Fundamental changes must occur in the nature of collaborative consumerism as well as the ontological processes of the social and economic context before any substantial benefits of collaborative consumerism can be actualised.