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Nearly half of Canadians taking part in 'collaborative economy': report

More than 40 percent of Canadians participate in the "collaborative economy", reads a market report released Monday, implying that the sharing of goods and services is shifting from "a private or local behavior into a transformational movement."

"Alone or together, we are hard-wired to share," reads the report, co-written by Vision Critical and Crowd Companies. "While sharing isn’t new, the social, economic and technological context of sharing have changed dramatically in recent years."

The "collaborative" or "sharing" economy refers to the rise of new business models that offer people temporary access to goods and services (such as, say, a car-share app) rather than ownership of consumer items (like an auto dealership does).

This shift is being driven by several broad cultural trends, the report speculates, including people’s desire for more independent lifestyles, economic pressures and the recent explosion of mobile devices and social media platforms.

About 16 percent of Canada’s population participates in the "collaborative economy" through older services such as eBay or Craigslist, while 25 percent – the "neo-sharers" – engage with newer firms such as Airbnb or Car2Go.

Worldwide, nearly half of these "neo-sharers" are between the ages of 18 and 34, the report found, suggesting that tech-savvy millenials are embracing and driving this emerging economic shift more eagerly than older generations.

Many commentators – including myself – have speculated on the nature and impact of this shift: will it create a new, more civically-engaged society capable of shrinking humankind’s ecological footprint and creating stronger communities?

Or is it merely the latest corporate fad ultimately benefitting only the CEOs smart enough to cash in first? The report notes "sharers are more likely to cite practical motivations for their latest sharing transactions," such as cost and convenience.

Yet it goes on: "Whether a specific transaction is driven by practical motivations or altruistic ones, the environmental or social benefits of sharing may still be significant. . . and may still be recognized and valued by sharers."

Click here to read what a sampling of leading sustainability thinkers in Canada and the U.S. think about the collaborative economy’s rise.

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

Funding for this article was partially provided by the Climate Justice Project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, with support from the Fossil Fuel Development Mitigation Fund of Tides Canada Foundation.

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