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Zipcar's Co-Founder: Carsharing Is An Exponential Solution To Climate Change

Robin Chase thinks that the sharing economy can put an end to all our problems. But how do you get the sharing economy to the developing world?

The latest climate change statistics are beyond depressing—so upsetting that you might want to take a Xanax or two before reading the World Bank’s 2012 report on all the nasty things that await us in a warming world that is nearly inevitable at this point. What can we do? World governments won’t help us—years of failed climate summits and missed opportunities for legislation have made that clear. City leaders are helping, but change needs to happen at an exponential pace.

Robin Chase, the co-founder of Zipcar and the founder of French peer-to-peer carsharing service Buzzcar, believes that carsharing—and resource-sharing in general—can provide at least some of that exponential change.

In a presentation at the Mesh 2013 conference, Chase outlined Zipcar’s successes: 760,000 members, 11,000 cars, and for every well-used Zipcar, 20 people sell or avoid buying a car. Members also drive 80% fewer miles than if they were driving their own car because they’re paying costs in real time. And the kicker: Zipcar prevented 1.2 million metric tons of CO2 from being put into the atmosphere last year. That’s a week’s worth of emissions from the metro New York area.

Now imagine what a difference it could make if the majority of car-owning people in urban areas switched to carsharing instead. Chase quoted Stanford professor Banny Banerjee in her presentation: "You can’t solve exponential problems with linear solutions." Chase’s response is that peer collaboration is the exponential solution.

She may be right. But less than half the world has access to the Internet. Even in Asia, which contains some of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Internet penetration is only 27.5%. Peer collaboration services often require Internet or smartphone access. So if the sharing economy—the mesh, the peer to peer economy, whatever you want to call it—is to really make an impact on the environment, one of two things needs to happen: universal Internet access or widespread access to these services through services like text messaging.

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  • Aaron

    I disagree with the author that availability of internet access is preventing the sharing economy from having a broader impact on the environment.  

    The environmental footprint of an individual in a developing country without access to the internet is a fraction of a percent of the footprint of a wealthy individual who owns cars, buys foods that have been sources from around the world, and flys 1000's of miles per year for holidays.

    Individuals who can make an impact by consolidating resources (e.g. car sharing) are the same group that have access to the internet.  Put another way, the people who don't have access to the internet are not currently making a decision between owning a car or sharing a car - they're walking, riding bikes, and using public transit.

  • Carsharing Dave

    I quite agree with Aaron - it's not the lack of the internet that's holding back carsharing in developing countries.  Since wages are so much lower in these countries many of the things we use automation for can be handled other ways in these countries, benefiting more people. I suspect what's holding carsharing back in some countries is a lack of money and probably destinations that people would use a car for.  

    There have been some studies about carsharing in China, that suggest that government policy is probably the major factor. For example, a carsharing company in Beijing could not add vehicles to its fleet because the annual allocation for new vehicle purchases allowed by the city government had been used up.  And I'm told that other governments have been unwilling to waive existing odd-even license plate number driving restrictions for casharing.  

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