As you probably have noticed, there is a growing economy made up of people and companies that share things (time, expertise, car rides, solar panels, bikes, etc.). Does a peer to peer car-sharing startup like RelayRides deserve to be in the same category—commonly called the sharing economy—as a solar-leasing company like Sunrun? Maybe not. But there’s no denying the larger industry-spanning trend of what Sunrun calls "disownership."
The company even has data to prove it. In February 2013, Sunrun conducted a study of 2,252 adults in the U.S. ages 18 and up to see how they felt about disownership. The study found that 52% of Americans have rented, borrowed, or leased the kinds of items that people usually own in the past two years. At the same time, 83% said they would share these items if they "could do so easily."
I have long used many of the available sharing economy services—it’s easy to do in San Francisco, which created the country’s first Sharing Economy Working Group to ensure that companies don’t get tangled up in regulation (something that happens often in other cities, and even in San Francisco to a certain extent). But Sunrun’s study reveals that the trend goes beyond coastal and urban hotspots. In the Midwest, 46% of respondents said that they plan to borrow, lease, or rent items that are traditionally owned over the next two years. 50% of respondents in the South said the same thing.
The trend spans age groups as well. One in four respondents ages 55 and older say they’re more likely to borrow, lease or rent items than they were in the past two years. "I think that’s really good news for us," says Bill Stewart, VP of customer care at Sunrun.
Stewart has a few ideas about why the sharing trend is taking off now: "I think people are saying there are a lot of things that don’t make sense to own anymore. Not owning your solar system wasn’t an option before Sunrun was invented. A lot of this is powered by technology and smart people using financial models well. Because of things like social media, it becomes a lot easier to feel confident about renting a room or apartment from someone you don’t know." Disownership’s growth can be traced back to a combination of new technology, ingenuity, and the explosion of social media, which makes it easer to create trust-based communities. A down economy doesn’t hurt, either.
Regardless of whether certain companies get shut down or pushed out of cities for raising the ire of traditional industries (i.e. Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar versus the taxi industry), the trend will continue. As Stewart notes, "We’ve always been in a culture where more is more, and suddenly we’re in a culture where less is a better quality of life. It’s pretty revolutionary."