Sharing Economy - "Germany shares"

Is Germany on its way to a new Consumer Culture?

Lüneburg.  This year’s CeBIT, the world’s largest convention dedicated to the digital economy has made the current trend in sharing goods and services via the Internet, the so-called Shareconomy, its overarching theme.  In choosing this theme, the organizers are referencing a study by Harald Heinrichs.  As the Professor for Sustainability and Public Policy at Leuphana, Heinrichs has investigated the phenomenon and discovered through a representative survey that every other German is already participating in the “Sharing Economy.“  The younger generation in particular has rediscovered the advantages of a sharing economy and has, as Heinrich explains, given it a new life, thanks to the internet’s technological capabilities.

Whether it’s car or bicycle sharing, apartment swaps or exchanging second-hand goods, private individuals are using the Internet to raise the potential for sharing and the common use of goods and services to a new level.  The upward trend of this alternative form of consumption is important from the perspective of sustainability as well, especially with regard to the preservation of resources.  On behalf of Airbnb, the online private accommodations marketplace, Professor Dr. Harald Heinrichs in the Institute of Sustainability Management at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and his colleague Heiko Grunenberg have given the current trend a closer look.

In collaboration with TNS-Emnid, Heinrichs put together his representative study, “Sharing Economy,” based on a survey over a 1000 randomly selected people.  They were asked, among other things, about their experiences with alternative forms of consumption and were questioned to indicate the qualities they considered most important about goods and services.  One of the most important findings of the study showed that a majority of those questioned (55%) had had experience with alternative forms of ownership and consumption.  Mainly young people with advanced levels of education and high incomes make use of borrowing networks and the Internet to buy and sell goods, or to list or rent private rooms.

The researchers were particularly surprised by the answers to the question about what respondents considered most important about goods and services. While quality (97%) and price (89%) were mentioned very frequently, as one would expect, sustainability, environmental impact and a company’s concern for social justice followed close behind, with over 80% of the respondents listing them.  Heinrichs concluded: “The data shows that the form and function of consumption are changing and that alternative forms of ownership and consumption are more than just niche or surface phenomena.”  Without social media, these developments would have been much less pronounces or simply would not have existed at all.

Based on the research results, the study’s authors are confident that the sharing economy will continue to grow.  One index for this conclusion: a significant portion of respondents between the ages of 14 and 39 has apparently expanded their consumer habits to include these new forms. “The younger generation has rediscovered the advantages of a sharing economy and has given it new life, thanks to the Internet’s technological capabilities,” Professor Heinrichs said.  In light of the trend’s potential for having a positive sustainability impact, the authors argue that government policy, business, and society in general should optimize the conditions for the further development of an economy of sharing and common consumption as a complement to property ownership and individualized consumption.