The economy of sharing

The SF Bay Area is a hub for a new type of economy, where things aren’t bought but borrowed. Let’s call it the age of sharing

Andrew Leonard and Jess Chamberlain

Of course, like all pioneers, the new services have hit some road bumps. Airbnb experienced a PR disaster in June, when a woman came home and found that the lodger had trashed her place. Airbnb has since improved its vetting process and now protects covered property up to $50,000 for loss or damage due to theft or vandalism. Reputation systems (the ability to rate users) are now part of many sharing companies, making people feel safe.

Neal remembers when he tried sharing a car with a housemate before car-sharing services existed. The borrower got it towed and Neal had to retrieve it, costing him a day of work. “Man, that’s not cool. We didn’t have a written agreement on what we would do.”

Agreements on paper now exist, but sharing services in general, says Berkeley lawyer Janelle Orsi, live “in a murky, still-evolving legal domain when it comes to issues of liability, health and safety regulations, even labor laws.” Something as seemingly innocuous as a group of people getting together to buy groceries could be considered a commercial activity subject to regulations.

Janelle, coauthor of The Sharing Solution, says that shouldn’t scare us off from sharing our possessions with those around us. She talks warmly of using the Neighborhood Fruit website to score tasty local treats. A lot of people focus on the financial and environmental benefits, Janelle says. “But I’m finding that the biggest benefit is that just getting to know my neighbors makes me happy. The general happiness level tends to go up with sharing.”

Neal, who shows no regret about his plunge into the sharing economy, agrees. “People can have more fun when they share things with other people. They can have a much better experience than simply buying something from a big corporation.”


Neal Gorenflo estimates annual savings of $16,800 from his adventures in sharing.

  • Transportation: $4,000. Neal donated his car to charity and relies on his bike, public transportation, and (during the workweek) car sharing. (He added up what it cost to own his car, then deducted what his costs are now with car sharing and public transportation. AAA estimates that driving a big car costs 92.6 cents per mile, at 10,000 miles per year, everything included.)
  • Travel: $1,250. Airbnb instead of hotels for two family trips.
  • Kids’ clothes: $450. Buying used, borrowing, getting and giving hand-me-downs.
  • Child care: $10,800. Participating in a nanny share 36 hours per week (rather than a day-care center or hiring a private nanny). “Instead of the normal $16 rate for one kid, we pay $10 per hour and the other family pays $10. This saves us $6 per hour or $216 per week.”
  • Technology: $300. Canceling landline and using an Internet router shared with neighbors for long-distance calls via Skype.


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