We have been accumulating products that we hardly use for years and years, we buy them, we use them for some time and then, we throw them away; an ever-shorter life cycle for thousands of objects that become waste mountains in the countries around us.
This is the paradigmatic example of electric drills, whose usage time is only 20 minutes in their lifetime. But this situation is changing, and collaborative consumption is rapidly expanding to all consumer goods and services, recovering ethical values that will then be applied to product design.
More and more people worldwide are questioning our current consumption model. What started as a small change in the consumer habits of some alternative groups is now becoming firmly consolidated. This is due to several factors: the economic crisis in recent years, environmental awareness and the interaction of different social groups through social networks. This can be seen in new interaction forms between those who produce goods or services and those who demand them. And this is how, for example, groups of ecologic farmers have emerged who offer their fruit and vegetables directly to consumer groups with very good value for money. This phenomenon, which reduces the distance between producers and consumers, and eliminates intermediaries, has spread to a wide range of sectors, thus bringing back a largely forgotten concept in our society: sharing. This philosophy has helped to create new platforms that offer new solutions to sharing a trip by car (blablacar.com) a room (airbnb.com), a bicycle (socialbicycles.com) or a tool (snapgoods.com). What was initially a trend in the first decade of this 21st century, we are now witnessing the consolidation of a new type of consumers that are more responsible and eco-friendly, who are not selfishly concerned about storing their possessions, but about sharing them and collaborating with others. As Bryan Walsh already pointed out in Time magazine on 17 March 2011 “Someday we’ll look back on the 20th century and wonder why we owned so much stuff”. Another important aspect is also the fact that collaborative consumption promotes social integration. At a time when we walk through the streets immersed in our thoughts and spend long periods of time working alone, we can suddenly meet people through a mobile application and carpool. This experience will allow us to create new relationships, recover the concept of community and, of course, trust in others. But not all are advantages. Changes are not always easily accepted and we see how the emergence of these new platforms is giving rise to significant conflicts with regulated sectors such as taxi drivers, carriers, hoteliers, shopkeepers, among others, who consider them unfair competition as they do not comply with the regulations that are required from them. There is a largely unregulated legal vacuum that borders privacy on one side and the established system on the other. We consider that collaborative consumption will have a positive influence in design, as it will have to adapt to this new situation to create more durable products that can be easily repaired and are highly efficient, that is, that do not meet the planned obsolescence and, of course, are 100% recyclable. Furthermore, designers will have to develop the services that will be demanded by collaborative consumption, provide solutions to the management of these goods and services with new, fairer and more transparent business models. This is ultimately a new challenge for our profession, whose main aim is to improve people’s life quality. Marcelo Leslabay