Talks

Sharing is caring

 By Amanda Saint

Hundreds of thousands of people across Brazil have created their own circular economy through a social network that connects them with people locally to borrow things instead of buying new…

The site is called Tem Açúcar, which means “Do you have sugar?” in Portuguese, and it has been live and connecting people to share their things with neighbors since 2015. As well as affording the environmental benefits of consuming fewer new goods, the site has helped 150,000 Brazilian people in more than 10,000 neighborhoods to save $2.5 million between them in the past three years.
Tem Açúcar was founded by Camila Carvalho, who was named by Forbes Women in 2017 as an entrepreneur who is changing the game in the sharing economy. The website she created was also a finalist in Facebook’s Apps of the Year awards and in the Connected Smart City awards. Here she is in a TEDx Talk in a presentation addressing the site and how small steps towards a more sharing economy can make a big difference.

Regenerating the world starting with your neighborhood

The sharing economy model

The Tem Açúcar model works in a similar way to one of the first sharing economy sites, eBay, but instead of posting goods for sale, people post items they are willing to lend or want to borrow. Those who have food that will otherwise go to waste—if they have too much on hand or might be traveling before it can be used—will offer it to others free.
Carvalho initially started the project on a tiny scale in the apartment building she lived in; she posted a note in the communal area asking if anyone could lend her a plunger. Someone turned up with one almost immediately and the idea for Tem Açúcar grew from there.
Brazil is not the only country with thriving sharing communities. The Freecycle Network has been connecting people for almost 20 years. Rather than borrowing items, though, the Freecycle model is based on people giving things away when they no longer need them, thereby diverting them from a landfill. It has over 9 million members worldwide, with communities in the U.S. and U.K. being very active.
Perhaps the most famous and successful worldwide examples of the sharing economy in recent years are AirBnB, where people rent out their homes for a much lower rate than people would pay for hotel rooms; and Uber, an online, on-demand service that matches independent drivers, working on their own hours and in their own cars, with riders at affordable rates.
An article in The Guardian in the U.K. highlights eight other sharing economies that are giving people access to clothing, parking spaces, sporting equipment and more.

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Tem Açúcar social network communication campaign (temacucar.com)

The sustainability impact

With the number of people getting involved in sharing-economy models growing rapidly, what is the impact on the environment in a world with less demand for new goods, fewer hotel room stays and a reduction in waste going to landfills?
According to the authors of the research paper, “Putting the sharing economy in perspective,” it is difficult to quantify. Koen Frenken from the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, and Juliet Schorba of Boston College in the U.S., assert that assessing the real environmental impact of sharing models is complex and influenced by many factors that cannot always be counted.

An example they give is:
“… if the sale of a household’s used items creates earnings that are then used to buy new goods (“rebound effect“), the original sale may not reduce carbon emissions or other environmental impacts.”

In contrast, the “Sustainability perspectives on the sharing economy” paper has quantified carbon reductions based on car-sharing schemes compared to individual ownership. Authors Nijland and Van Meerkerk compared the environmental effects of car sharing, including both business-to-consumer and peer-to-peer sharing, to owning your own car for business and leisure.

They found that:
“… on average, a person shifting from car ownership to car sharing leads to 30% less car ownership, 15-20% fewer car kilometers amongst car sharers, and 13-18% lower CO2 emissions compared with the case of car ownership and car use.”
So while some environmental impacts can be quantified and others, as yet, can’t, the fact that the sharing economy is thriving is a sign that people want to change to a more circular economy where less is consumed, less is wasted and less is thrown away.
If the sharing economy continues to grow—and all the signs say that it’s going to—then it will involve a collective mindshift to one where consumption in all areas of life is considered. This in turn will lead to less demand for power, heat, water and consumer goods, which can undoubtedly have a positive sustainability impact.

READ MORE: Car-sharing industry to sink oil sector? by Chris Dalby

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about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.