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[Weekender] Sharing economy drives sustainable development

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Published : 2014-02-07 20:36
Updated : 2014-02-07 20:44

The sharing economy can contribute to sustainable development and has plenty of room to develop further in diverse fields of business, society and life, says Harald Heinrichs, a leading sharing economy theorist.

The professor of sustainability politics at Luneburg University in Germany offered his views on a range of issues regarding the sharing economy in a recent email interview with The Korea Herald. The following are excerpts from the interview.

Prof. Harald Heinrichs

Korea Herald: What are the possible benefits of the sharing economy?

Heinrichs: Collaborative consumption is intelligent consumption. There are cost advantages; moreover, one does not have to spend as much time and space on items not regularly used ― cars or drills. In some forms of collaborative consumption ― peer-to-peer sharing in a narrow sense, such as room sharing or urban gardening ― oftentimes a positive social effect can be observed and finally reduced resource consumption is expected. However, regarding the resource effects more research is needed.

Herald: How do you assess Seoul’s potential as a sharing economy market? What advice would you give to run a successful sharing business?

Heinrichs: Seoul is a perfect place for driving the sharing economy. The sharing economy, in the sense of shared use of infrastructure and exchange between peers, is very much a topic for cities, especially megacities such as Seoul.

Especially the online versions of the sharing economy offer lots of room for creative entrepreneurs as well as a large field of shared mobility approaches. Beyond profit-oriented business models, social entrepreneurship as well as self-organized peer-to-peer approaches, which is non-commercial variations of the sharing economy, are of importance too.

So far the debate on the sharing economy has very much focused on the business-to-consumer and peer-to-peer practices. At least as important, I see the relevance of the sharing economy for the business-to-business sector. For example, sustainable industrial product service systems or pooling approaches for machinery tools between companies is a large field, where lots of new sharing business models need to be invented in the upcoming years.

Herald: How do you predict sharing businesses will develop in the future?

Heinrichs: The sharing business, as one dimension of the sharing economy and practices, will develop further. It will not be as revolutionary as some people argue and others fear.

If the political boundary conditions are developed further to lift the potential of the sharing economy and puts away the hurdles, the sharing economy can contribute to sustainable development of business and society, next to the “traditional” economy, which is challenged to offer sustainable products and needs to improve the sustainability of its production chains.

Herald: What are key tasks for achieving sustainable development?

Heinrichs: Sustainable development is lacking operationalization. Sustainability is about including long-term and cross-cutting perspectives into one’s thinking and decision-making. What is needed is to concretize this ambitious perspective into structures and behavior.

So far the public sector is a little behind the private sector. However, approaches and instruments to develop the public sector further into sustainable administrations are available. More exchange between science and the public sector is needed to develop, based on these approaches, concrete practical solutions. The media is challenged to adequately report not only on the risks of nonsustainable development but to highlight best practices of sustainability in order to raise the awareness of citizens. And finally, the educational sector needs to include the topic systematically in order to prepare the next generation of citizens and decision-makers for the upcoming challenges.

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)

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