Your consumption: Conspicuous or collaborative?

Mason Walker is the associate editor at Sustainable Business Oregon.

Mason Walker is the associate editor at Sustainable Business Oregon.

I'm a consumer. Every holiday season, I'm firmly reminded of this fact when tasked with giving gifts, eating large meals and traveling across the country.

Consumer culture is alive and well, and in many ways it has been an integral part of the way large economies stay afloat.

Lately, however, a new model -- dubbed collaborative consumption -- has entered the fold and is starting to gain some ground.

At its root, this buzzword is merely a spinoff of that old-school practice called sharing, but with a savvy business edge.

The rise of peer-to-peer tools and seamless, intuitive networks has made the business of sharing easier than ever. You might recognize startups in this space like RelayRides and Airbnb -- platforms that allow people to rent out their cars and homes (respectively) for cash. There are countless others that make it easy to rent nearly everything, including clothing, tools and even pets. Aside from the environmental benefits of reduced waste and natural resources and the social benefits of increased community interaction, peer-to-peer tools also empower consumers to save -- and make -- money without giving up quality.

And quality is one of the key competitive advantages that collaborative consumption offers -- you don't have to sacrifice craftsmanship and design in favor of cost.

Lisa Gansky, a serial entrepreneur and author of The Mesh, recognizes this important factor. With collaborative consumption, you can afford to use durable, otherwise expensive items by only paying for them when you need them. For the items you use the most, you can invest in the best, then rent them out to subsidize the greater cost.

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