the rise of sharing, the richest economy of them all?

This week I have been researching the latest trends around the sharing economy, and working out what this means for your typical business. The sharing economy should not be confused with the circular economy, although both don’t do themselves any favours by sounding so similar. That said, there are numerous points of intersection – both aspire to turn us consumers into users through prioritising access over ownership.

But while the circular economy is ‘business-friendly’ and allows the industrial process to keep on puffing away, its sharing twin is rather more disruptive. It bypasses traditional routes of commerce. People share, or trade, directly with each other. They are no longer reliant on companies for such transactions. It’s such a personal exchange and it doesn’t necessarily have to be monetised.

This type of sharing can take many different forms, and many businesses have already entered this space with some success – but more by offering open platforms (often digital) to enable this movement to scale. They are brokers, effectively.

Think on this: Airbnb plans to become the world’s largest hotelier, yet it owns no real estate. Facebook is the world’s largest social media channel, yet it creates no content. Uber claims to be the world’s largest jobs creator with 300,000 drivers (and growing), yet it owns no vehicles.

There are some compelling statistics out there that suggest we are on the tip of a megatrend. Analysis undertaken by PwC puts the global value of the sharing economy at $15 billion. This is forecast to rise to $335 billion in just 10 years. Some believe these are conservative estimates as the figures are based on just five vertical markets – there are plenty more markets out there where sharing could feasibly take flight.

What remains to be seen is how established corporations and brands, who have market share to lose should their propositions become displaced by sharing dynamics, react to this. There are a number of routes they could take in theory. If they make the right decisions, they could help address some of the barriers currently preventing the sharing economy from scaling further. But – and it’s a big but – it’s not without risk.

This new economy is about having soul. It comes with a purpose. It’s about making connections that matter, that go beyond a simple transaction. It was, after all, borne out of a dissatisfaction and distrust of big business values. Destroy that, and you destroy what it means to share.


data mining: striking gold through diversification

Software, sensors and connectivity are fuelling our thirst for information. In some ways, it’s never been easier to be a journalist – open platforms and social media mean you don’t have to look too far to curate a story.

This rise in curation is an interesting one. Demand is growing for choice-editing, precisely because there is so much information out there. A defined audience generally only wants access to knowledge that is relevant to them. On the flipside, curation is a lazier way of gathering news … there is no exclusivity, no unique material, just a mash-up of what’s gone before.

The lovely thing about being a freelance journalist is that you tend to sell yourself on being exclusive. It’s a harder, hungrier gig, for sure. You have to work your contacts, network constantly and be creative with both what you pitch and what you deliver. But boy, are you proud of the end results. My best work is right here, right now (to quote Fatboy Slim).

The intention is to build on this, and add even more value to my media proposition. I have decided to start generating my own data intelligence, through market-led research and briefing papers. The research will be quite focused, and while it won’t be extensive (I don’t have vast databases to tap into), it will certainly provide timely, informative ‘snapshots’ of the key trends going down. Each briefing paper will also be made publicly available.

The first piece of research I am undertaking is around circular economy communication strategies. It’s an area that hasn’t really been scrutinised yet – thinking is still emerging in this field, but businesses are becoming aware of the importance of attaching messaging to it. Communications also neatly ties into what I’m about. A journalist is a story teller. And people love to hear good stories.

The survey is now live and running for the next four weeks. If you have an interest in the circular economy, I’d be delighted if you would take a few moments to complete it (the link is below). There are only eight questions – it’s short and sweet. But please answer them all. Data needs to be reliable, so in the interests of transparency, I will only be mining from complete responses.



the circular economy courier, soon at your service?

Reverse logistics is one of the most important enablers in the transition to a circular economy so I noted with interest that logistics giant DHL is now actively exploring new ways it can capitialise on this.

Deutsche Post DHL has become the latest member to sign up to the Circular Economy 100 as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation nears its target membership for the business platform. With its global network reach, DHL is undoubtedly sensing an opportunity here to develop new models that can push forward more circular flows of goods and materials.

The question is, will such an influential delivery firm look to potentially disrupt into other markets? Increasing demand for remanufacture could necessitate a need for volume-based takeback, whereby the focus is on preserving value of component parts. Courier companies have a real advantage here as retaining product quality (during transit) is a key performance indicator for them.

So, could we start seeing traditional logistics firms compete with waste companies for materials? Global supply chains have always been a circular bottleneck in terms of material leakage out of the system, but DHL’s international network grids could offer a strategic advantage here. It has the ability to backhaul from consumer to remanufacturer, even if the two geographically are poles apart.

The waste industry tends to operate on far smaller networks, mostly on a regional or local basis. However, there are some touchpoints where it could feasibly enter into supply for remanufacture – such as in the field of ICT equipment and bulkier items.

It also has end-of-life materials collection and consolidation down to a fine art. But it would need to push the quality agenda to dizzy heights in order to offer the level of value retention that a remanufacturing supply cycle demands.

Remanufacturing and traditional waste handling are like chalk and cheese. The first seeks to add immediate value to material inputs, the latter tends to strip out this value by downcycling them. Waste firms could seek to vertically integrate, however, and start becoming suppliers as well as reprocessors. Signs of enterprise are emerging on that front.

Reverse logistics I feel has the potential to glue the circular economy together. Working out how to build smarter models for takeback and supply will take time, but I see a real opportunity here for DHL. It has the ‘just in time’ strategies that can make it competitive.

Perhaps the route ahead is a gelling of expertise from different industries – might we soon see the first circular collaboration between a delivery firm and waste-to-resource provider?