News

Will the consumer of the future be a collaborator?


23 January 2014

"This is a big topic even for someone used to thinking about the big picture!" is Dr Christopher Dey's first take on whether 'collaborative consumption can change our economy, communities and world'.

Dr Dey, from the University of Sydney, will be discussing this topic as a panellist at a Sydney Festival forum on 23 January.

Named by Time magazine as one of the ten major ideas that could change the world, collaborative consumption is about sharing goods and services on a global and local scale. A leading advocate has described it as creating 'value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community'.

As a researcher at the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) group at the University of Sydney Dr Dey is used to considering sustainability issues on a macro scale. His specialty is providing organisations, including business and government, with practical tools to measure their impacts.

"You cannot make meaningful decisions about the sustainability of the economy without accurate and comprehensive information. If an industry has high emissions and water usage then you must also consider questions such as how much income does it generate, how many people does it employ directly and indirectly," said Dr Dey.

"Armed with this information corporations, policy-makers and governments face difficult and highly contested decisions about the future."

"Collaborative consumption is a creative response to these questions about the environmental limits to our growth. Our day-to-day individual interactions have the potential to transform economies, given that our economic behaviour since the Second World War has been based on the concept of continual growth."

Dr Dey and the ISA group have researched the environmental impacts of different populations and spending patterns. They have found that for an average Australian, the reduced impact from consuming less and differently is likely to be more significant than from recycling.

"I am interested in the potential collective impact of collaborative consumption. While all services still have hidden environmental costs, a shift to consuming services - such as going to the cinema and not setting up a home theatre, or borrowing a car only when required rather than owning your car, is likely to employ more people than consuming goods. There may also be increases in individual well-being from the social interactions involved."

Dr Dey is currently developing a sustainability reporting tool for the Australian water industry. He is an editor of Enough for All Forever: A Handbook for Learning About Sustainability (2012). His previous research includes the development of sustainability reporting software for business, and a strategic energy planning model for the University of Sydney. He has measured the carbon footprint of the Norfolk Island population and, in 2005, was a co-author of the ISA's Balancing Act report, a triple bottom line analysis of the Australian economy.

The Sydney Festival panel also features:

MC Lauren Anderson: Chief Knowledge Officer at Collaborative Lab
Ole Ruch: Managing Director for Airbnb
Ross Gittins: Economics editor at the Sydney Morning Herald
Andrew Valder: Co-founder of the Garage Sale Trail
The Honourable Patricia Forsythe: Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber


Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries:

Verity Leatherdale: (02) 9351 4312, 0403 067 342 or verity.leatherdale@sydney.edu.au