Mr. Green Car: Sharing stuff can help save energy

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

Thanks to reader Bob Lindstrom (nobody is more into efficiency than Bob) for bringing this little item to my attention. Toronto Star (Toronto’s largest daily newspaper) business columnist Tyler Hamilton has an extensive green issues blog. Among those was a story about sharing boats … which is why Bob sent me the link, as he knows I’m a “boat nut.”

I liked the story — Hamilton writes about an Internet-based group called “Nautical Monkey” and how it uses peer-to-peer connections of the Internet to connect owners of boats with other users. The idea is expandable to about any asset. One person owns the item. A system is developed to “share” it with others when the asset is otherwise sitting around corroding.

Hamilton says Nautical Monkey is “Craigslist meets Facebook meets Zipcar, with a twist on the traditional time-share model used today by vacationers.” Sharing boats and airplanes is nothing new. Partnerships and clubs have been around a long time to share in the costs of acquiring and maintaining these expensive assets — assets that otherwise don’t get much use.

However, through the Internet, peer-to-peer (P2P) communication is quite easy. With the proper contracts drawn up, autos, trucks, forklifts, backhoes, boats, airplanes, rototillers and RVs — all sorts of things that cost a lot to buy and maintain — can be shared with willing owners.

Unlike Napster, the music file-swapping web biz that did not actually own any of the things it was trying to “share,” with these hard-asset shares, it is the owner of the property who makes the rental of their property happen.

Obviously, you won’t rent your stuff willy-nilly to anyone; and this is where the sharing services comes in. They qualify applicants, keep records, billing services and perhaps even insurance. For this service, they keep a portion of the rental fee. A small price to pay for the convenience and economy of having others make your asset pay for itself.

My personal experience along these lines is in renting airplanes. Sailboat “bare-boat charters” are essentially the same. Someone owns the airplane. A local operator adds the airplane to his fleet and charges an hourly fee for its use. That fee will include insurance, in most cases, and maintenance in some. In other cases, the owner pays for those things out of his take. It doesn’t always pay — particularly when big expenses come — but the system has worked well enough, long enough, that it is still very popular.

With boats, the tendency is to rent out newer boats that need less maintenance — then take them off rental before repairs become a major issue. The same would probably be true of many mechanical assets. Airplanes are a somewhat different story — they live forever with proper care.

What makes this all appealing is that there is no longer a need for a centrally-managed and owned fleet of “things.” Through P2P, we can connect to a like-minded group of aviators, drivers, boaters, gardeners or whatever, and instead of running out and spending resources buying a previously-used asset or having some corporation build a new one — we can essentially borrow what we need for the time we need to use it. In today’s tough economy, this has an upside and a downside.

First, the “up.” The upside is that we folks with little spare change can use what we need to use without breaking our bank balance or inflating our credit card balance. We’re not faced with ongoing expenses to maintain that “thing” or to store it — or clean it, for that matter.

Second, the “down.” The downside is that our whole world economy is based on consumerism. Jobs, government and eating every day depend on people buying assets, using them a little, maintaining them a lot, then storing them until the next use — or we get tired of moving it around.

There you have it. Saving money can save the planet. But it may kill your job. You choose. I hope you chose planet — for we truly need to move into a new way of living that is sustainable, or there will be no money, no jobs and no food once the Earth’s resources are exhausted.

To read Tyler Hamilton’s related blog, visit

From the Aug. 10-16, 2011, issue

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