Ownership Is So Last Century: From Owners/Consumers to Borrowers/Lenders

07/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reed Doyle, the head of global strategic sourcing for Seventh Generation, put it simply: "People don't want to own and maintain cars, they want a way to get from point A to point B."

Reed and I were chatting prior to a tour of Seventh Gen's Burlington, Vermont HQ. Leaning over the balcony, admiring the view of Lake Champlain just across the road from the airy, green offices (jealous!), I had been pointing out my Hertz Connect car, a cute two-door Volvo with a hatch (they were out of Priuses, which are also available). Hertz Connect is like ZipCar (except with the muscle of Hertz's international reach and ready-set-to-go physical and corporate structure): Instead of owning or renting, you share cars -- you pick one when you need it and drop it off when you're finished.

I have to admit a sense of real freedom driving the Connect car -- it was new, fun to drive, and after figuring out the whole key-card/door locking combo (I'm a tech junkie and I was...challenged the first few unlockings), easy enough. I was filling Reed in about the car and how it was nice to leave my own car at home, which was in need of new tires, and a new fan belt (not to mention a vacuum) when he mentioned the idea that we are moving toward a society where we will own less and less, and instead pay for use.

He said that the idea has even permeated the very forward-thinking green cleaning and recycled paper-goods purveyor he works for, which was interesting. How would a company like Seventh Generation manifest this idea to save the planet (and our wallets) through sharing? Reed couldn't tell me yet, but it all got me thinking.

What in my life could be shared rather than owned?

I started seeing the world in this new way. Instead of owing a computer, what I really needed was to connect to the Internet, write and create. I need a place to store info and input from, but do I need to own a big (or small, in the case of a laptop) plastic box filled with heavy metals and toxic chemicals? How about my iPhone, which I would happily trade in every year for an internal upgrade (and a polish?). I didn't want to own a washing machine and a dryer, I just wanted clean clothes. By sharing (in some kind of system that sucks less than laudromatting it) maybe I could have clean socks without the fuss and muss of owning a huge machine that sits in my basement unused 95% of the time.

We seem to be moving in this liberating direction. I've already stopped "owning" music, as I download it from iTunes, or receive it free from musician friends. Same goes for movies, as I watch them online on Hulu or Netflix.

When I get to thinking about it, the only things I want to own outright are things I want to pass along to another generation, that have personal meaning to me: photos, special clothing, some furniture, books and art (paintings and sculpture). Who needs (or wants to take care of) the rest?

For a simpler, less impactful life, I'm willing to share.