03/20/2012 06:07 pm ET Updated May 20, 2012

Building a Shared Future

Twelve years into a new millennium, hyper-consumption seems almost a 20th-century fad. In a matter of decades, the number of designer handbags in your closet has evolved from status symbol to scarlet letter. Accumulating things for their own sake is a waning desire for many Americans, who have come to see mass consumerism as one of the pitfalls, not pleasures, of life in an advanced society. We still love to consume, but we are moving towards an economy that emphasizes access and experience over possession and ownership.

The sharing economy, or Collaborative Consumption, is an emerging ecosystem of exchange where people maximize the efficiency of their resources. Why let a boat, a lawnmower, or apartment sit idle most of the year when people will pay to borrow these goods? People used to face communication hurdles when renting their homes, appliances, or even handbags. The Internet broke down these barriers, making exchange much smoother.

How we arrived at this point on a mass-level is an evolutionary story. Only two decades ago exchange existed completely offline. Then Amazon paved the way, allowing people to buy from businesses online. eBay pushed the needle further by opening up online exchange between individuals. From here, Craigslist was the next natural evolution. Now that society has started to see value in networks like Craigslist, other successful peer-to-peer economies, like TaskRabbit (which lets you outsource errands in your community), and AirBnB (where you can rent a room or an entire apartment directly from the owner), are making mainstream headlines. But rather than promote ownership like Craigslist does, these websites provide access to goods and services for temporary use. Large communities pool together resources for use and re-use by anyone involved -- shared access at its finest.

The peer-to-peer model is just a piece in a bigger picture. Colbert Report recently interviewed Steve Case, the Internet legend who founded AOL and Revolution Partners. He sat front and center on one of television's main stages, touting the sharing economy as a social and historical movement, not just a trend that's happening now. Colbert gave Case a hard time about this anti-ownership lifestyle being Marxist. Made for some great comic relief. But when the laughs faded, the facts remained: businesses (big businesses) are making lots of money by sharing.

While conversations around the sharing economy tend to focus on platforms that connect individuals (like Craigslist), business-to-consumer sharing has proven tremendously successful as a model. Examples include established brands like Netflix, HomeAway, Hertz, Rent-a-Center, Cort Furniture, The Home Depot, United Rentals, Aaron's, U-Haul, Penske, RentTheRunway, BookRenter, Chegg, GameFly. The list goes on. There is major opportunity for businesses, large and small, to take part in this economy.

At Getable, we help rental shops bring inventories online, creating a pool of resources people can access when the need arises. With over 65,000 locations across the country, rental stores collectively represent an $85 billion market. When all these organizations pool together, sharing generates much more than chump change. Despite Steve Colbert's admittedly funny Marxist jab, there is both capital and social value to gain for both businesses and individuals in an access-based economy. We're already seeing it take shape around us, and the Internet only accelerates the potential for a shared future.