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Zipcar Founder: Entrepreneurs Have to Build a Collaborative Economy, or Else

Robin Chase says the environmental risks posed by climate change mean companies need to find ways to trade resources with one another.
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Car-sharing entrepreneur Robin Chase, the woman behind both Zipcar and Buzzcar, is calling upon entrepreneurs to find ways for consumers, businesses and governments to share more. The stakes, she says, are high: our future on earth.

Chase says the environmental risks posed by climate change mean companies need to find "platforms for participation," or ways to trade resources with one another to limit environmental drain.

"Platforms for participation" is a phrase Chase uses to describe Zipcar, the car-rental company she founded over a decade ago now that allows consumers to rent cars by the hour or the day. Her newest transportation-alternative company, Buzzcar, allows users to rent out their own cars by the hour. The service is currently only available in France, as insurance regulations have prevented Chase from bringing Buzzcar to the U.S.

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The idea behind both companies is to use technology and excess capacity to organize and distribute resources, thereby reducing waste.

“We are transitioning from an industrial economy to a new sustainable collaborative economy,” said Chase at The Feast social innovation conference in New York City earlier this month. Businesses of the future need to think about owning less and borrowing more. Whether it's in physical resources or business services, the idea of having to own every piece of your supply chain is inefficient and unsustainable, she says.

As an entrepreneur, sharing is often cheaper. If you are using another party's excess capacity, then you are building on what somebody else has already paid for, Chase said. “You are getting something for cheaper or free.”

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Climate change has always been a hotly-debated issue. The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change, an intergovernmental group charged with researching the effects of carbon emissions, said at the end of September that climate change is unequivocal and that going forward, sea levels will rise at a faster rate than they have over the past 40 years.

Chase fears the effect climate change will have on our life spans if it is not slowed down. She says it's an "existential crisis" – not in the academic sense, but in the sense that our very existence is at stake. “It kind of drives me crazy when people are constantly saying, ‘Oh do this for your grandchildren, your children.’ I think, ‘Who are you talking about? Do this for yourself! Your own personal self!’” she said.

Rates of carbon emission in cities like Bangkok and Mexico City are surging, and the possibility of getting those developing economies to slow down their use of resources is a serious challenge, she said. “Platforms for participation is the only chance,” she said. “A slim chance.”

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