computerAs of 2012, the concept of sharing has moved from a community practice into a legitimate business opportunity.

This increasing legitimacy is reflected in the more polished terms used to describe the phenomenon like peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, collaborative consumption or the access economy.

Finance has been overhauled with the dawn of P2P micro-lending and micro-funding platforms like as ZOPA, Kiva, and Kickstarter, putting money in the hands of individuals, startups, or organizations by individuals who want to support specific causes, people or ideas.

The agricultural sector is catching on with land-swapping initiatives akin to Landshare – an innovative solution for wannabe farmers whose biggest challenge is access to capital and affordable land, offering small plots of unused space. Shared dining platforms such as GoGrubly organize underground dinners for “members only” by pairing up local chefs who cook at their homes with people who want to eat a good meal nearby.

Education is being reinvented with experimental institutions like the TradeSchool, a bartering education project by OurGoods, which holds classes in NYC varying from composting and grant-writing to butter-making and scrabble strategy. To attend a class, students trade with things like food, CDs and shoes. Anyone is welcome to teach because everyone is valued and considered to have some sort of knowledge to offer.

SwapBabysitting and other online childcare swapping initiatives help parents set up neighborhood babysitting cooperatives where parents earn credit hours by sitting and can use those hours to “hire” fellow parent sitters. Lightly used childrens’ products like clothing, toys and books can be bought and sold on ThredUp and reCrib – a big relief for parents who can’t or don’t want to spend money on brand new products their kids will soon grow out of anyway.

Travel lodging is an item on the personal budget list where many are pinching pennies and is probably why services like AirBnB and CouchSurfing have become so popular. They provide short-term stays in a homier setting to the trekker either for free or at decent prices, with rating systems to ensure you aren’t staying somewhere unsafe or incompatible.

While entrepreneurs and innovators are no doubt capitalizing on this movement, some collaborative consumption believers caution that all will be lost if the sole motivation is profit. The true gains come in the social revenue or the currency made up of people learning to trust one another, thereby cultivating reciprocal respect that creates an environment conducive to sharing.

By Lesley Lammers for Sustainable Industries magazine.