Are sharing economies sustainable? Lessons from five decades of Auroville, India
Sharing economy and a collaborative society have often been projected as possible answers to the challenges of achieving sustainable development goals. Sharing economy experiments with alternative models of ownership while collaborative society hinges on the spirit of human unity and hence collaboration. The exact contours and the viability of sharing economy and collaborative society can only be hypothesised since there are very few examples of such institutions and models that have passed the test of time. Car sharing or room-sharing based business models are yet to be profitable while sharing itself has different social and cultural nuances. Intentional communities can provide us some indications about the viability of a sharing economy built within a collaborative society. Intentional communities are living spaces built by a group of like-minded individuals who believe in alternative modes of living. Typically, they are inspired by philosophers and spiritual leaders and congregate around the ideology of the leader. Such communities adopt sustainable practices and aim to decouple their living from the large, global economy. In such communities, one finds self-sustaining models of energy and food production and even independent currency systems. In this paper, we look at one case of such intentional community, Auroville, which has been in existence for the last five decades. Situated in the southern part of India, Auroville was established in 1968 as an international city to be built on the ideal of human unity. It is supposed to be a ‘human laboratory’ with a focus on conscious living and the ideology that ‘all life is yoga’. Over the last fifty years, the community has experimented with sustainable living by creating collaborative community, sharing economy, social businesses, free stores and even attempted the ideal of a currency-less community. This paper elaborates on the key sustainability initiatives of Auroville and the lessons learnt from them in the context of sharing, collaboration and sustainability.