Share and Share Alike

Two Berkeley authors explain how sharing can save the planet.

Children learn to cover their mouths when they cough, to not disrupt
others by talking during movies, and to share their toys with other
boys and girls. But somewhere along the line, we all lose the interest
in sharing. According to two Berkeley attorneys, if Americans shared
more of their material goods and time with each other, we could all
make a significant dent in the economic and environmental problems
facing our households and the world.

“There are so many things that each of us have and use that could be
shared,” said Emily Doskow, the coauthor with Janelle Orsi of the
forthcoming book The Sharing Solution. In their book, which
comes out in June, the authors provide a how-to approach to forming
sharing arrangements. These arrangements can help people organize a
small or large group to share material goods, responsibilities, or
basic needs.

The book addresses what someone should consider before entering into
such agreements, the legal logistics, and how to ensure that everyone
gets the most out of sharing. Small material items, such as rakes or
even suits, may require less legal paperwork than cohabitation or
forming a neighborhood babysitting co-op, but both situations can be
beneficial on multiple levels, Doskow believes.

“The way that our society is using resources is not going to work
out in the long haul,” Doskow said. “The amount of stuff we consume is
not workable. So any solution, whether it’s recycling, reusing, or
sharing, makes a dent and produces a positive good.” The authors
believe that sharing can address the so-called triple bottom line by
reaping financial, environmental, and personal and social benefits.
Orsi sees these goals as a great place to start for people who know
they want to share but don’t know how to begin.

Say two neighbors both need a new lawnmower. If they were to pool
their money and buy one communal lawnmower to share, they could hit all
three of the bullet points. Each neighbor would save 50 percent on the
cost of the mower, the manufacturer would use half the resources and
energy it would have taken to build two machines, and the neighbors
become closer, strengthening a community bond.

“People can just start to look at what their needs are,” Orsi said.
“If their goals are to save money, then they can look at what’s costing
them the most money in their lives. If their goal is to live
sustainably, they can look at their carbon footprint. Or maybe they’re
just looking to meet more people or have a sense of community.”

Orsi, who shares office space with Doskow and four other lawyers,
goes one step further and envisions sharing as a means of meeting
people’s basic needs. “In my ideal world, the world’s resources would
be distributed so much differently,” she said. “Many of people’s
material needs aren’t being met. We have so many resources; the way
they’re distributed is inefficient and causes a lot of suffering in the
world. A car sits in a parking lot all day while you’re at work, or a
vacuum cleaner is used only once a month. We have all these resources
sitting there and people’s needs just are not being met.”

So what keeps us from sharing? When did we lose the ability to share
a cookie? A lot of it probably has to do with fear. “Worrying about
people encroaching too much on your personal boundaries deters a lot of
us from wanting to do more things cooperatively,” Orsi said. The
Sharing Solution
doesn’t spend an extensive amount of time on
personal space and conflict resolution because the authors focus on
building strong communication skills and developing a clear
understanding of any potential disagreements. These preventative
measures, they say, open the doors to a more trusting and honest

“The more we share, the more we trust each other, and society will
become a safer place,” Orsi said. “If we have people coming in and out
of our garage to borrow a barbecue, we’re going to be surrounded by
people we can trust. People in neighborhoods will be that much more
connected to each other, and it makes the world a much safer, gentler,
and more humane place to live.”

To a die-hard American capitalist taught to covet promotions,
wealth, and material goods, the word “socialism” may come to mind.
However, sharing is the basis for many of America’s biggest capitalist
endeavors. Every year we pay state and federal taxes for the
maintenance of our highways. Water, electricity, and gas are all public
utilities that we as a society jointly pay for each month.
Monopoly, the unabashed cheerleader of capitalism, didn’t forget
to put in squares for Water Works and Income Tax, after all. Still,
there’s something deeply ingrained in our society that causes us
hesitation when it comes to communal endeavors. “Our culture itself is
so structured for people to be insular,” Doskow said. “We’re not
necessarily isolated because often we’re insular with other

The book will be full of worksheets, sample agreements, and
resources for people who want to become better sharers, and for those
who never forgot their playground lessons. What readers won’t find is
preaching about how to save the planet and lighten your household
budget at the expense of gas-guzzling Hummers and imported Italian

“When I talk about The Sharing Solution, the vast majority of
people are excited,” Doskow said. “But I come across people who say
‘Absolutely not! I couldn’t possibly share my stuff. I don’t want to
have to communicate with a neighbor when I want to use my own grill.’
My response is ‘Fair enough, not everyone has to share.'” The attorneys
stress to do what works for you. Doskow, who shares baseball season
tickets and is part of a neighborhood work group that pools resources
to enable basic home repairs, understands that people have limits.

“Nobody can touch my Easter candy,” she said.

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