Soon the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday better suited for the sharing economy's ideals than what it has turned into: gorging on buying stuff rather than turkey and all the fixings. Following an unprecedented national election by a few weeks, I can't think of a better year than 2016 to return to Thanksgiving's true purpose.
The 102 Mayflower passengers suffered through an awful cross-Atlantic voyage, followed by a brutal winter and diseases; only half the ship's passengers lived to see spring 1621. If not for Native Americans like Squanto teaching the settlers how to work and live in their new land, the Massachusetts colony could not have survived. Sustainability is Thanksgiving's lasting lesson No. 1.
Those early Plymouth Thanksgivings are memorialized as gatherings of Native Americans and Pilgrim settlers, sharing the same table, sharing food and sharing thanks for bountiful harvests in their harmonious color and race-blind gatherings. Sharing for mutual good is Thanksgiving's lasting lesson No. 2.
21st century Thanksgiving has been better noted for mandatory shopping mall openings, where people are forced to abandon their families to work long hours, while others leave their families behind to load up shopping carts with all sorts of things that will soon be forgotten. At the same time, in these still economically challenged times, the adage "It's the thought that counts" has helped many overcome the disappointment of not having enough disposable income to buy even more of the things that will soon be forgotten. It’s hard to imagine how Thanksgiving got as far away from its purpose and lasting lessons as it has. But more than offering social commentary or lamenting about the sad state of Thanksgiving affairs, this column brings great news: A true Thanksgiving remedy that will capture the holiday's spirit while kicking off the Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa fun to come.
Sustainable solutions are increasing in popularity and replacing over-the-top purchasing with sensible sharing. In fact, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the sharing economy is estimated to grow to $670 billion in the next 10 years, successfully reaching consumers and commercial organizations that want to exchange goods and services while supporting profitable, sustainable, socially responsible and environmental causes. Why store those folding chairs collecting dust in the basement when someone else can use them for their Thanksgiving table? How about renting a dress and jewelry for a holiday gala? Repurposing things we all have to fill a temporary need others have is more like the Thanksgiving John Smith and Squanto had in mind. How about we all do something meaningful this holiday season?
Consumer trends all point in the same direction: A strong preference for experiences rather than possession. And these same consumer trends show that personalization is far more meaningful than mass merchandise. The gift certificate to rent a masseuse's time for a friend with aching muscles is far more memorable than picking something off the store shelves.
In the nearly 400 years since the first Thanksgiving, the United States has grown in some incredible ways. History's guide says the next 400 years will bring even greater development. It is our heritage to keep moving onward and upward, but there remain some things that were better in the 17th century than today, with these Thanksgiving ideas leading the way. We are seeing organizations — from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies — increasingly understanding that people want to see companies that care and are even willing to pay more for sustainable brands. Let's get back to that greater future by promoting the commercial and societal aspirations of sustainability and sharing.
Michael Berman is the CEO of ECrent, an online rental platform that seeks to contribute to a sharing economy that enables businesses and individuals to protect the environment and promote commerce.