What’s in Your Tool Shed ?

What’s lurking in your tool shed ?

Perhaps you own an electric drill . . . when did you last use it ?

How about a lawn mower, ladders, hedge-trimmer, jig-saw, trailer, wheelbarrow, patio-cleaner, wallpaper stripper ?

If you think about it, owning stuff that sits around unused for 99% of the time, is the epitome of unsustainability. For practical, utilitarian items like drills and ladders, what matters is access when we need them, not ownership.

There’s an obvious solution – sharing stuff !

It goes a little against the grain in our hyper-individualistic society, but it makes perfect sense – we don’t all need to buy our own a drill so it saves us money, and we don’t all need to find space for it in our own home so it saves us space and clutter (which Rachel recently wrote about on her Green & Tidy blog).

There are a range of ways we can replace ownership with access-  from hire schemes, to tool libraries, which work in a similar way to book libraries. Several organisations are already encouraging local groups and communities to set-up similar projects; such as Streetbank, and technology makes knowing where we can get access to things locally much easier.

There is a catch though.

To work, it requires a participating local community !

Unfortunately in many places this is something we’ve lost. We live next to each other, but often don’t know each other, or even come into contact with each other any more. There’s been a tendency in many places for us to lead increasingly fragmented and isolated lives. We sit in front of our screens forming friendships with people across the globe, but too easily neglect what’s outside our own front door.

But this isn’t entirely our fault ! It’s the natural product of the environments we’ve created. We often live apart from our work, and commute back and forth, usually by ourselves and we increasingly tend to shop in impersonal huge edge-of-town superstores. Many of our societies are increasingly divided and suffer from increased background levels of stress, tension and anger. We complain about the ‘fear of crime’ – perhaps it’s partly because we don’t know our neighbours as people and as a result don’t trust them . . . relationships matter.

There’s a large overlap between the health of our communities and the state of the planet. Personal change by itself won’t deliver the increases in sustainability we need, from energy to water use. If we are to succeed in combating climate change, peak oil and resource depletion, we will need to collectively re-engineer our communities to make it natural and easy for us to live more sustainable lives.

Although cities are sometime viewed as almost the opposite of ‘environment’, high density communities are invariably more sustainable than low density ones. In denser communities we can easily walk to a local shop, park, library or cinema. We can walk or cycle to work, avoiding inefficient, costly and time-consuming commutes, meaning we spend more time locally, and get to know more people. In a dense environment it’s easier to design and build infrastructure, from water & sewerage, to public transport systems. Dense communities also have a smaller physical footprint than sprawling suburban communities, leaving more land available either for food production or the natural environment.

Many towns and cities are trying to build more localism and sustainability into their development. Vancouver is a good example, with 40% of central area households no longer own a car, because they don’t need one on a daily basis – as they can walk, cycle or use public transport to get around. Car clubs/lift share/car hire schemes exist for the occasions when a car is needed, and the benefits of reduced car ownership are massive: personal cost savings in buying, maintenance and fuel, less traffic accidents, less obesity, better air quality, less land needed for garages and roads, and huge environmental savings in vehicle manufacture and disposal, as well as the obvious carbon saving associated with reduced fuel use.

It also means fewer large superstores and car parks are needed – in a compact community it’s much easier and more sustainable for a single delivery truck to deliver to 100 properties a week, than for 100 cars to visit the store!

Less obviously, reducing travelling also gives people their time back – up to 10 or more hours a week! As a result people play more sport, spend more time with their families and friends, have more hobbies and have time to engage in more leisure and cultural activities, not to mention politics and voluntary work !

As I write this I’m watching rioting and looting taking place on the streets of London and several other English cities.

While the reasons are undoubtedly complex, I’m sure our modern way of life, with it’s increasing disconnection and division, and loss of community is partly to blame.

Let’s hope we can quickly fix the mistakes of the past and rebuild sustainable, caring communities in our cities – for the benefit of both ourselves, and the planet.

Alex Steffen, editor of the Worldchanging gave an excellent TED talk last month titled The Shareable Future of Cities :

Photo by Miss Millions, via Flickr


  1. Great post from Rachel, but I’m scared [you don't know my neighbours ;-)] NS, what’s your experience of these schemes?

    • Debs, I’m sure your neighbours are lovely people :)

      My own experience is quite limited – we run a employee pool car scheme where I work, and also have access to the local community car club – Common Wheels http://www.commonwheels.org.uk/ – but I’m a bit too ‘out in the country’ to make it work for me.

      As with anything local like this, I think the first step is knowing what’s is going on and how to get involved . . . a topic for another post perhaps :)

  2. Great post. I increasingly participate in sharing schemes. Freecycle, Local Exchange Trading/Time Banks (where members offer skills and time, paying each other in credits specific to the scheme), schemes that enable neighbours to hire goods from each other…Not only does it reduce environmental impact, it helps me get to know my neighbours and creates a sense of community.

    • Thanks Rachel

      I’ve a theory that people are far more likely to investigate and become involved in sharing schemes if they’ve been personally introduced, I imagine that for most the prospect of making contact with a group of strangers might be a little daunting . . . lots of opportunity for open days and meet and greet type events, perhaps ?

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