It's one of the first things you're taught in preschool: Sharing is caring. Be nice. A recent crop of sharing websites has proven that sharing is nice for the planet, too—not to mention our wallets. Think about it: Each website that hooks you up with a loaner dress, car, or tool will save you cash, eliminate needless purchases, and reduce waste. Check out these sites that help facilitate sharing.
Transportation: Zipcar is old news. For urbanites in Washington, D.C. (and soon, Boston), bike sharing is the new way residents are getting from point A to point B cheaply and healthily. Like car sharing, anyone can pay for a membership and can pick up bikes at depots scattered throughout a city—Washington's year-old system has more than 10 ports. Bike sharing is picking up speed: D.C.'s program is receiving extra funding for more stations and bikes, and unlike European bike-shares, the system has had few incidents of theft or vandalism. Office space: Small business owners or solo entrepreneurs need not toil away in solitude from a home office. The practice of coworking allows individuals and small businesses to share office space, and with it, resources like copiers and printers. Many who cowork love the collaborative aspect of it—sharing space, and also ideas. EcoSalon recommends this site as a resource for finding a coworking space near you.
Clothing: The subject of a big New York Times story recently, Rent the Runway is a dress-sharing service that allows haute couture to be ordered up like Netflix. Women seeking a formal dress for an event can rent expensive runway looks for $50 to $200, with the cost of dry cleaning included. The site will even send two sizes of the same dress, to ensure the perfect fit. For bags, there's Bag, Borrow or Steal, which loans out the hottest designer handbags.
Gardening: When you live in the city, land is precious. That's why community plots have sprung up from Portland to Boston, allowing urban farmers to tend a small patch of vegetables or flowers. Not only do urban gardeners get to enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of their labors, but they also beautify their community. Learn how to start your own community garden here.
Farming: It's been the year of the farm share, which has been touted by authors and in films like "Food, Inc" throughout 2009. In a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, you support a local farmer by paying a flat fee at the beginning of a growing season. Each week, you pick up a bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables for your household. For some, the fun of a CSA is learning to cook with what the farm provides that week, whether it's parsnips or plums. Most CSA members simply prefer the taste of fresh, local produce, compared to their average supermaket fare. Local Harvest can help you find the CSA nearest you.
Vacations: Hotels are expensive and often impersonal. They're also wasteful: Think of all the water and energy used to launder fresh towels and sheets every day. Instead of shilling out for expensive accommodations, consider a home exchange: You get to stay in another family's home for free, and in return, they get to vacation in yours. Websites like HomeExchange.com allow members to post their listings for a fee, and vacationers can contact each other and arrange dates and details of their travel.
Stuff: In the average garage, there are dozens of tools and pieces of equipment that are used a few times a year, max. If you need a power drill, chances are good that one of your neighbors has one lying idle. That's where NeighborGoods comes in—the site helps broker sharing, rental or sales transactions between neighbors who need and can offer household goods like tools, folding chairs, or bikes. The community is self-policed, so if someone is being a bad neighbor, it's easy to report them. NeighborGoods is still testing in Los Angeles, and will soon expand across the country.
Books: Each semester, college students dread their trip to the bookstore. Textbooks for intro-level courses can cost hundreds of dollars, and selling them back to the bookstore only returns a small fraction of that—if they can be returned at all. But textbook-sharing site Chegg provides books for the semester at dirt-cheap prices, and even plants a tree for each textbook bought and rented.