Picture a suburb full of lawn mowers, one per garage. Each machine is sturdy, dependable, a sizable investment, and—given the energy required to manufacture, store, package, and ship it—quite the carbon culprit, especially since most lawn mowers see action only once every week or two. Now picture the same neighborhood with just a single lawn mower, along with a schedule of everyone's turn to use it. This was the idea that got Micki Krimmel, an energetic Internet consultant, fired up to start a new Web site: Neighborgoods.net.
By no means limited to lawn mowers (though there is currently one available to borrow in Austin if you're interested), the just-launched NeighborGoods has everything from computer printers to concertinas, which members in the same locale can borrow, rent, sell, or give away to one another. (For example, while you might lend your ladder to anyone in your network, you'd probably offer your favorite boots only to friends, and you'd likely charge money for the use of your car.) The site keeps track of each exchange and alerts users when a requested item becomes available.
Founder of the popular Mickipedia blog and video series—a rollicking catalog of her thoughts on life, politics, and her Roller Derby team—Krimmel conceived her idea after working for the company behind Al Gore's Oscar-winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Charged with creating a social-networking campaign for the film, she came to understand the transformative power of viral word of mouth. "We were always talking about building communities, and having a smaller footprint. Instead of getting rid of stuff, I thought, 'Why not share it?'" Yet despite her extensive consulting experience, when it came to starting a site from scratch, she says, "I felt like I was jumping headfirst into an unknown world." Krimmel's first hurdle involved securing financial underwriting. "I was spending so much time thinking about partners and investment, it was overwhelming," she says. But then she attended Women Rule!, where she met scores of other women dealing with similar roadblocks: "I remember thinking, 'Instead of focusing on what I don't have, I can focus on what I do have.'" Shortly after she returned home, one of her consulting clients decided to invest in NeighborGoods and gave her what she needed to get the project off the ground. The site launched its trial run in July.
Eventually, members will be charged a small fee to help cover NeighborGoods' administrative costs, but for now the site is free. "The environmental and financial benefits of sharing are obvious," says Krimmel. "Really what I hope this does is bring people together. Ideally, by sharing things like power tools and camping gear, we can regain the sense of local community we seem to have lost."