Why buy your own car, and leave it sitting idle in the street while you catch public transport to work, when you can borrow a car to use when you need it? The circular economy is full of ideas that are so simple that you ask yourself how the heck didn’t we think of this sooner! Australia’s first and largest car sharing service — GoGet — was founded in 2003 when Nic Lowe and Bruce Jeffreys noticed their Newtown neighbourhood was full of unused cars. The idea of car sharing occurred to them as a way to reduce the number of private cars on the street, reduce the community’s carbon footprint, save on the resources required to make new cars and free up space for alternative uses. On a larger scale, car sharing also has the capacity to reshape the way our cities look and function. We sat down with Lead Locations and Transport Planner at GoGet, Josh Brydges, to talk about how sharing resources can change the way we live.
Josh Brydges is one of the people who determines where your local GoGet lives. “[My job consists of] planning out to the network of vehicles across the country, the broad strategy, and then working to fulfil that on an individualised basis. Working with councils, property developers, government, all sorts of people,” he explains. Josh is driven by the impacts that our transport choices are having on the climate. Figures from 2017 show a total of 17,158,195 cars in Australia, that’s the equivalent of or 1.8 cars per household. Through his work, Josh hopes to replace our obsession with private car ownership with a culture of car sharing that is sensitive to the social and environmental impacts of our transportation choices. This shift could in turn change the way that we build and live in cities.
“Personally, I am motivated in the fact that we've got real problems in the world today, chief amongst them being climate change obviously. And transportation makes up a good chunk of the issues there. And while we can sort of solve some of that through electrification, say, of the fleet, it doesn't solve all the problems that cars might create in terms of space and inefficiencies and congestion,” he says. “While at some point in the future hopefully Australia will be further down the line of electrification, we also need to be reducing the overall demand for private cars. And that's something I think that touches on aspects across the board, because then you can reduce things in the built environment — how we build and develop cities, the amount of asphalt you might need for, say, concrete car parking. And if you can reduce all of that you have [an impact on] a much grander scale by reshaping cities. That's the big picture.”
GoGet’s mission statement is to “empower smarter lifestyles and to create more liveable communities”. The company implements this vision by: providing an alternative to private cars that minimises the cost for users — petrol, maintenance, insurance, registration, etc.; helping people to better understand the costs of their transportation choices for the environment and the community; and reducing the amount of people who drive in order to tackle congestion and climate change. In terms of circularity, GoGet falls under the second pillar of circular economics (as defined by the Ellen MacArthur foundation): keeping products and materials in use. GoGet helps customers maximise the lifespan, use and value of cars and keeps them in the economy for as long as possible.
“So much of the circular economy is about using the resources that are made and the products that are made and using them more efficiently and more effectively,” Josh explains. “What we do is find a better way of efficiently using the products while they're in their lifecycle. And then when they're at the end of their lifecycle, they can potentially be transformed and into new products.” Sharing models like GoGet also have the potential to help decrease consumption across society, reducing the strain on virgin resources used in the production process. “[It’s about] reducing our overall consumption, rather than the individualised recycling of assets,” Josh explains.
My biggest advice is: work to find the problem. There's a lot of problems in the world, but find one that both helps an individual and helps a broader aspect of society. If you can leverage that, then you can really scale something up quickly because people see their own personal success, and improvement of their quality of life, being tied to the growth and expansion of your service.
Collaborating with local councils, developers and community members has been fundamental to GoGet’s success. In the early days, the company working closely with local businesses like news agencies to implement its card collection service and get things off the ground. Close collaboration with businesses, councils and developers remains crucial to meeting the needs of the communities they service. “As an area is developing and changing and becoming more dense, or new public transport is being built in an area, it's trying to interface along with those at the same time,” Josh explains. “So getting vehicles into a building as it's being built so that residents, when they move in, have a vehicle waiting for them ready to go so they never need to own a private car. Or it's ensuring that the public transport is designed and built with car share in consideration so that when you step off a train, you can jump into a car if need be.”
GoGet is designed for change so that it can adapt to meet the needs of its users and the cities they live in. In a COVID world, the value of this flexible business model is more apparent than ever. “At the moment, what we're mainly focused on is responding to COVID in a way that reflects the changing nature that people want to travel around their cities,” Josh says. “Obviously, the biggest change is the abandonment of CBDs across the country. We have a much smaller presence in the CBD now than we used to … That's reflective of the fact that people are working from home so much more. We don't need cars in the city, we need cars closer to people's homes, so that if they want to go out for lunch or to visit a colleague or have a meeting [they can]. We have to have a dispersed network.”
While GoGet plays an important role in the sharing economy, Josh acknowledges that the company is still at the start of its journey when it comes to circularity. GoGet is currently working on integrating the principles of circular economics across its supply chain. To begin with, this means adopting a product stewardship approach when it comes to the management of their vehicles. “We work with our repairs, and body shops, and maintenance people to make sure that everything is being well cared for,” Josh says. “Batteries are a big one, so we're making sure that batteries are being recycled and used properly and transitioned at the end of their life cycle.”
GoGet was created with the simple goal of reducing the number of unused cars in our communities. “The average private car is unused I think something along the lines of 96 per cent of the time. It's completely idle — taking up space, wasting resources — and it costs a lot of people a lot of money,” Josh says. This idea resonated with community members with GoGet’s growth being driven by consumer demand for their service. After starting with just 12 members, GoGet has now grown to a network of 80 staff, 2,900 cars and 162,000 members.
“One of the remarkable things is that it's people voting with their own pocket to adopt a more circular economy approach to private cars, which have often been part of the culture that you have to have a private car. And I think what we're showing here is that through using circular economics in different business models, we can disrupt long-held assumptions about how people live in society. And people are willing to make that decision themselves.”
Josh believes that the key to success in circular business, or any business for that matter, is coming up with a product that provides a practical solution to a problem. “My biggest advice is: work to find the problem. There's a lot of problems in the world, but finding one that both helps an individual and helps a broader aspect of society,” he says. “If you can leverage that, then you can really scale something up quickly because people see their own personal success, and improvement of their quality of life, being tied to the growth and expansion of your service. You really have to knit that solution for individuals and businesses with that solution for the community and the world. if you can knit those two things together, it can supercharge growth for you.”
At the end of the day, Josh says that no matter what the environmental credentials of a product are, it will only be successful if it improves people’s quality of life. “Something I think that a lot of sustainable businesses need to also recognise, while it can be a really important factor for a lot of people, ultimately, for the vast majority of people, it needs to work in their life,” he explains. “It needs to be more convenient, it needs to be cheap, it needs to be cost effective. If it's not those things, it may not speak to as many people as it would otherwise.”
“It would be amazing if everybody who read this was like, ‘Oh, I'll go look at car sharing and see how that works for me’. But even more than that, I think the real call to action is to take a second and think about the way that you move around — the way that you use transportation services — and really think about what impacts they have on the world. Because too often the way we get around cities is just a private car, that's the default, and you move around and never think about the cost of it.
So really, the call to action should be — stop, actually think about your transport needs and make sure that what you're doing is best-suited. And chances are carshare might actually be a good solution for you.”