Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Crowdsourcing our economic recovery

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 0231 GMT (1031 HKT)
Consumers can invest directly in solar projects to help build a more sustainable future, Van Jones says.
Consumers can invest directly in solar projects to help build a more sustainable future, Van Jones says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: A new breed of companies is leveraging the power of sharing
  • Jones says younger, tech-savvy consumers tend to prefer sharing services
  • He says opportunities for people-driven, shareable, sustainable businesses are many
  • Jones: Together, consumers can start rebuilding the economy from the community up

Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy.

(CNN) -- We are not living up to the promise of the American Dream.

Even now, our leaders are talking about cutting, instead of creating jobs to grow our way out of the deficit. Congress is ignoring big problems, congratulating itself on avoiding a fiscal cliff of its own creation. The federal budget props up broken parts of our economic system -- big banks, big polluters and big defense contractors -- instead of investing in areas such as education and infrastructure that would benefit everyone.

Now, a new breed of companies is leveraging the power of networks and sharing -- and showing us what a more sustainable, prosperous future can look like.

Van Jones
Van Jones

One of the most well-known examples is Zipcar. Its tagline, "wheels when you want them," pretty much sums up the company. Zipcar was just bought by rental giant Avis Budget Group for nearly $500 million as part of Avis' push to compete with Hertz's and Enterprise's new car-sharing services. The demographics of car-sharing customers holds promise for future growth as younger, tech-savvy consumers tend to prefer sharing services.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Then there is Mosaic, a new addition to the share economy. Mosaic just launched the first online clean energy investment marketplace. (Full disclosure: I am an uncompensated adviser to the company.)

Here's how it works: Mosaic connects investors to solar projects in need of financing. The projects generate revenue by selling the electricity they generate, which allows the investors to get paid back with interest. Through the company, you can pick a solar project that you like, make an investment for as little as $25 and get returns starting at 4.5% annually. Of course, as with nearly any investment that isn't federally insured, there's a risk involved.

Instead of earning close to nothing on your money at a bank, you can directly invest in things that offer solid returns and create real or lasting value. Together, consumers can start rebuilding the economy from the community up. Together, we can crowdsource investments in American infrastructure and create 21st-century energy jobs all by ourselves.

The mega-banks that financed the fossil fuel era aren't well matched to the emerging clean energy economy, which is more decentralized. There are enough rooftops In Los Angeles alone to create 5 gigawatts of clean power. Instead of two mega coal plants, the energy could come from hundreds of thousands of people, all making money by selling energy from their roofs and contributing to a more sustainable and resilient energy grid.

Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy made news last week with its investment of more than $2 billion in two solar power plants in California. But you know who has more money than even Buffett? All of us combined. All of us who are looking to invest responsibly and grow clean energy are a powerful force for change.

In some cities, the demand for car-sharing services is so great that people are renting out their personal cars through services such as RelayRides and Getaround. San Francisco's Scoot aims to be the Zipcar of electric scooters.

Services such as Airbnb and CouchSurfing allow people to rent their homes or rooms to strangers vetted by their peers. Through TaskRabbit and Fiverr, anyone can hire a personal assistant to run errands or complete more complex tasks such as accounting for your small business.

These sharing services are proving that sharing isn't just for the do-gooders anymore -- it can make you real money. Airbnb hosts make an average of $6,000 per year for renting out their homes. People who loan cars through Relay Rides generally make enough to cover their monthly car payments. And a few people are making $5,000 per month just from completing tasks through TaskRabbit.

A few months after the Move Your Money campaign launched in 2011, and on the heels of a controversy surrounding debit card fees, more than 650,000 people turned to opening credit union accounts. Today, environmentalists such as Bill McKibben and his 350.org are leading the charge for divesting from big polluters.

The opportunity for people-driven, shareable, sustainable business doesn't stop with solar or transportation projects. We can invest in American businesses that power our country with all kinds of innovative technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal systems, hybrid and electric cars, and next-generation batteries. And we should put Americans to work making our homes and buildings energy-efficient.

We need to avoid a lost generation of young people who will be playing economic catch-up their whole lives. We cannot stop pressing our leaders to help struggling poor and middle-class Americans. But we can never forget that together, we are a tremendous force for change. As we call on Washington to act, we can also call on each other to create jobs and spark the clean-energy economy of the future -- an economy that works for everyone.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT