Business planning for 2016 is in full swing. The air is laden with weighty vocabulary – a transformation here, some disruption there, agility everywhere. Horizons are being scanned. Lessons are being sought from the businesses and brands that have really delivered this year. The so-called Unicorns will probably be under the microscope, those mythical beasts which in this context represent start-up companies whose valuation has exceeded one billion dollars. Inevitably, this leads us to Uber and Airbnb (lying first and third respectively in Fortune’s latest Unicorn list) and to the question du jour of how we manoeuvre our surfboard on to the wave of the sharing economy.

World events would certainly suggest that more sharing is the way to go. Beyond the horrors of the migration crisis, Oxfam produced a research paper back in January (‘Wealth: Having it all and wanting more’) warning that the wealth of the world’s richest one percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent in 2016 unless rising inequality can be checked.

Also, the inheritors of the world, Generation Z (born after 1995) are being characterised by professional futurists like Tracey Follows as natural sharers (“a giving generation”). Quoted in Suzy Bashford’s article, from this month’s Marketing magazine, Follows explains that Gen Z is under an enormous amount of pressure, from endless testing and exposure from growing up with the internet, to which they will react. “They’ll be a lot more sensitised and sensitive, and more social…They’ll come out of the other side of this stress and strain and be much more concerned about health and wellbeing. They will have had enough of the way things were because it’s not a way to live.”

Rather than exploit their personalities online, therefore, using social media to measure worth, value and status, the trend among teenagers appears to be the re-discovery of personal ethics and moral substance, manifested in a greater sense of community and fearless speaking out in support of basic humanity (and a certain Jeremy).

This surge of idealism is not new, of course. Consider the birth of the Building Society movement in the 19th century. And we must not be naïve about the power of more selfish human drives when the agenda of youth becomes complicated by the demands of adulthood. In this moment, however, social need, visionary ambition and a game-changing digital ecosystem have surely conspired to create a phenomenon with relevance, influence and momentum.

What does this mean for businesses looking to navigate another hard year to call? Returning to the darlings of the commercial world, it’s certainly not as simple as ‘doing an Uber’. I tend to agree with Channel 4 economics editor Paul Mason when he describes the sharing economy a la Uber and Airbnb as “a misnomer.”  Yes, their offer involves sharing to the extent that it’s access over ownership but, as Mason points out, also in November’s Marketing,  “it’s rent seeking”, for existing (surplus) or new (bought for the purpose) car/living space, “not sharing”.

The wider sharing imperative here seems to centre on setting out to do good things and doing what you say you are going to do. Today’s consumers want doers not talkers, utility over messaging. Again, not new perhaps but the stakes have never been higher, on the upside and the downside. There is no hiding place for brands any more.

Fortunately, there are positive signs. ‘Brand purpose’ is in vogue. Enlightened businesses are committing to responsible consumption, brought to life by accountability for actions which address loftier objectives than sales targets.  There is even a Marketing Week top 100 list for brand purpose, highlighting companies which focus on ‘doing well by doing good’, headed by Unilever whose corporate goal is ‘to make sustainable living commonplace’.

In this tangible and transparent sense brands can be agents of real sharing, adopting behaviour which will both generate rapport, particularly among those who will be forging the future, and deliver commercial return. As Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer, has said: “You cannot have a healthy business in an unhealthy society.”

Where the online environment can help with this broadening of the sharing economy is in a more qualitative use of big social data, especially given the alarming increase in the use of ad blocking technology when browsing the web. With consumers very much in the driving seat, guided more by people they trust who share information for free than by formal brand communication, it still surprises a specialist agency like Freemavens (interestingly their purpose is ‘being a change agent for a fairer form of capitalism’) just how dismally this opportunity is exploited by many brands.  Despite the evidence, the quantitative obsession with collecting followers and likes is alive and well.

Adopting a more scientific approach, the Freemavens technology scours the billions of online conversations for relevant intelligence, identifies brand advocates and then works alongside these ‘new persuaders’ to trigger further peer-to-peer storytelling, helping create a virtuous circle of changed brand behaviour and improved brand advocacy. This is another example of real sharing in action, to mutual benefit.

The new Sainsbury’s TV spot ends with a seasonal reminder that ‘Christmas is for sharing.’ But sharing is not just for Christmas. Let’s hope that we are witnessing the establishment of a real sharing economy, driven by businesses and brands, prefacing a more co-operative future for us all.

Vive la France!