Consciously or unconsciously, the sharing economy (or collaborative economy) has provided many consumers with more and often cheaper alternatives of products and services in many sectors of the economy. During holidays we rent apartments with Airbnb, we borrow a ladder from a neighbour with Peerby, or we join a ride with a stranger to visit relatives in another city with Blablacar. Many of the collaborative economy platforms have marketed themselves as social and environmental enterprises. However, until now the information on the true environmental impact of these new business models has not moved beyond anecdotal evidence. With the help of Cambridge Econometrics, VITO and VVA, Trinomics was given the task to determine the true environmental impacts of the collaborative economy and identify under which conditions its development can contribute to the sustainable growth of the EU economy.
We used macro-econometric modelling and Life-Cycle Assessments to establish the environmental impacts both at a macro-economic level (for society as a whole) and at a transaction/platform level. Our findings?
- Most collaborative economy platform transactions provide a similar service to users as their traditional alternative, yet at a lower environmental impact overall. For some specific environmental impact categories however, the impact could also be worse.
- All collaborative economy transactions provide economic benefits to consumers as they offer them more variety of products and services and often include a cheaper alternative to satisfy the need for accommodation or mobility for example.
- The money that is saved is however also often spend on more consumption again, such that the environmental benefits are likely to be partly or fully counterbalanced by increased consumption in other areas (‘the rebound effect’).
For every transaction and platform the net overall outcome is however different and, as usual with these types of study, depends on the assumptions taken. Judge for yourself on the basis of our results by downloading the full report (here) or checking out our project page.