Environmental potential of the collaborative economy

Collaborative platforms, such as Airbnb, Blablacar and Peerby, have changed the ways in which goods and services are offered and consumed in the economy.  Through such platforms owners can rent out something they are not using, such as a car, house or bicycle to a consumer.

But if consumers have the choice to rent rather than buy what does this mean for the economy? Will consumption fall?  Will this trend lead to fewer negative impacts on the environment?

A number of studies have analysed the drivers, impacts and scope of the collaborative economy. Some of them point to positive environmental impacts of such platforms.  However, this study provides a systematic, qualitative and quantitative analysis of the impacts of the collaborative economy.

The specific objective was to assess and quantify the net environmental impact and the socioeconomic potential of the collaborative economy today and in the future (towards 2030).

The study focused on three key areas: transport, tourism and durable goods and then developed five in-depth case studies.  Life-Cycle Assessment and macro-econometric modelling were applied and the main conclusions were as follows:

  • the size (market share) of the collaborative economy in Europe is still small, despite the rapid growth in some known platforms, with future environmental impacts likely to remain small-scale when compared to the overall economy
  • collaborative and traditional models are expected to converge
  • environmental and socioeconomic benefits at transaction level are less clear at sector or macro level where several processes take place in different directions
  • in some cases, environmental gains at business level can reduce or cancel out at macro level due to environmental impacts associate with rebounds in consumer spending (from higher income and/or cost savings from collaborative economy).  However, rebound effects also compensate for some of the production and job losses induced by the collaborative economy
  • the potential to reduce energy use and emissions is the largest in case of transport, where car-sharing can cut the number of cars and the total distance travelled by the vehicles

This study was conducted by a consortium consisting of Trinomics, VVA, VITO and Cambridge Econometrics on behalf of DG Environment, European Commission.

Unnada Chewpreecha Principal Economic Modeller uc@camecon.com