Sharing Economy: Hype or Promise?

"Collaborative consumption" (CC) can generate energy savings, but they are easily overestimated by neglecting potentially negative side effects. Potential savings can be identified and exploited with the help of appropriate knowledge-based measures at the context level as well as at the individual level.

  • Project description (completed research project)

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    In the public debate today, CC is often linked to energy savings. However, previous research on the sustainability of CC paid relatively little attention to this issue. Hence, in terms of energy savings, it is not yet clear whether CC is just so much hype or if it holds real promise.

  • Aim

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    This project analysed the energetic potential of CC, taking into account possible negative effects, such as rebound effects, examined factors that facilitate and hinder CC on both the supply and the demand side, evaluated a carpooling system and an accompanying package of marketing measures in a company in Switzerland and, finally, recommends practical measures to exploit the energy savings potential.

  • Results

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    The case study on carpooling (leisure time trips) revealed a short-term energy saving potential of 490,000 GJ (gigajoule) per year in Switzerland for carpooling. This is based on average energy savings of 1,500 MJ (megajoule) per person and year. However, in the case of carpooling in a company in Switzerland (Swiss Re), the corresponding savings are 13,600 MJ of energy per person and year. The difference can be explained by the fact that commuting trips constitute a daily routine, whereas leisure time trips are only a few per year and person.
    In contrast to carpooling, for Airbnb the overall energy balance shows an increase of +281 MJ per overnight stay.

    At the context level, the main obstacles for the dissemination and establishment of sharing platforms are sociocultural, legal and political factors and – for carpooling – the very well organised public transportation system in Switzerland.

    At the individual level, the findings can be put into the following action guidelines: make it visible; make it better than the alternative; make it easy to use; make it ethical; make it trustworthy.

  • Relevance

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    Implications for research

    To our knowledge this is the first study that evaluated the energy savings generated by carpooling and Airbnb while taking into account direct and indirect rebound effects as well as spill-over effects. Moreover, in contrast to most existing studies this work included a comprehensive psychological model to explain carpooling at the individual level.

    Implications for practice

    First, concerning energy savings the findings indicate that it is essential not to underestimate the potentially negative side effects. Second, concerning carpooling it is crucial to secure a critical mass – for example, by looking at a carpooling system that is offered by several companies close to each other. Nevertheless, the realistic potential of carpooling should be evaluated not only by theoretical matching parameters (number of employees, places of residence) but also, for example, by means of a survey. Third, the carpooling system itself should be as flexible as possible so that the user can enjoy the highest possible degree of independence. Forth, concerning Airbnb, working towards the original goal of sharing living space – instead of renting otherwise empty living space – may lead to a better use of the energy-saving potential. A consistent strategy jointly developed by all stakeholders could facilitate the acceptance of appropriate regulations.

  • Original title

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    Hype or Promise? The Contribution of Collaborative Consumption to Saving Energy