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Mon, Feb 12



The Sharing Economy is Not Always Greener: A Review and Consolidation of Empirical Evidence

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The Sharing Economy is Not Always Greener: A Review and Consolidation of Empirical Evidence
The Sharing Economy is Not Always Greener: A Review and Consolidation of Empirical Evidence

Time & Location

Feb 12, 2024, 7:00 PM

Washington, Washington, DC, USA

About the event

The Sharing Economy is Not Always Greener: A Review and Consolidation of Empirical Evidence 

Tamar Meshulam, Sarah Goldberg, Diana Ivanova, and Tamar Makov,

December 2023

Published in: Environmental Research Letters

Rapid innovation and wide-scale adoption of information and communication technologies have recently enabled the rise of a digital sharing economy in which individuals can buy, resell, rent, or share their underutilized assets with peers. Although both non-monetized and monetized sharing of underutilized assets is a longstanding practice within social networks, digital technologies have reduced transaction costs, removed barriers-to-entry, and lowered the risk of sharing with strangers by incorporating crowd-sourced reputational data. As a result, the sharing economy has expanded significantly since its introduction in the 1990s. Growing from $15 billion in 2014 to $113 billion in 2021, it is expected to reach $600 billion by 2027. Digital sharing platforms have proliferated into almost every domain of consumption.

Many have argued that by severing the link between ownership and access, the digital sharing economy may herald a revolution, or at least a major disruption, in traditional consumption and production systems. The digital sharing economy is commonly thought to deliver environmental benefits through more efficient use of existing product stocks, including from vacant apartments, unoccupied car seats, and edible yet unwanted food. Yet while intuition suggests that sharing increases use intensity and is thus preferable from an environmental standpoint, the cost savings and convenience offered by sharing platforms can trigger additional use, ultimately resulting in more rather than fewer environmental impacts.

Despite widespread adoption of sharing platforms, tremendous growth in investments, and controversies over emerging regulation, research into the environmental impacts of sharing is relatively limited. For example, although there are several published literature reviews on the sharing economy, they mostly survey the research landscape and identify knowledge gaps. A comprehensive synthesis of reported empirical findings on the environmental impacts of sharing across domains is still lacking.

In this study the authors use a systematic literature review to assess the research landscape and examine published results regarding the environmental impacts of the digital sharing economy. Reviewing over 2,250 academic papers and conference proceedings they analyze 155 empirical papers which directly deal with digital sharing and assess its environmental impacts. To the best of our knowledge this work presents the first attempt at an organized synthesis and consolidation of published empirical findings of the environmental impacts of the digital sharing economy.


The review confirms that only a small share of the growing body of work on the sharing economy deals with the environmental impacts of sharing. Shared mobility is by far the most well studied while research into the environmental impacts of goods or accommodation sharing remains less common. In terms of environmental impacts, the empirical body of work reviewed here reports mixed results, while about half of the papers reported that sharing is environmentally preferable to prevalent consumption modes (50%), over a third reported the opposite (34%), and the remaining reported mixed results (16%). Placing these results on a chronological axis reveals that the share of negative and mixed results increased over time.

Exploring factors that could potentially affect the environmental performance of sharing platforms, the authors find that results vary by domain. Specifically, goods sharing studies tend to report more favorable results compared to accommodations, shared scooters and ride-hailing which emerge as exceptionally harmful domains.

The results of this review results reveal that environmental impact scores are worse for studies examining larger platforms (measured as a function of the company’s monetary value) compared to papers focusing on smaller platforms (62% negative for large platforms compared to 21% for small and medium ones).

To understand if and how research design choices affect reported results, various features related to the study design were examined. Added operations had a significant effect and led to more negative results when accounted for. Taking into account displacement, or a counterfactual reality without sharing and referencing the alternative consumptionhad mixed effects. In ride-hailing displacement had a negative effect, as many platform users substituted walking and public transportation for ride-hailing. In contrast, within bike sharing displacement seemed to positively affect reported results, as some of the shared bike rides would displace more carbon intensive transport modes. Within car sharing, displacement had mixed results, depending on user profiles. For car dependent users, participating in car sharing lowered emissions but for car free users, car sharing increased emissions.

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