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The Carbon Footprint of Airbnb

Project Leads

Professor of Sociology, Boston College


Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Northeastern University


Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University


Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Fairfield University

Project Description

The sharing economy, or app-based consumer services, constitute an increasing share of a city’s carbon emissions. These app-based consumer services include ride-hailing, delivery, and accommodation services. There are some studies that examine the impact of ride-hailing services on vehicle miles traveled and carbon emissions, however delivery and accommodations remain largely unexplored. In the case of accommodation services, Airbnb being the most popular, there is no independent research analyzing the impact that platform has on carbon emissions.

As Airbnb has grown, accommodations have spread out of urban centers where hotels are typically located and into suburbs and adjacent municipal areas. There are now more people traveling and they’re located further from the attractions they visit. This results in new and more carbon-intensive patterns of mobility within the city that municipal authorities have not accounted for in their climate plans. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, which has incentivized travelers to avoid public transit and public accommodations, like hotels, the impact of short-term rentals on intra-urban mobility is amplified.

In this project, the research team will be analyzing the spread of Airbnb locations, and the movement of guests from those accommodations to other places within the city. They will be drawing on two data sets, namely Airbnb listings and mobility data from cell phones and other personal electronics. Combining daily occupancy data for short-term rental units with mobility data from smart devices, they can identify short-term renters, chart their movements within cities, categorize their transportation modes, and estimate the emissions they generate. The researchers will then compare these emissions to visitors staying at hotels.

This will be the first study of the changing distribution of Airbnb listings and the associated mobility patterns of Airbnb guests. The researchers will compare the Airbnb urban markets in San Francisco to either Boston or Miami and provide data and recommendations for municipal authorities and ride-hailing firms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Project Status:

In progress

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