AirBNB: How sofa-surfing helps the environment

When we started Airbnb back in 2008, we knew that home sharing would bring many benefits to both individuals and society. There are clear economic benefits in the extra money our hosts make through sharing their home as well as the extra spending from visitors staying longer in cities (in the U.K., we estimated this economic impact at $842.8 million in 2013). There are also many social benefits from people opening their homes to other people, creating a sense of belonging and, in many cases, lifelong friendships. And finally, we always have believed there is a clear environmental benefit from simply using resources (our homes) more efficiently.

In the same way that we've measured and quantified the economic impact of Airbnb in cities around the world, we also wanted to start to better understand what the environmental impact looks like. It's even bigger than we could have imagined.

We worked with Cleantech Group, which analyzed survey responses from Airbnb hosts and guests as well as conducting research into residential and hotel sustainability levels and practices. In comparing homes with hotels, which are purpose-built for visitor accommodation, they were able to measure the energy, water and CO2 savings of choosing this option when travelling.

The sharing economy saves resources

In Europe, CTG found that Airbnb guests use 78 percent less energy than hotel guests — that's enough energy to power 68,000 homes for one year. Staying in an Airbnb listing also produces 89 percent less greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road.

Hotels consume a great deal of water from washing towels and sheets to maintenance and operations. Cleantech Group found that in a single year, guests staying on Airbnb in Europe saved enough water to fill 1,100 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Our community is also environmentally aware. Less than half of Airbnb hosts provide single-use toiletries, and Airbnb guests are 10 to 15 percent more likely to use public transportation, walk or bicycle as their primary mode of transport. 89 percent of our European hosts provide recycling options for their guests.

Of course, hotels have done much to reduce their environmental impact in recent years and many best practices may be learned from their efforts. We also know that many people want to travel with sustainability in mind and we hope that this study can help inform their choices.

In our economic studies, we have seen that Airbnb allows individuals to travel more or stay longer when using Airbnb, so we wanted to address the environmental side of the impact as well. Cleantech Group looked at this and found that choosing to homeshare still far outweighs the impact of induced or additional travel.

Sharing opens the door to …

The fact is that we cannot as a society go on consuming the resources we have been. The sharing economy is opening the door to a far more efficient way of using what we already have. And in the case of our homes, our research now shows just how much more sustainable this can be as a means of travelling. We're thrilled by the positive impact we're already having and look forward to tracking this more closely as we continue to grow.

Top image of Brussels Airbnb by jason carlin via Flickr. This article first appeared at BusinessGreen Plus.