The size of the potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions hinges on the indirect effects of how these benefits are used (the so-called rebound effect). That is to say, how the consumer uses the extra funds received by sharing or using a product or service. The environmental benefits are relatively small when lending smaller consumer durables or buying services, for example.
The study, conducted by VISTA Analyse on behalf of the Nordic Environment and Economy Group at the Nordic Council of Ministers, presents a compilation of various existing sharing economy initiatives in the Nordic countries, as well as an analysis of initiatives in four specific sectors and their potential for reducing the burden on the environment.
Car sharing collectives can make a difference
The greatest potential environmental benefits are to be found in the transport sector. A life-cycle analysis of a regular car clearly demonstrates that the biggest environmental impact comes from the emissions produced when driving.
“A car sharing collective replaces an average of between four and thirteen individually owned cars and often reduces the number of kilometres a household that is a member of the collective drives each year. Cars in a car sharing collective are often more modern with lower emission levels. A reduction in the number of cars reduces congestion, noise, and emissions in urban environments, where traffic problems are often greatest,” says John Magne Skjelvik at Vista Analyse.
The provision of private accommodation offers environmental benefits in that private households generally consume less energy than hotels, whose service facilities require more energy.
First findings from a new research area
Demand for air travel is typically very sensitive to changes in income and price, which means that demand for air travel rises more than increases in income or reductions in price. This would indicate that a gain from lower accommodation prices would more likely be used for air travel than for other goods and services.
“Research on the sharing economy and the experiences of the Nordic countries is still limited because the sharing economy still represents a very small part of the Nordic countries’ total economy. This study breaks new ground and paves the way for new studies,” says the chair of the Environment and Economy Group Signe Krarup.
Signe notes that the climate impact of sharing economy initiatives hinges on whether emissions are covered by any climate policy instruments or not. Yet various initiatives in the sharing economy in the Nordic countries show there is considerable potential to provide consumers with various benefits and which may also improve economic efficiency.
“It’s important to review whether each country has regulations that suppress the introduction of sharing economy initiatives, and which could possibly be removed or updated with a more effective means of control,” says Krarup.