In its 13 years of existence, Airbnb has grown from a minnow to a whale in holiday accommodation. Today, it offers more than 5.6 million active listings across 220 countries and regions. In Australia, Airbnb lists 346,581 spaces — that’s 4% of Australia’s total housing stock.
Tourists often perceive Airbnb as having a relatively small environmental footprint compared with other forms of holiday accommodation. Airbnb reinforces this view, saying “home sharing promotes more efficient use of existing resources and is a more environmentally sustainable way to travel”.
But our study, published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, suggests Airbnb has a bigger carbon footprint than many realise.
Assessing Airbnb’s direct, indirect and induced carbon footprint in Sydney
We focused our study on the Sydney Airbnb market. Our calculations factored in things like electricity, household equipment, water and other energy, transport, communications, goods and services and so on.
In Sydney, we calculated Airbnb.com and its hosts generate direct and indirect carbon emissions of between 7.27 and 9.39 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) per room and night – about the same as an economy hotel.
The carbon footprint increases when we include what’s called “induced carbon emissions”. They result from Airbnb hosts spending their extra Airbnb income on purchasing additional goods and services to improve customer service for their guests, and to improve their own living standards.
Our study modelled various induced carbon emissions scenarios.
If Airbnb hosts put all their extra income into a savings account rather than spending it on goods and services, the carbon footprint of Airbnb ranges from 11 to 13 kg CO₂e per room per night.
But if hosts spend all their extra income from Airbnb, the total carbon emissions can reach 602 kg CO₂e per room and night – as much as is generated by taking a flight in economy class from Sydney to Auckland.
When you include direct, indirect and induced carbon footprint, the average carbon footprint for an Airbnb room is 44-46kg CO₂e per room and night – about as much as is generated by driving a large petrol car from Sydney to Wollongong.
This analysis shows most tourist accommodation — be it Airbnb or traditional hotel accommodation — comes with sizeable greenhouse emissions. Collectively, accommodation accounts for about 1% of global emissions and 20% of tourism emissions.
The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance suggests hotels reduce their carbon emissions by 90% per room to be consistent with the 2℃ threshold under the Paris Agreement.
This is an excerpt from an article by Angelo Sciacca, originally published on The Conversation.