Airbnb’s carbon footprint is probably bigger than you think
In its 13 year history, Airbnb has gone from minnow to whale in vacation accommodation. Today it offers more than 5.6 million active lists in 220 countries and regions. In Australia, Airbnb lists 346,581 spaces – that’s 4 percent of Australia’s total housing stock.
Tourists Often consider Airbnb to have a relatively small environmental footprint compared to other forms of vacation accommodation. Airbnb strengthens this view, saying “Sharing the home promotes a more efficient use of existing resources and is a more environmentally sustainable way to travel.”
But our study, published in the Sustainable tourism journalsuggests that Airbnb has a larger carbon footprint than many realize.
Assessment of Airbnb’s direct, indirect and induced carbon footprint in Sydney
We focused our study on the Sydney Airbnb market. Our calculations took into account items such as electricity, household equipment, water and other energies, transport, communications, goods and services, etc.
In Sydney, we calculated that 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 per night, or roughly the even that a budget hotel.
The carbon footprint increases when we include what is called “induced carbon emissions“. They result from the fact that Airbnb hosts spend their additional Airbnb income to purchase additional goods and services in order to improve customer service for their customers and improve their own standard of living.
Our study modeled various scenarios of induced carbon emissions.
If Airbnb hosts put all of their extra income in a savings account rather than spending it on goods and services, Airbnb’s carbon footprint ranges from 11 to 13 kg CO₂e per room per night.
But if hosts spend all of their extra Airbnb income, the total carbon emissions can reach 602 kg CO₂e per room, per night – as much as what is generated by taking a flight in economy class from Sydney to Auckland.
When you include the direct, indirect and induced carbon footprint, the average carbon footprint of an Airbnb room is 44 to 46 kg CO₂e per room per night – about as much as that generated by driving a large gasoline car from Sydney to Wollongong.
Global environmental impacts
This analysis shows that most tourist accommodation – whether Airbnb or a traditional hotel – emit significant greenhouse gas emissions. Collectively, accommodation accounts for about 1 percent of global emissions and 20 percent of tourism emissions.
the Sustainable hotel alliance suggests that hotels reduce their carbon emissions by 90% per room to be consistent with the 2 seuil threshold of the Paris Agreement.
Our analysis shows that most tourist accommodation – whether Airbnb or a traditional hotel – have significant greenhouse gas emissions. Photo: Shutterstock
The impact of COVID-19
To cover their daily expenses, many Airbnb hosts have sought refuge in the long-term rental market. Investor hosts, who bought or rented a property to earn money in the short-term rental market, were particularly affected.
In some areas, many are now slowly return to accommodation. As countries around the world achieve high population immunization rates, travel restrictions will eventually be lifted and travel will explode again. It is therefore important to think carefully about the environmental impact of the tourism sector.
A sustainable tourism future
There is no clear path to a truly environmentally sustainable future for tourism in general, and peer-to-peer accommodation in particular. Airbnb is here to stay. For its part, Airbnb has sworn to “set a new standard for sustainable travel”, saying:
We measure the carbon footprint of Airbnb’s corporate operations and the carbon footprint of travel facilitated by the Airbnb platform. Measuring Our Impact informs our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and set a new standard for sustainable travel.
Carbon emissions are an inevitable consequence of the Airbnb industry, but Airbnb hosts can do a lot, including:
invest their income in measures for the sustainability of their property, such as rainwater tanks, solar panels, solar batteries and composting systems
opting for electricity or gas certified carbon neutral
providing small appliances such as toasters, sandwich makers or air fryers and a meal idea book to inspire people to prepare food without waste instead of ordering take out food
encourage their customers to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Camping is an excellent, less polluting alternative to staying in a hotel or on Airbnb. Photo: Shutterstock
And if you’re a vacationer, consider ways to make your own tourism more sustainable. Camping is a great, low-emissions alternative to staying in a hotel or on Airbnb, and spending a vacation closer to you also reduces your carbon footprint.
Airbnb has 5.6 million active listings worldwide. This represents 5.6 million opportunities to reduce carbon emissions. It should also be noted that Airbnb.com is a very effective communication platform. Airbnb could use it to give hosts simple ideas on how to reduce their carbon emissions, many of which would likely save hosts money in the long run.