Today I’m answering another one of your reader questions: what is AirBnB’s environmental impact?
The reader said, “I was recently shamed for using AirBnB…so, AirBnB or hotel?”
People love to hate AirBnB. Personally, I don’t stay in AirBnBs. A lot of my reasons why are in this blog post by Nomadic Matt. Even my apartment search was negatively impacted by AirBnB when I moved to Belarus!
Today we’ll look at AirBnB strictly from the environmental perspective, though.
AirBnB’s Environmental Impact, According to AirBnB
In 2018, AirBnB released an internal study analyzing the environmental-friendliness of the millions of homes available on AirBnB. According to their study, 88% of AirBnB hosts incorporate green practices into their hosting, such as environmentally-friendly cleaners, encouraging recycling or composting, and more.
AirBnB also reported that “66% of AirBnB guests say the environmental impacts of home sharing were important in their accommodation choice,” suggesting that over half of AirBnB users chose AirBnB because it’s more environmentally-friendly. Personally, I doubt this since the environmental impact of AirBnB was not widely publicized at the time of the study.
AirBnB hired Cleantech Group to analyze the eco-friendliness of staying in an AirBnB versus a traditional hotel. Cleantech found that AirBnB was significantly more eco-friendly in all aspects–water, energy, waste, etc.–than the traditional hotel.
I’m suspicious of studies paid for by the company being analyzed, but this result makes sense to me after considering how much energy and water hotels use on an hourly basis to keep all the services (pool, gym, bar, restaurant, check-in, lobby, daily linen and bedsheet changes, free breakfast, etc.) readily available. All of these resource-intensive services are removed with AirBnB.
The results from this study aren’t because AirBnB requires a certain level of environmentally-friendliness from homeowners, though. Rather, the business concept is inherently more eco-friendly. Staying in someone’s home, whether it’s a friend, homestay, or an AirBnB, is simply more eco-friendly.
Finally, AirBnB points out that several experiences and homes focus on sustainability (examples: Coral restoration in Bali or an earthen lodge in Japan). An overwhelming majority of AirBnB experiences and homes do not fall into this category though.
How AirBnB is Improving Its Environmental Impact
AirBnB hears travelers’ criticisms of the company’s impact on locals, guests, and the environment. They’re not deaf to users’ clamoring for more environmental efforts either.
As a result, AirBnB launched an online educational platform to teach guests and hosts how to make their stay/homes more environmentally-friendly. At least, that’s what they said.
The only “online educational platform” I could find were these three videos posted on YouTube and, after a lot of scrolling, on the blog-portion of their website. The videos teach hosts how to reduce food waste and energy usage in their homes.
Supposedly, AirBnB is developing a better guide and platform with the same goal of teaching hosts and guests how to live more sustainably.
I’m all about personal action and public education (that’s a large part of this blog), but a large company such as AirBnB has the financial ability to, and should, take more steps to “green-ify” their company. Plus, they’re not even widely advertising this resource! What good is the resource if no one uses it?
AirBnB is also analyzing the company’s total carbon footprint, including the footprint of their guests’ home stays.
Upon further investigation, this carbon footprint calculation is not out of good-will. AirBnB has to calculate their carbon footprint due to environmental regulation changes in the EU.
AirBnB’s Environmental Impact, According to Independent Sources
There aren’t many independent reviews on AirBnB’s environmental-friendliness. The two I found were disappointing. The first uses information directly from AirBnB and the second is a research study using data from CleanTech Group’s study paid for by AirBnB.
The research study rightfully mentions that using the sharing economy to travel decreases a traveler’s environmental impact. As I mentioned earlier, this is an inherent effect due to the business models instead of conscious efforts from the companies.
Is AirBnB Eco-Friendly?
While there are better accommodation options for sustainable travelers, such as hostels or search engine websites like Bookdifferent!, the ease of use and affordability of AirBnB is a huge draw. And, compared to a major hotel chain, AirBnB is more environmentally-friendly.
However, I think a lot of AirBnB’s sustainability efforts err on the side of green-washing. They’re taking the easy road of putting sustainability efforts on homeowners and guests instead of taking responsibility for the impact their business has. There are a lot of things AirBnB could do (ex. give homeowners a stipend for adding solar panels or switching to a renewable energy grid).
Additionally, sustainability means more than being green. I believe the impact AirBnB (and any business) has on the quality of life for locals should also be considered. In that area, and many others, AirBnB still fails.
I have steered clear of AirBnB for many years, but the research I did for this article has me reconsidering my personal ban.
Are there better options? Yes. Is AirBnB the worst option? No.
Ultimately, travelers must decide what the most sustainable option is (for locals, the environment, and themselves) for each individual scenario.
I see myself one day using AirBnB for unique stays in remote locations or as a homestay in villages. Maybe AirBnB is a more sustainable option than a hotel rooms for future vacations with my parents. It all depends.
Sustainability isn’t always obvious.
AirBnB’s environmental impact is a perfect example of this.
I encourage you to do the best you can and make an educated, well-researched decision on your accommodations while traveling.
If you’re a loyal AirBnB user, encourage AirBnB through email, phone calls, letters, and social media to pursue more responsibility on the impact AirBnB has on the environment.
If you have a question about sustainable travel, you can comment below, message me on Instagram, or email me.