Airbnb Employs Green Sheen In Regulation Battle


By Jonny Wakefield

August 7, 2014

Airbnb is playing the green card as part of its latest PR offensive. The short-term room rental service recently released the results of a study it commissioned into the environmental impact of Airbnb compared to traditional hotels.  

Airbnb operates a smartphone app and online service that connects travelers with hosts offering short-term rentals. The study is the latest volley in the fight between Airbnb and traditional hotelier's associations, who claim, among other things, that Airbnb skirts existing tax laws.

The service, which has the potential to further disrupt the traditional hotel market, is currently in limbo as cities across North America decide how to regulate it. The city of Portland, Oregon recently "legalized" Airbnb by creating a permitting and inspection regime, as well as new rules to combat absentee landlords. Some analysts expect other cities might use Portland's laws as a template.

The environmental study, which was carried out by Cleantech Group, claims that on average, guests consume less energy and generate less waste when staying with an Airbnb host.

The study compared Airbnb to hotel giants Marriott and Hilton. According to the study, Airbnb in 2013 "saved the equivalent of 270 Olympic-sized pools of water while avoiding the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 33,000 cars on North American roads."

Cleantech also reported that, on average, Airbnb guests were more likely to use public transit and own energy efficient appliances. Around 8,000 Airbnb users responded to the survey.   

But the study's exact methodology is still a mystery. 

As of July 31, Airbnb had declined requests from media outlets to publish the full results of the study, instead referring them to a press release. As the tech website VentureBeat noted, "many of the factors considered appear to rest on anecdotal evidence, and it's comparing results from the survey with separate research results — not exactly a recipe for generating scientific results."

In other words, the study compared hard data on hotels from public records against the results of a self-selecting survey.  

Ultimately, it seems the question is not so much whether Airbnb is greener than traditional hotels, but whether sustainability will weigh on the minds of the politicians making decisions on how to regulate disruptive new business models like Airbnb.