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Is Airbnb sustainable?

Airbnb & sustainability - is the concept still sustainable?

Is booking accommodation on the Airbnb platform sustainable? When I travel, I love getting personal contact with local people. And in my student days, I loved it just as much to offer strangers a place to sleep and show them around Berlin. But when I look at today's Airbnb offerings, I wonder if the project is still sustainable.

Here I'd like to share my thoughts on Airbnb's sustainability and how you can use the site in the most environmentally and socially friendly way possible, despite the criticisms.

  1. Definition
  2. Sustainability
  3. Use Airbnb sustainably
  4. Closing words

Tip: If you've formed an opinion and want to sign up with Airbnb, you can check out save 34€ here for your first booking.

What is Airbnb anyway?

Airbnb is a global platform where any registered user can rent out and book free living space.

Airbnb offers hosts and guests many opportunities. For example, hosts can earn a little extra income, offer people a place to live and bring them closer to their place of residence in their own way. Guests thus get a personal insight into the world of locals and benefit, for example, from real insider tips and not mass tourist 0815 recommendations.

But I see with the concept Airbnb also risks in that the basic idea is becoming increasingly commercialized. When many hosts no longer rent out their own apartments to local people on a monthly and long-term basis, but to tourists on an almost daily and short-term basis, social problems arise. The actual sustainability of Airbnb therefore needs to be looked at a little more closely.

Airbnb and sustainability

Airbnb and sustainability

Now I would like to examine the concept Airbnb again a little more thoroughly on sustainability. I'll just show you what I think is sustainable about Airbnb and what is not. First of all, here are a few facts about Airbnb using Berlin as an example, so that you can better understand it:

  • About every 240th apartment in Berlin is offered on Airbnb.₁
  • In Berlin, a total of 34,418 Airbnb sleeping spaces are offered.₂
  • The ten most successful Airbnb hosts from Berlin together rent out a total of 281 apartments.₃

It should be noted that Airbnb in Berlin has the most listings in Germany with 11,701 accommodations.₄

What is sustainable about Airbnb

There are good reasons for my enthusiasm in the basic concept of Airbnb and renting out free living space to people who need it. Here is a small compilation about it:

  • Vacant living space is used: If a living space (e.g. a room in a shared apartment) is empty over a weekend, weekend tourists can use it, for example. In the spirit of the sharing economy.
  • Personal host-guest level: The exchange between different cultures is one of the greatest advantages of the sustainable travel. As a guest, you will experience a destination more intensively if you get recommendations from a local host. While employees in hotel chains often direct you rather to the overcrowded sights.
  • Additional experiential offerings: Airbnb primarily promotes local experiences at the destination. When you book accommodation in Cape Town, for example, you'll get a tip to try paragliding or take a cooking class with locals.
  • Use of existing goods: The apartment itself, as well as kitchen utensils, furniture and other furnishings already exist and can thus be shared. This means that no new purchases are necessary and resources can be conserved.
  • Opportunities for rural hosts: Tourism exacerbates the situation in urban centers. Through Airbnb, people in the countryside also have an easy chance to make their usually large living space available to other people.

Notice: In rural places, where the offer is not yet so strong, I think Airbnb works very sustainably from the social aspect, because it promotes people in the region.

When does Airbnb lose sustainability?

The basic idea of Airbnb sounds absolutely fabulous - and creates so many incredible opportunities for our environment, but especially for our society. However, here are some things that argue against Airbnb being sustainable:

  • Airbnb and taxes: It is not only that Airbnb basically pays no taxes in Germany, but also that private hosts often pay no taxes. As a result, the host region naturally misses out on considerable tax revenue that could, however, be generated by a local hotel.
  • Tourist purposes instead of long-term housing: The temptation is there to prefer renting out one's own apartments to tourists for a lot of money on a short-term basis instead of making them available to residents for smaller incomes on a long-term basis. Accordingly, the basic idea of Airbnb is at risk.
  • Formation of monopolies: Airbnb is getting bigger and bigger - globally. Small hoteliers are the first to feel this and are virtually forced to advertise on Airbnb due to the high demand.
  • No sustainability filter: If the offer becomes increasingly commercialized, a filter for particularly sustainable accommodations would certainly be helpful. But currently (as of 06.02.2020) Airbnb does not (yet) offer this filter.

How you can also use Airbnb sustainably now

Use Airbnb sustainably - tips

So I do have a few worry lines when I think about Airbnb's sustainability. If the basic idea of sharing accommodations and authentic, personal experiences on site is to be preserved, Airbnb must now take countermeasures. But even as a host and as a guest, you have the chance to use the company's offer for more sustainability with the following tips.

As host

  • No disposable nonsense: The Zero Waste Lifestyle should naturally also have an impact on your behavior as a host. Therefore, refrain from using disposable plastic cups or other throwaways for your guests.
  • Rent personally and not automated: The temptation is great to make money with Airbnb. But please keep the basic idea of the foundation of Airbnb and make the stay a personal experience for your guests.
  • Rent out living space when you're not there: People are desperately looking for accommodation - and your apartment is empty anyway? Then you can also rent it out to others for a weekend. At least, that's what I always did with my old shared room.
  • Tax profits: If you act as a host, you usually also make profits. If your total taxable income exceeds the basic tax-free amount (in 2019 for single people 9.168€ and for 18.339€ for married people) you are liable to pay taxes. Deduct this income to support the growth of your region. Advertising costs, such as for cleaning, you can then also deduct.

As a guest

  • Only book accommodation from providers with a listing: Make sure that your host has not advertised ten other apartments. Because then he probably uses the opportunities of Airbnb unfortunately not sustainable, but commercial.
  • Consciously search for green accommodations: Even without a sustainability category on Airbnb, you can find green accommodations. Just pay attention to the description texts and search with "Ctrl + F" or "Cmd + F" for keywords like "sustainable" or "environmentally friendly".
  • Airbnb to point out sustainability: It doesn't always have to be a shitstorm! But with a simple email to Airbnb you can make it clear to the company that you want a category for particularly sustainable accommodations. The more people do this, the faster it will be introduced!
  • Recommend sustainable host to others: If you've found a great place to stay and an eco-friendly host, of course you can tell friends and communities about it on Facebook or Airbnb forums. This also brings about positive change.

Notice: For example, in order to maintain Airbnb's sustainability credentials, a Finnish company created the project zerobnb.com has been developed. There you will automatically be shown especially sustainable accommodations in Finland. The aim of such websites is to motivate Airbnb to provide a separate category for sustainable accommodation.

Registration

If you feel like offering accommodation to traveling people or would like to be a guest of others yourself, you can do so at the following contact points on Airbnb.com do

  • Host: If you would like to host other guests at your home, you can register as host here. (23€ credit for your first listing)
  • Traveler: If you want to stay in personalized accommodations at your travel destinations, you can register as guest here. (34€ discount for your first trip)

Is booking Airbnb accommodation sustainable now, or not?

The two major sustainable benefits of Airbnb for the environment and society are the use of already existing assets, the easy global exchange between different cultures and the support of local people. However, as soon as a host's focus shifts to profit maximization, Airbnb's sustainability is lost. Thus, the basic idea of using "free living space" quickly turns into a classic "accommodation".

As a guest, you should make sure to book only with providers who do not advertise masses of accommodation. Instead, search specifically for green accommodations. This way, you have a much better chance of having a very personal guest-host experience on site. To get Airbnb to quickly add a category for sustainable accommodations, you can push the company with a short email, for example.

What's your experience with Airbnb's sustainability - and what's your general take on it? I look forward to your comment.

Christoph from CareElite - Plastic-free living

PS.: Look you also with pleasure in the Nature Trip Germany Blog um. There I constantly upload new experiences from Germany's nature - because even here you can experience a lot without long journeys 🙂.

References:
₁,₂,₃,₄ J. Parnow, L. Vogel, A. Skowronnek: Airbnb VS Berlin, available at http://www.airbnbvsberlin.de. [05.02.2020].

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Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

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