The research, which has already started, is now entering a new phase with the call for participation in a recently launched survey (Photo: Freepik)
Joan Antoni Guerrero
The authors of the research launch a survey of the users of sharing economy platforms classified by the Spanish consumer organization OCU
Can sharing economy platforms like Wallapop, Uber and Airbnb be considered sustainable? Can they have a positive impact on the planet? The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) Faculty of Economics and Business is conducting research on how these platforms are used and on how consumers behave. "Finding out about collaborative applications and how they are used can take us towards a consumer model that is not linked to the large multinationals," explained Cintia Pla, member of faculty and of the MeL - Management & eLearning research group. She is one of the researchers working on the project, together with Doris Morales and Irene Esteban.
The study will also examine how consumption through these platforms can become "a more rewarding experience" as users lose track of time and find pleasure in "browsing the products available". Pla explains that this mental state, which is also found among people who are really focusing on something, like athletes, is known as 'flow' – a concept that has been described by scientists in the past. The UOC's research aims to study this aspect of collaborative platforms in greater depth, based on users' opinions.
Launch of a survey aimed at users of collaborative platforms
The research, which has already started, is now entering a new phase with the call for participation in a recently launched survey. As regards the objectives of the survey, Pla says that the project "aims to obtain a range of results to enhance our knowledge about the Sharing Economy," which is a topic of interest throughout the Faculty of Economics and Business. Anyone who uses a sharing economy platform can take part in the survey.
The authors would like the research to be as extensive as possible, and not limited to a few platforms. "At the very least," said Pla, "we aim to give the people who answer the survey the opportunity to find the platform they use the most, and where they feel most comfortable." Since there is a very wide range of platforms, the authors of the study decided to focus on the 400 identified by the Spanish Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) in a total of six areas: hobbies, accommodation, money, home, mobility and second-hand goods.
How does the study determine whether a sharing economy platform contributes to sustainability?
Several criteria are taken into account when determining whether a platform contributes to sustainability. Pla explained that "if it helps save natural resources, if it enables sustainable consumption, if it's ecological, if it's energy efficient, and if it's environmentally friendly" are the factors taken into account. Wallapop, for example, "enables sustainable consumption" because it "avoids the production of other items of clothing, accessories, furniture, baby care items, etc., which are products that if they are not reused would create more environmental pollution, more waste and energy use when they are produced".
Some of these platforms have been the subject of controversy, such as Airbnb, but there are nevertheless some criteria that can place them in the 'sustainable' category. Airbnb contributes to the "reuse of space", which "partially avoids the need to build more accommodation". However, as Pla acknowledged, "on the other hand, it can also create more waste if the residents are not respectful and do not follow the platform's rules concerning behaviour and cleanliness".
The first phase of the research has concluded with a literature review and interviews with experts. The survey is currently in the roll-out phase, and the data will be analysed using structural equation modelling once the responses have been collected. The project aims to obtain conclusions that can be disseminated in the future through the different channels used by the UOC's Faculty of Economics and Business. "We believe that we can make progress towards achieving SDG 12, concerning responsible consumption and production, and particularly towards responsible consumption, a more sustainable consumption, which makes use of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle," said Pla.
This research projects fosters achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 12, Responsible production and consumption, and 13, Climate action.
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.
Over 500 researchers and more than 50 research groups work in the UOC's seven faculties, its eLearning Research programme and its two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).
The university also develops online learning innovations at its eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer via the Hubbik platform.
Open knowledge and the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu.
Researcher in the MeL group