In our cities, a plethora of sharing and collaborative activities emerge and flourish. Since they are most prominent in urban areas, where the concentration of people and resources in close geographical proximity offers favourable conditions for growth, we refer to these activities as urban sharing organisations. They are designed in different ways and vary in terms of size (from global short-term rental platforms to local clothes libraries), market orientation (from for-profit car-sharing companies to non-profit tool pools) and organisational form (from municipal bicycle sharing schemes to umbrella sharing businesses to community-based toy libraries). All these initiatives are transforming urban production and consumption systems in both positive and negative ways as they bring along economic, social and environmental impacts. The ways in which urban sharing organisations are understood, accepted and used by citizens, policymakers, municipalities and other urban actors, in turn, define their geographical spread, size and scale, and their consideration in municipal strategies, agendas and regulations.
Research programme Urban Sharing at Lund University, Sweden, funded by European Research Council (Grant Agreement # 771872) and led by Prof. Oksana Mont, explores the design, sustainability of practices and institutionalisation pathways of urban sharing organisations across five cities: Amsterdam, Melbourne, Seoul, Shanghai and Toronto. The programme spans over five years, and on September 1, 2020, we celebrated two years since its inception. With this blog, and on behalf of the Urban Sharing team, I would like to introduce the readers of Shareable to a few of our recent research outputs. We hope that these will be of use to a variety of audiences including urban sharing organisations, sharing advocacy groups, municipal governments, scientists working on the topics of sharing and circular economy, users of the sharing economy and other people interested in the subject.
Urban Sharing programme delivers general outputs that critically depict the world of urban sharing as well as examines three important aspects of urban sharing:
- design of urban sharing organisations;
- sustainability impacts of urban sharing organisations; and
- institutionalisation pathways that guide sharing in cities.
The rest of this blog summarises the outputs from Urban Sharing programme following the above structure.
General Outputs from Urban Sharing Programme
During its two years, Urban Sharing research team produced many academic and popular science publications. In particular, it delivered two full city reports on urban sharing in Amsterdam and Toronto. From these reports, the readers can learn about the landscape of the sharing economy in each city context. Specific focus is on three sectors: sharing of space, mobility and physical goods. For each sector, we discuss the drivers for and barriers to the sharing economy, the associated sustainability impacts, the potential impacts on incumbent sectors, and the institutional context of sharing. Then, attention is turned to the role of city councils in engaging with the sharing economy and specific governance mechanisms and roles employed by the city councils are described. Insights contained within these reports may support the Cities of Amsterdam, Toronto and other Sharing Cities, as well as urban sharing organisations and third-party actors in their strategic work with the sharing economy for sustainability. Our team is currently finalising the first edition of the Shanghai city report, and we have recently started collecting data on urban sharing in Melbourne.
For those who would like to have a quick taste of urban sharing landscapes, municipal governance of sharing, drivers for and barriers to sharing, environmental, social and economic sustainability, and the role of citizens in sharing, we would like to refer to our two-page popular science snapshot reports. In Urban Sharing programme, we developed these for Amsterdam, Toronto and Shanghai, but through our other research projects (for example, Sharing and the City and Urban Sharing: From Excess Economy to access economy) the readers can also access the snapshots of urban sharing in Gothenburg, Malmö, London, Berlin and San Francisco.
In 2020, we launched a Special Issue in the Journal of Cleaner Production called “A decade of the sharing economy: Concepts, users, business and governance perspectives”. This issue seeks to advance the research field by focusing on four research areas: 1) understanding the sharing economy conceptually; 2) user perspectives on the sharing economy; 3) business perspective on the sharing economy; and 4) urban governance perspective on the sharing economy. The twenty articles in this issue discuss sustainability implications of the sharing economy from different perspectives, in various geographical contexts, and drawing on a range of disciplines.
To communicate our research to broader audiences, we have contributed to a podcast episode “Scooters, Sharing & Sustainability” and to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Sharing Cities: Governance and Urban Sustainability”, which was developed at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), Lund University, Sweden, and funded through the Sharing Cities Sweden project. The podcast episode discusses the sharing economy broadly before focussing on business models in the sharing economy. It critically elaborates on aspects of the sharing economy that are more likely to lead to more sustainable consumption. The Sharing Cities MOOC connects the sharing economy, cities, governance and urban sustainability to provide unique knowledge and insights into sharing cities. Among other learning activities, it features a series of five films on municipal governance of the sharing economy, which were introduced to Shareable readers in 2019.
Design of Urban Sharing Organisations
The sharing economy is not sustainable by default; therefore, we must be strategic and deliberate in how we design sharing economy business models. A PhD candidate in Urban Sharing programme Steven Curtis has been exploring the design of sharing economy business models. Early 2020, the team published a scientific article, using morphological analysis to describe these business models. This paper has been translated into Sharing Platform Workbook, a popular science publication intended to support sharing platforms, managers, policymakers, and interested citizens to describe and design sharing economy business models. Currently, Steven works on establishing business model patterns in the sharing economy to support business model innovation and overcome the design-implementation gap. This research is in progress, but he is excited to discuss his latest results with interested parties.
Sustainability Impacts of Urban Sharing Organisations
Urban sharing organisations expand rapidly and affect sustainability in cities through their economic, social and environmental impacts. Urban Sharing team developed a framework to assess the social impacts of sharing platforms, which is presented in a scientific article in a leading journal co-authored by Steven Curtis, Oksana Mont, Jagdeep Singh and Alexandra Kessler. The framework builds on the four social aspects – trust, empowerment, inclusivity and social justice. Future research will seek to operationalise the tool in collaboration with sharing platforms. We are looking for volunteer platforms who are interested to assess their social sustainability impacts with our framework and help us operationalise it into a user-friendly and useful tool.
Urban sharing researchers Dr Andrius Plepys and PhD candidate Ana Maria Arbelaez Velez assess environmental impacts of the sharing economy. In particular, they evaluated direct environmental impacts from the use phase of personal mobility options in Amsterdam. Environmental policies in the mobility sector in Amsterdam support changes in travel behaviour and increased use of car sharing, in particular. Under their supervision, two outstanding MSc theses were produced on the topic. In his MSc thesis, Samuel Kalb quantified and compared consumption induced carbon emissions of car-sharing users with those who do not use shared cars in Berlin and Hamburg. In her MSc thesis, Emma Johnson performed a life cycle assessment of rental services for formal dresses in Stockholm. Her results indicate that user behaviour is a key factor in the emissions, and the choice of transportation mode to collect and return dresses matters.
Institutionalisation Pathways that Guide Sharing in Cities
Finally, yet importantly, we try to understand how urban sharing organisations become institutionalised, i.e. how sharing becomes a part of our everyday lives and a part of municipal agendas, strategies and regulations. Specifically, Lucie Zvolska, Oksana Mont and Yuliya Voytenko Palgan published a scientific article and a book chapter in the Handbook of the Sharing Economy, which explored the mechanisms of institutional work used by urban sharing organisations and municipalities to institutionalise the sharing economy. PhD candidate Lucie Zvolska is currently exploring how the sustainability of the sharing economy is framed in Amsterdam and Toronto in accommodation, car and bike-sharing segments across three actor groups.
We have been also exploring how municipalities govern urban sharing organisations across cities for which we have developed a framework. The framework includes five municipal governance mechanisms (regulating, providing, enabling, self-governing and collaborating) divided into 11 roles. Last year, I developed a series of blogs for Shareable with one blog introducing one governance mechanism. We have compared the governance approaches by the eight municipalities and suggest reasons for why these approaches differ. This research is presented in an article in a leading scientific journal and submitted as a book chapter for an edited collection The Sharing Economy: Perspectives, Opportunities and Challenges. With this work, we argue that there are many more ways of governing urban sharing organisations apart from regulating. Specifically, small scale local initiatives, which are often non-for-profit or community-based, need other governance approaches to support and advance their environmental and social values.
This blog is based on the research done in three research projects. Urban Sharing: Sustainability and Institutionalisation research programme is led by Professor Oksana Mont and it received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 771872). Sharing and the City is led by Associate Professor Yuliya Voytenko Palgan and it is funded by Swedish Research Council Formas. Urban Sharing: From Excess Economy to Access Economy was led by Professor Oksana Mont in 2018-2018, and it received funding from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (grant number RIK16-1055:1). All projects are delivered at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), Lund University, Sweden.