Groundbreaking Airbnb Carbon Impact Study Receives $55K Grant

Groundbreaking Airbnb Carbon Impact Study Receives $55K Grant

Tree lined urban street

Mehmet Cansoy, PhD represents Fairfield University in an interdisciplinary study, the results of which will help fight the effects of climate change in urban areas.

The Environmental Law Institute has given a $55,000 grant in support of "The Carbon Footprint of Airbnb: Do Lodging Platforms Raise Carbon Emissions?", a research project conducted by a four-person interdisciplinary team of social scientists and engineers that includes Mehmet Cansoy, PhD, assistant professor of sociology & anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield.

Dr. Mehmet Cansoy

Dr. Cansoy will study the mobility patterns of short-term visitors in major U.S. metropolitan centers alongside faculty from Boston College (Sociology Professor Juliet Schor, PhD, a past MacArthur Foundation grantee and research network member), and Northeastern University (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Professor Özlem Ergun, PhD, one of the nation’s top researchers in operations research and logistics; and Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Qi “Ryan” Wang, PhD, an expert in studying cell phone data and using it to model mobility). 

The project’s introduction explains that “as temperature rises, disasters accumulate, and climate impacts become more intense, government at every scale will have to do their part to reduce emissions. In recent years, cities have become an important part of the global climate response.”

“We have access to two big data sets that allow us to map Airbnb guests and their movement within cities: Airbnb listings and cell phone data,” Dr. Cansoy said. “Our research will be a valuable source for municipal authorities as they work to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and short-term rentals.”

This project will serve as the first-ever independent study of the contribution of short-term rentals to transit emissions in a number U.S. cities.

Currently at work analyzing the greater San Francisco area, Dr. Cansoy — whose research has long been focused on “gig-economies” and on the complicated intersections between technology and inequality — explained that there’s a widespread belief that lodging platforms are good for the climate. And Airbnb has made big, public claims that its activity reduces emissions.

But, according to the group’s preliminary research, a rapidly growing component of cities’ greenhouse gas emissions comes from what some have called the “sharing economy,” or app-based consumer services (Schor et al 2020, ch 4). These include ride-hail services like Uber and Lyft, delivery services, and accommodations.

“We have some studies of the impact of ride-hail on vehicle miles travelled and emissions (Barrios et al. 2018),” Dr. Cansoy’s project proposal explains. “However, delivery and accommodations remain largely unexplored.”

Dr. Cansoy, who has been teaching at Fairfield since 2018, said this project data will “help us understand a small but growing part of the complex phenomenon of urban emissions, which is critical if we intend to tackle climate change.”

He also added that the work “is methodologically very novel — using web-scraped data to track rentals, mobility data to identify individuals, algorithmically matching them to rental units and then estimating their carbon emissions based on how they move within the city. This has a lot of potential applications beyond our case and we hope that it can spark further research. Ideally, further interdisciplinary research like ours.”

The group intends to submit their final report and manuscript for publication in December of this year.

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Last modified: 08-20-21 11:33 AM

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