Is sharing the solution? Exploring public acceptability of the sharing economy

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Advocated as a solution to a range of economic, environmental and social problems, the sharing economy has grown rapidly in recent years. However, despite rising up the political agenda, the concept has been increasingly critiqued in relation to unintended economic and social consequences. Whilst existing research has explored the motivations of existing participants in sharing-based practices and business models, little is yet known about wider public perceptions of the sharing economy. Investigating public discourses, this paper explores how citizens may respond to attempts to mainstream the sharing economy, discussing wider desires and concerns surrounding the concept. In a series of four two-day workshops (n = 51), we utilised deliberative research methods to engage participants in discussion surrounding the sharing economy and its role within a more sustainable, resource efficient future. Overall, positive perceptions dominated discussions, with participants independently highlighting reduced waste and resource use, increased access to unaffordable goods, and increased community cohesion as key benefits of sharing. However, echoing existing critiques, a number of concerns were also raised. Our findings suggest that, in addition to personal interests (such as affordability, convenience, and hygiene), public acceptability of the sharing economy was contingent on it meeting a number of broader social values. These include desire to: foster social equality, in relation to both the opportunity and benefits promised by the sharing economy; encourage and support the development of strong and independent local communities; and ensure that business practices operate fairly in the shared interest of business, consumers and the environment. Given the implications for everyday life and consumption practices, we argue public perspectives need to be given consideration within the debate surrounding which aspects of the sharing economy should, and should not, be fostered.

Keywords: sharing economy; sustainable consumption; public perceptions’ discourses; deliberative research

Less in, More out: Using resource efficiency to cut carbon and benefit the economy

UK emissions are currently expected to exceed the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but new research shows that resource efficiency could give a major boost to government climate policy: Less in, More out: Using resource efficiency to cut carbon and benefit the economy.

The government is considering a net zero carbon emissions target for 2050. But UK carbon emissions are currently projected to exceed legally binding carbon budgets in the 2020s and 2030s.

Government climate policy has been reducing emissions from running vehicles and heating and powering buildings, but it has so far ignored the huge source of emissions from how products are made and used.

Addressing this could reduce emissions by substantially more than other climate policies: between now and 2032, resource efficiency could save more than seven times as many emissions as the smart meter rollout and nearly three times as many as the Renewable Heat Incentive. This would allow the country to meet the fourth carbon budget and reduce excess emissions in the fifth by nearly 80 per cent.

Research from the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIEMAP), a collaboration of four UK universities, shows that action now to put less material into the production process and get more out of the materials used could cut UK carbon emissions by 200 MtCO2e by 2032 – equivalent to more than half of the UK’s annual CO2 emissions.

The analysis shows that five industrial sectors offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency, including:

  • Construction: this sector is the biggest source of potential savings through measures like using lower carbon building materials and increasing reuse. Efficiency gains in this sector alone could halve excess emissions in the fourth carbon budget period.
  • Vehicles: Major carbon savings could come from encouraging people to keep efficient cars, especially EVs and hybrids, for a few more years; the potential lifetime of a car is 20 years but the average car in the UK is driven for just 13 years.
  • Food and drink: Avoidable food waste in the UK not only costs the average household £700 a year, it is also estimated to be responsible for 19 million tonnes of CO2 each year – equal to emissions from a quarter of the country’s private car journeys.

At the same time, becoming more efficient would make businesses more productive and lower their costs, which will be increasingly important to UK industries competing globally post-Brexit.

Germany’s Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) has a target of doubling resource productivity by 2020. The report, published in partnership with Green Alliance, recommends the government follows Germany’s example, setting up sector specific ‘resource efficiency partnerships’ to speed up the identification of opportunities and spread innovation.


Libby Peake, senior policy adviser – resources, Green Alliance (available for interview), 020 7630 4529

Sector Analysis of Industrial Energy

Sector Analysis of Industrial Energy

Main findings
»» Reducing industrial energy demand could make a substantial contribution towards the UK Government’s goal of significant (80%) decarbonisation by 2050, whilst simultaneously improving productivity and creating employment opportunities.
»» The industrial sector in the UK accounts for some 21% of total delivered energy and 29% of CO2 emissions. Three sectors make up 50% of industrial emissions; Steel, Chemicals, and Cement.
»» Efficiency gains can be readily secured in industry, including those associated with the use of heat and with improvements in processing.
»» A set of selected ‘technology roadmaps’ have been developed in order to evaluate the potential deployment of the identified enabling technologies for the UK energy-intensive industries out to 2050.

Saving Energy through Resource Efficiency

Saving Energy through Resource Efficiency

Main findings
»» Resource efficiency has similar overall potential to save energy as industrial energy efficiency approaches.
»» There is a huge range of opportunities to improve resource efficiency.
»» The energy saving scopes of resource efficiency and energy efficiency complement each other.
»» Firstly “getting more out” of products, and then “putting less in” to them, maximises value capture and energy savings.
»» Significant additional potential energy savings are outside the scope of energy efficiency or traditional resource efficiency approaches.

Resource consumption, industrial strategy and UK carbon budgets

Resource consumption, industrial strategy and UK carbon budgets

Main findings
»» Reducing resource consumption could meet the UK’s 4th and 5th carbon budgets.
»» Based on the implementation of our resource consumption strategies, UK emissions in 2032 would be 361 MtCO2e, 55% below 1990 levels.
»» Cumulatively, by 2032 BEIS’ climate package will exhaust 68% of the UK’s legally-binding target.
»» If the UK adopts the aspirations of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, the climate package will have exhausted 78% of the 2050 budget by 2032.

Reducing carbon in construction: a whole life approach

Reducing carbon in construction: a whole life approach

The UK construction sector is failing to meet its carbon reduction targets and needs to explore additional mitigation options. The carbon emissions from heating and lighting our buildings (operational emissions) have been falling but these are not the only emissions arising from the built environment. Sizeable carbon emissions are incurred in constructing, maintaining and demolishing an asset and producing the materials and components used throughout its life cycle (embodied emissions). Considering both the anticipated operational and embodied emissions of a built asset is considered a whole life approach. To date the construction industry has mainly focussed on reducing operational emissions, driven by changes in the building regulations and planning requirements. Extending the focus of project carbon assessments and targets from operational to whole life emissions presents designers, clients and contractors with a broader range of mitigation options. The faster proliferation of a whole life approach should be supported by national and local policies for which there are a number of international precedents. Targeted intervention from national and local government could drive innovation in design teams and supply chains, improve sector productivity, reduce the costs of UK buildings and infrastructure, create employment opportunities, boost export markets and deliver immediate reductions in carbon emissions.

1. The Government should establish a well resourced independent body to develop and accelerate the construction sector’s decarbonisation agenda.
2. Local authorities should require assessment of whole life carbon emissions on significant schemes as part of the planning process.
3. All publicly funded building projects should include a whole life carbon assessment and whole life carbon targets where project benchmarks can be established.
4. The greenhouse gas emission reporting requirements for quoted companies should be extended to include scope 3 emissions associated with developing new facilities.
5. Product manufacturers should require Environmental Product Declarations to support environmental claims.

Resource Efficiency and the Circular Economy: What do the public think?

Resource Efficiency and the Circular Economy: What do the public think?

Main findings
» The public are willing and able to engage with debate around which aspects of resource efficiency should be fostered.
» People wanted to see a resource efficient future that protects the environment, the economy, and product quality.
» Many resource efficiency strategies, such as reducing packaging, increasing product repairability and longevity, and extending producer responsibility are already popular.
»Shared social values, such as fairness, trust, convenience, affordability and autonomy influence these preferences.

Raising consumer demand for longer lasting products: challenges and opportunities

Raising consumer demand for longer lasting products: challenges and opportunities

Main findings

Increasing uptake of longer lasting products has the potential to reduce carbon emissions, foster sustainable consumption and contribute to a circular economy, while supporting the UK Government’s economic and environmental aspirations in its industrial and clean growth strategies.

Consumer expectations of product lifetimes appear to have declined over the past 25 years, and are lower than those of their European counterparts.

Evidence of generally high levels of satisfaction with product lifetimes, with a mean satisfaction level of 81% across a range of durable goods, suggests a need for government and business-led initiatives to encourage the uptake of longer lasting products.

Substantial consumer interest in longevity, reliability and guarantee length could be supported through measures such as mandatory lifetime labelling and longer guarantees.

In order to increase consumer uptake of longer lasting products and lengthen use times interdisciplinary research is required, informed by fields of enquiry such as behavioural economics, marketing, social psychology and social practice theory.

Resource efficiency and lower carbon emissions through waste reduction

Resource efficiency and lower carbon emissions through waste reduction

Main findings

The reuse of discarded consumer goods improves resource efficiency, reduces carbon emissions and contributes to a circular economy. Reuse takes place through many different routes and involves many actors. This complexity makes monitoring and increasing reuse challenging.

Recycling is commonly preferred to reuse by waste managers, reflecting a systemic problem with the collection and handling of discarded goods.

A life-cycle approach is needed to increase reuse, from changing design to improving reverse logistics operations for discarded items.

Recovery routes and practices should enable discarded items to remain in good condition. Improved reverse logistics, including more convenient disposal points for unwanted goods, would benefit consumers and enable manufacturers to recover value from discarded items.

Recovery is generally limited at present to materials that are easily salvageable. Recycling processes need to recover critical raw materials present in small quantities.

Legislation should address barriers to repair, individual producer responsibility, and appropriate standards in the reuse sector.

Upcycling is mostly limited at present to small scale, craft based enterprises but has potential to be scaled-up considerably.

Information for consumers concerning repair, reuse and recycling remains inadequate. There is confusion around collection networks, particularly for small electrical goods, which often end up in residual waste streams.

Research Briefing Summary and Thank Yous

A summary of our research findings and impact

CIE-MAP’s response to the key challenges

Recognising the key challenges for industry, CIE-MAP has considered the options to reduce industrial energy demand through further improvements in efficiency while also exploring the role of changing consumption patterns of materials and products. Material and product demand drives industrial emissions. Therefore, as well as a sector level analysis of UK Industry, CIE-MAP has undertaken a detailed assessment of resource productivity strategies from the re-design of products through to the sharing economy.

Many of these strategies could have significant consequences for the general public and UK PLC. With this in mind, CIE-MAP has conducted research on the willingness of the public to engage in resource efficiency measures (considering their response to reducing packaging and increasing product reparability and longevity, for example).

CIE-MAP identifies a clear role for UK Government in bringing about these changes. This is one of the reasons why CIE-MAP has formed a long-standing relationship with the UK Government. Our engagement with BEIS and DEFRA has involved updating their Energy and Emissions Projection model, providing analysis for the Industrial Roadmaps and Action Plans, and developing new indicators on resource and energy productivity. CIE-MAP researchers have informed the Minister of Industry and Climate Change and we are now directly shaping the UK Government’s strategy for increasing energy and resource productivity; feeding into both the Industrial Strategy and the Waste and Resources Strategy.

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