How sustainable are Airbnbs?

When we went to Takayama in February which feels like a lifetime ago now, we stayed in our first hostel, so I explored the environmental impact of hostels vs hotels. Now, I’m curious to see how airbnbs compare.

First, looking at physical waste and other aspects like water and electric uses, airbnbs clearly win. The impact is significantly lower than traditional accommodations. 88% of airbnb hosts incorporate green practices into hosting whether that be solar electricity or recycling, they do something. A 2018 study found that when guests stay in airbnbs, significantly less water and energy are used, fewer greenhouse gas emissions are present, and physical waste is less, too in comparison to hotel guests. 66% of airbnb guests says that having environmental benefits in a home were important to their choice and 826,000 is the number of homes equivalent to how much airbnb’s saved in energy in 2017. This is most likely due to hotels having lights on constantly, gyms, pools, dining room, and such.

Airbnb even took a sustainability initiative to launch en educational platform. This is to help hosts become more eco-friendly and guests chose more eco-friendly options. They will encourage guests to compost and reduce their pollution as a whole and just start a bigger push for climate activism. Airbnb not only helps their hosts, but they require them to meet a minimum of environmentally friendly levels.

But, is this just green washing? Are they just striving to be slightly eco-friendly or are they really striving for sustainability across the board. Though they could certainly be better, they are still a better option than others. Ultimately, it all comes down to where you are doing. Here on Ishigaki, there aren’t airbnbs or resorts taking over the island or anything like that. The locals still have a good quality of life despite the airbnbs. Places like remote stays or local villages or homestays for example are definitely better than this next example. Places like this allow locals to make some extra money via tourism by renting their home for the weekend and boost local tourism, but it isn’t all great.

We actually got to experience our first shared home on this trip to Ishigaki and we loved it. It is so fun to get to interact with locals who know the best spots.

Though, if you are traveling somewhere like Greece or even on the Okinawa Honto, the main island, where airbnbs are kinda destroying the local quality of life. Airbnb is one of the largest booking sites with 91 million room nights in just 2019.

But, not all of these are run by individuals. Many people have multiple multiple listings, which isn’t always good and many listing are also run by property management companies which drives up the rent. We see this a lot in Okinawa. Military families are always moving in and out, and I have even heard some friends say when finding an apartment they almost lot to airbnb. Are more and more airbnbs are planted in a condensed area, this drive up the housing market which drives up rent and makes housing less accessible to locals. Another issue that comes from overtourism.

Not only corporations, but simply individuals buying property just to list on airbnb is also hurting rent prices for people simply trying to get by. This can force people to have to move when they can’t afford their city home any more. 81% of airbnb’s revenue comes from in the US comes from whole-unit rentals and not a home-sharing situation.

In Venice and Barcelona, nearly 70% of hosts have multiple listing and in LA, it’s nearly 60%.

Is airbnb holding these people and companies to the same environmental standards as single hosts?

So, is airbnb worth the cost to the locals even if the environmental standards are better than hotels, resorts, and the like? It depends. Like I said, staying in shared homes or even just staying in non-touristy areas where airbnbs don’t hurt the rent is not a bad thing and can truly boost the local economy without hurting it. But, staying in larger cities? You should probably avoid airbnbs and probably avoid in the first place. Overtourism hurts locals in many more ways than just rent prices. In fact, airbnb is one of the biggest drivers of overtourism since it creates new and exciting accommodations for travels which boosts numbers. When it is unregulated, tourism can kill places like Athens, Venice, and even the Okinawan main island. The cycle will just continue of more tourists, more money, and therefore more airbnb listings which leads to less locals.

It is still a great idea and can still be used wisely, but like I say in most of my videos, do your research. Don’t just buy an airbnb because it’s cheapest. Look at it’s environmental ratings. Make sure you’re not contributing to overtourism (in more ways than just this, but) and the rising rent rates which drive people from their homes.

Ultimately, it’s all personal choice. When staying on this semi-remote island, I prefer an airbnb over a resort any day. But, in the middle of Tokyo or Bangkok, perhaps a hotel is better in order to protect local lives. It’s a world of give and take and we must make choices wisely.

What else can we do as airbnb users? Let them know what you like and don’t like. After every stay, there is a survey. Use your voice. When you can, support individual listing hosts versus those who have multiple or are a company. Stay in home sharing options instead or opt for hostels, too. There’s even a similar site called that allows you to stay even greener still.

Overall, airbnbs aren’t terrible, but they certainly aren’t great, either. I hope this video was informative and allows you to do some thinking and digging. It's all up to personal preference, I just hope you do some more research before booking your next stay.

Thanks for reading, if you want to catch the video version, click here. Until next time remember that the small changes you make have a big impact in the long run.

Emma :)

All photos in this post are from our stay at 435 in Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan.

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My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...


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