Urban sharing is often praised (usually by urban sharing organisations themselves) for its positive environmental effects, which are based on arguments that, e.g. the lifespan of goods can be extended through second-hand markets or the intensity of product use increased by multiple users instead of single owners. However, concerns are raised that the sharing economy has other impacts on the economy, such as employment, social cohesion, which are far less explored.
Proponents of sharing consider it to be a transformative force in the economy that is traditionally based on the notion of ownership that capitalises on shared access to underutilised goods and skills. The main economic benefits of sharing include company profits among the urban sharing organisations themselves, cost savings and/or earnings for peer providers in urban sharing organisations, and financial benefits, or otherwise, for peer users. At the same time, research is scarce but emerging when it comes to understanding the effects of urban sharing organisations on incumbent businesses and regional economic growth.
The social aspects of sustainability have gained more attention of scholarly research departing from the claims that urban sharing empowers people, creates trust among strangers, builds social capital and social cohesion. It is also more open, inclusive and democratic than the traditional economy that is based on market-driven distribution of wealth as well as social positioning based on material wealth. Urban sharing is also viewed as a response to the malfunctioning of the global financial systems and represents an emerging way for people to maintain a decent standard of living. However, similarly to environmental benefits, social benefits are not automatically imbedded in urban sharing organisations’ practices and rather depend on the design, actors and institutional contexts. Voices are also being raised asking who creates and who benefits from sharing markets and how are the profits distributed. Moreover, some warn that urban sharing organisations may be exploiting labour or exist outside the existing legal and tax frameworks.
The Urban Sharing research programme will develop a sustainability assessment framework to evaluate economic, environmental and social impacts of urban sharing organisations that helps urban sharing organisations and cities operationalise their sustainability ambitions.