Can the collaborative economy solve issues at the heart of the sustainability puzzle, including waste, mobility, and energy? This report by PICO (Pionniers du Collaboratif / Collaborative Economy Pioneers), a collective of French think tanks, universities and other experts, attempts to answer this complex question by assessing the environmental and social impacts of collaborative economy platforms.

Overall, the study finds that while peer-to-peer exchange platforms can extend the useful life of goods, various “rebound effects” limit sustainability gains. This includes, in particular, “compulsive acquisition behaviour” or, simply put, the act of acquiring more things than we need. In order to exchange goods, individuals may also need to travel long distances by car, therefore offsetting potential environmental benefits.  Furthermore, in terms of social impacts, whereas some local platforms strengthen existing social ties, in other cases, meeting the exchange counterparty is seen as a constraint.

On the other hand, PICO identifies a number of platforms that do support sustainable development, but which face challenges in reaching the critical mass required to achieve meaningful impact. The report suggests that partnerships with public authorities could help grow these platforms, which could in turn be leveraged by governments to tackle societal challenges. Several practical recommendations are put forward, including integrating platforms onto public authority websites and platforms transitioning into public service providers.