Defining the sharing economy for sustainability

(1) Background: The sharing economy has emerged as a phenomenon widely described by academic literature to promote more sustainable consumption practices such as access over ownership. However, there exists great semantic confusion within academic literature surrounding the term "sharing economy," which threatens the realisation of its purported sustainability potential. (2) Objective: The aim of this paper is to synthesise the existing academic definitions and propose a definition of the sharing economy from the perspective of sustainability science in order to indicate sharing practices that are consistent with the sustainability claims attributed to the sharing economy. (3) Methods: We conduct a database search to collect relevant academic articles. Then, we leverage qualitative content analysis in order to analyse the authors' definitions and to synthesise the broad dimensions of the sharing economy in the discourse. (4) Results: We propose the following characteristics, or semantic properties, of the sharing economy for sustainability: ICT-mediated, non-pecuniary motivation for ownership, temporary access, rivalrous and tangible goods. (5) Conclusion: The semantic properties that inform our definition of the sharing economy for sustainability indicate those sharing practices that promote sustainable consumption compared to purely market-based exchanges. This definition is relevant for academics studying the sustainability impacts of the sharing economy in order to promote comparability and compatibility in research. Furthermore, the definition is useful for policy-makers, entrepreneurs, managers and consumers that have the sharing economy on the agenda in order to promote social enterprise and support sustainable consumption.

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