Is the Gig Economy Incompatible With Environmental Sustainability?

April 20, 2021 0 By Frankie Wallace

The modern demand for convenience is driving the success of the gig economy.

From ridesharing and food delivery to on-demand movers and childcare, there are endless opportunities for consumers to get what they want, when they want it. But the growth of the gig economy does come at an environmental cost.

These online platforms are driving an increased use of electronics and vehicles — both of which can negatively impact the environment. And while gig workers may want to reduce their carbon footprint, it can be difficult to find sustainable opportunities in a world where consumers want everything delivered.

So what can contract workers do to make a positive impact on the environment? And how can corporations support sustainability, too? This article will dive into how businesses impact the environment, as well as promising opportunities to make the gig economy greener.

Corporations can lead sustainability efforts.

The corporations leading the gig worker movement are some of the leading contributors to its detrimental environmental effects.

As an example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — among other researchers — found that Uber and Lyft contribute to higher levels of traffic congestion in major U.S. cities. Consumers often opt for the convenience of ridesharing over more sustainable options like walking, biking, and public transportation. Due to frequent idling, Uber and Lyft drivers may pollute more, too. 

While many of their business models (like ridesharing) are inherently unsustainable, gig economy giants have the power to greatly decrease their carbon footprint. Whether they’re incentivizing contract workers to be more eco-friendly or finding greener ways to operate, corporation-led initiatives can combat climate change much more effectively than individual efforts. Uber, for example, has combated its own environmental impact by offering cash bonuses to electric vehicle drivers. The company may even have interest in self-driving EVs from Tesla.

If other gig economy brands start to invest in greener technology too, this could lead to major milestones in cutting down carbon dioxide levels.

Local elections can lead to corporate action.

Not every brand will freely invest in sustainability, as profit is crucial for every business leader. However, laws that require corporations to meet set eco-friendly standards can keep them accountable for their environmental impact. Some cities are also taking a supportive approach helping businesses access more recycling and composting stations.

As individuals, gig workers and other eco-conscious citizens can make an impact by voting in government officials who support strong sustainability efforts. Contract workers can even offset their own carbon footprint by getting involved in local government themselves to promote city-led efforts to go green.

gig economy and voting to go green

Gig workers have the power to vote with their time.

Just like consumers can vote with their wallets, gig workers can vote with their time. Gig economy brands are always in need of contract labor, and workers can choose to support brands that are going green or allow them to work sustainably.

For example, apps like Rover (for dog-walking) and TaskRabbit (for handyman services) empower gig workers to work largely car-free and tech-free. Contractors need to use the platform to connect with clients, but for many gigs, they can choose their own mode of transportation and perform tasks that don’t require a device.

When choosing to work for a delivery app, gig workers can seek out those that allow them to work on foot or on bike. Opting out of driving a vehicle — especially without any passengers — can greatly reduce an individual’s own carbon emissions before, during, and after each gig.

When driving is a must, gig workers can consciously reduce carbon emissions.

Not everyone has the privilege to pick and choose their gigs. But even when driving is a requirement, gig workers can still drive down their carbon emissions by taking any (or all) of the following steps:

  • Invest in an electric or hybrid vehicle. If this isn’t possible, try opting for a newer, fuel-efficient vehicle.
  • Keep your car well-maintained. This can lead to major increases in fuel efficiency and reduce waste by keeping each car part (and your car itself) running as long as possible.
  • Drive at a steady speed. Rapid acceleration can increase pollution.
  • Idle less. Idling for as little as 10 seconds can waste more fuel than simply restarting your engine.
  • Buy carbon offsets to counteract your emissions. Organizations like Green-e can help you find reputable, certified carbon offset programs.

Environmental sustainability requires corporations, politicians, and individuals to work together.

Though the world has a long way to go before gig economy giants come close to being carbon-neutral, it’s important to recognize that they’re more than capable of strong sustainability efforts. The gig economy can be compatible with sustainability if all its stakeholders actively move toward a greener future. And corporations can and should be held accountable for their carbon emissions, as they create an immensely larger impact than individuals.

Still, individuals can play a role in making the gig economy greener, too. It starts with voting for government officials who support sustainability initiatives. Gig workers specifically can make a difference by being conscious about their carbon footprint as they choose and perform their contract roles.

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