11 Jun 2019

Sustainability in the Age of Platforms

Antonella Zarra / Felice Simonelli / Karolien Lenaerts / Man Luo / Sara Baiocco / Shenglin Ben / Wenwei Li / William Echikson / Zachary Kilhoffer

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Over the past few decades, new digital platforms such as China’s Alibaba, Japan’s Rakuten and the U.S.’s eBay have grown from startups into multinational giants. With a few clicks of the keyboard, these online marketplaces bring together a seller and a buyer from anywhere in the globe.

This study examines the transformative impact of online marketplaces on economic, social and environmental sustainability. It finds great opportunities. Platforms promote growth, break down barriers of distance and leap over rigid class structures, bringing marginalized outsiders into the mainstream. The study also identifies dangers stemming from the growth of e-commerce, from the reduction of labor protection to an explosion of shipping waste.

What are the responsibilities of platforms? How can they promote sustainability? Policymakers are asking these questions, but struggling to find the correct balance between the opportunities against the dangers. Until now, these questions have received little attention from scholars. This study fills a much-needed void by providing some initial answers and recommendations for improvement.

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