Sustainability by subscription

First, it was the way you read. Then watched. Then ate. But magazines and films and veggie boxes have proved just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to subscription-based services.

Subscriptions are good for (sustainable) business
Why are we all signing up to the subscription renaissance? As with so many other questions, the first answer that jumps out is COVID-19. With shops shuttered and people at home to receive their parcels, home delivery hasn’t been this easy in at least a generation. But even before we’d heard of the novel coronavirus, the subscription had been building steam for the last ten years.

Subscription based services give companies more predictable revenue in times of uncertainty and allow for a constant exchange of information with the client, which may increase loyalty and customer lifetime value. Add to that the oft-cited Millennial preference for “access, not ownership”, and the appeal of even car subscriptions, like Swiss-based companies Carvolution and Clyde, becomes apparent.

And subscriptions might satisfy another desire as well: the quest for a more sustainable lifestyle. With global environmental catastrophe constantly simmering on the back burner while our attention is focused on the pandemic, the business of sustainability is getting a contribution from a subscription based model.

Shoes you’ll never own
While bike sharing subscriptions abound, Swiss-based On is taking sustainable mobility one step further with Cyclon subscription shoes. The idea of not owning your shoes isn’t as zany as it may sound at first, given that Cyclon running shoes are made entirely from castor beans – yes, beans – and On has developed the technology to make, recycle, and recreate them. To create a truly closed-loop circular shoe economy, On offers a 35 CHF/month (€ 32) subscription service that will let you keep trading back in each pair you wear out (now only in pre-order). Their bet is that if you’ve long-since abandoned your CD collection for subscription music streaming, there’s no reason why shoes should be any different.

Sustainability that sucks
With Climeworks, another Swiss sustainability-by-subscription business based in Iceland, the concept is that for sustainability to be affordable and accessible it has to suck. Literally. Climeworks is a carbon capture and storage company that uses vacuum-like CO₂ collectors to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and put it back into the ground, where it will turn to stone within a few years. Which means that when it comes to climate change, Climeworks is offering more than reduction: it’s climate change reversal. As with Cyclon shoes, the subscription model helps them invest in future growth and development, while letting businesses and individuals choose how much CO₂ they want to suck out of the air each month to offset their own carbon footprint.

Bamboo that plants trees
But the lower-tech solution to carbon capture is of course, trees. Tree a Day is a bamboo toothbrush subscription service that delivers you new toothbrushes every three months and includes the planting of a tree for every day of your subscription. Partnered with the Eden Reforestation Project, up to 65% of the cost of each subscription goes toward the local planting projects in Nepal, Madagascar, Haiti, Indonesia and Mozambique. And of course, you get cleaner teeth out of the bargain, too.

If they continue to prove successful, subscription model businesses could help the Swiss come to a whole new understanding of what it means to be sustainable. Anybody up for some ugly fruit?

Photo credits: © On: On Co-Founder Caspar Coppetti