Subscription Talks: Subscription & Sustainability
We sat down for a talk with Kirsten Schmidt, lecturer at Aalborg University and the founder of GreenCSR. In the studio, we also have Christophe Lephilibert, former CMO of the green energy company Barry Energy. Today, the topic is subscription and sustainability.
Kirsten is a supporter of the subscription economy, but she wants a more holistic approach to sustainability, both within the concept and product development:
“To me, the subscription approach helps us stop so that we don’t just think of sustainability at the end of a process – “Oh, we need to think the environmental angle into our product” – No, we need to turn it around and say: Sustainability is a trinity of climate, social and economics. All three parts are equally important. So, I think it is extremely important that you think sustainable from the get-go, to implement it in the core of your concept.”
“The point being that we shouldn’t come back and change something and get a feeling that the product is deteriorated by the environmental angle – we need to implement it from the start: How can it help us deliver additional value?”
We often ask our guests what their favourite subscription is. Christophe, can you tell us about one of your favourite subscriptions?
I’m thinking of my subscription to Arca Crossfit, which is a great community that keeps me active. And that’s a subscription that keeps me going because I use a certain amount of money every week, so I’m very motivated to go and get use out of the subscription.”
And speaking upon the subject of sustainability, I’d like to start here with this #peopleplanetprofit thinking that Subscrybe promotes. Christopher, you could say the more often you are going to the gym, the more value you’re getting for your money. That is the Profit-part. The People-part comes from the community that you experience. And then I start thinking – where is the Planet in all of this? This could be, thinking of the machines that are used, how are they produced, are they maintained properly or simply switched out?
And I think this is an important part that we think about the products that are part of our subscriptions.
I think when talking about fitness, it’s a great example of a subscription because the alternative is to buy the equipment yourself. That makes it pretty obvious that it’s better that I can subscribe to a fitness center with many others – so, instead of building your own fitness center, your own workshop, your own garage – it’s just better to create something common that we can share.
I agree, but I think that subscriptions can learn something about using products until they are finished that we wear them down a bit more. I have an example with a company that leases equipment for the construction industry. And all of those hand tools are innovated all the time and naturally, professionals want the latest and the greatest. This means that equipment quickly becomes outdated. And when products are no longer used by professionals, they still have so many hours of use inside of them.
So, what do you do? The company ends up innovating a partnership with a large hardware store, allowing them to lease the used equipment for consumers – and consumers get the experience of using equipment that is way better than the equipment they have at home.
What I hear you saying is that you have to create a business model that supports an afterlife for the products, meaning that you get the maximum use of the products.
Yes, and this gives companies an incentive to use products again, to create new value. And in order not to overconsume products extremely, we need to move into service – meaning, how do we create more value with fewer material resources?
An example of this is the vision of Tesla, that your car should be used while you’re at work, in order to get the most value out of it. And then it will return to you when you need it after your workday. That is true “Shared Resource” and I think that is an incredible vision.
Yes, and effectively, it works in two ways because it allows people who don’t have the money for a Tesla, suddenly has access to one for much less money. And this can help battle social inequality as well.
However, what we know from research, is that, in the West, most consumers end up spending money that they save elsewhere. So, if we’re saving money on our car, we’ll end up spending it on an extra vacation, where we travel to the other end of the world. So that is obviously a problem.
And this is where it’s important for the consumer to take responsibility. Meaning that you buy quality products and keep them for a long period of time. But also, that it shouldn’t be a pain for the consumer to be sustainable. It has to be convenient; it has to make sense.
I think, first and foremost, it’s about awareness, something that we worked a lot with at Barry Energy. Notifying the consumer of their footprint has the effect that the consumer wants to make a green choice when presented with it.
I think what we can learn from the talk here is that we need to think more about service, as opposed to products. So if we exchange products as the supporting force in the company with service, we can start getting more use out of products. I just have one more question for you:
Is it okay that we at Subscrybe walk around saying that the subscription model has the potential to be better for the planet we live on?
Yes, I think that there are many examples of it, there are a lot of services that make this true. A shared wardrobe, workshop, fitness, and so on.
I’d like to say yes, but… I agree that there is a lot of potential. But we need to be conscious about the potentials we use and if you’re not conscious about how to think sustainability into the concept, we could stand in a situation where the answer will be no!
Alright, thank you for your insights and your thoughts on this topic, we are so glad that you took the time to speak to us about subscription and sustainability, an aspect of the industry that is so important for the future.