Subscription services are all the rage right now, ranging from tiny sticker packets like Pipsticks to makeup packs such as Ipsy and Birchbox and even clothing subscription programs. But what happens to all of these subscription goods? In many cases, they languish upon arrival because the recipients don’t use them. The simple fact is, when we’re given random items, even when we’re paying for them, we’re likely to end up with things we don’t want – and that’s bad news for the environment.
This influx of unused products and fossil fuel-driven deliveries raises an important question: can subscription programs ever be eco-friendly? While the majority of these programs do more harm than good, there are select cases when subscription services are a net good. When companies stay focused on sustainability in the execution of their programs, they can actually help consumers develop healthier, more earth-friendly lifestyles.
Pay Attention To Packaging
Packaging is a major concern for subscription businesses, and many deliveries arrive in plastic bags made from fossil fuels and are full of piles of plastic-wrapped goodies. In response to plastic waste, some companies have made the shift to cardboard or other biodegradable packing options, but sometimes plastic is unavoidable. Take Blue Apron, the meal delivery service, as a prime example. Ingredients come packed in little plastic containers, squeeze bottles, and surrounded by ice packs. It’s a food safety issue, but not one that Blue Apron hasn’t considered.
In order to minimize packaging waste, Blue Apron allows customers to return packaging via USPS routes so that containers and ice packs can be reused for future orders. Many customers – or potential customers – have expressed concern about all that plastic in the past, and Blue Apron acted. The company is a prime example of how other subscription services can reduce waste as well.
Random Or By Request?
Another factor that can help shift the subscription service paradigm is the introduction of request-based services, and this model plays a role in several popular companies. For example, Ben Lido’s travel toiletry program, for example, only delivers your favorite brands so you’re never stuck with products you won’t use. This kind of simplified delivery program offers the convenience and satisfaction of standard subscription programs, with much less waste.
New subscription companies should also consider how membership programs are also a kind of subscription. One company that excels at the sustainable membership model is Thrive Market, a popular specialty grocery market. Rather than sending customers a variety of products each month like Blue Apron or snack subscription programs like UrthBox, Thrive Market charges a yearly fee for access to their complete grocery line, including their new sustainable meat and seafood line, and uses only carbon neutral packing and shipping practices. Very few companies have reached this level of sustainable practice, but nearly every program has the potential.
Identify The Worst Culprits
Finally, in order to clean up the subscription service world, companies and consumers need to identify the worst environmental offenders – and one of the biggest problems in the modern marketplace is fast fashion.
Fast fashion, the mass-produced garments available in popular clothing stores like H&M, Forever 21, or Old Navy, present massive ethical problems. Not only are they produced by poorly paid sweatshop workers, the emphasis on short-lived trends and cheap materials mean these clothes end up in the landfill within months, where the synthetic materials remain for decades.
Subscription programs can intervene in this cycle of waste by helping customers diversify their wardrobes without overspending on high-quality goods. One company, Le Tote, let’s customers rent clothing one “tote” at a time based on custom styling guidelines. When they’re done, they can return them for a new bag. They can also keep what they like best at a reduced price. After they’re returned, items are carefully washed and sent out to other subscribers. No landfill for these clothes.
Not all subscription programs function the same way, and some make reducing waste a key part of their operational model. If the industry is going to survive the constant influx of new consumer goods, though, sustainability needs to play a central role. There’s only so much space on this planet, and if we don’t reassess how we buy, there won’t be any room left for us, never mind all of the new things we think we need.
Article Submitted By Community Writer