The whole reason I started Borro was to give parents an easier, eco-friendly way to dress their babies. Initially I was pretty convinced that it had to be more sustainable to rent rather than just buy new, but one infamous research paper made headlines that it was 'better to bin your jeans than rent them'. So I wanted to make sure for myself that our particular model was helping, not harming, the planet, and set about to conduct a basic Life Cycle Assessment.
It turns out that calculating the carbon footprint of anything is a complete minefield. The more you think about it and look into it, the more complicated it gets! Without a huge budget and a lot more data about how our customers actually use our service, we could never get a completely accurate picture. So we had to make some sensible assumptions. We did however find some great data online and you can see the full report of our Life Cycle Assessment here.
Our headline finding was that renting results in 49% fewer carbon dioxide equivalent emissions than buying new. On one hand this is great news - it is more eco-friendly! But on the other, it surprised me that it wasn't higher. The main factor which limits how eco-friendly it can be is the CO2 from the delivery. And how many deliveries and returns is currently up to the customer, as Borro allows you the flexibility to return items or order new at any time. It would be more eco-friendly to order a large number of items and keep them for as long as possible, but that might not always suit the customer! In fact, how the customer uses the service has a huge impact on how eco-friendly it is. For example:
- How you wash the clothes has a huge impact - so you can make a big difference just by washing at 30 and line drying
- Renting is only more eco-friendly if it means you reduce the amount of clothes you buy. If you're buying the same amount of items and renting in addition to those, then it's worse for the planet!
- Delivery and returns also have a big impact on the CO2, so the more we can reduce these, the better
It seems that with many things, sustainability and ultimate convenience do not always go together. I'm torn between wanting to make the business as eco-friendly as possible, and wanting it to appeal to more than just the eco-warriors out there. There's the old quote that we don't need a few people doing it perfectly, we need everyone doing it imperfectly. So this is what I'm aiming for!
This is a long journey (hopefully!) and as we get more customers, we'll have more data to work with and then can assess how exactly we can improve the sustainability of the service and how we can encourage customers to use it in the most eco-friendly way.
I always want to be as open and honest about our impact on the environment, so feel free to email me with any questions on this at firstname.lastname@example.org