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What are Subscriptions for Good?

Amy Konary

Having spent more than two decades working in the Subscription Economy, I no doubt believe in the model, its economic resilience, and potential for business growth. I also believe that it’s much better for customers than the old product-based economy. But, are subscriptions making the world a better place?

This existential question has been on my mind a lot as we navigate a global pandemic, social unrest, and a whole new way of living and working. On top of this, scientists unequivocally state that our planet is facing a climate emergency. It’s a lot. We can all agree that the world needs help right now, maybe more so than ever.

Being in the midst of a crisis with no clear end in sight can make you feel powerless. But as I’ve written before, “crisis” can be traced back to the Greek word ‘krisis‘, meaning ‘turning point in a disease.’ It denotes a critical moment, a time to evaluate and make a decision. And while there isn’t one single solution to the challenges we face, each one of us can make a big difference in the choices we make. We all have the power to make decisions for good, no matter how small, in all facets of our lives.

Those of us that participate in the Subscription Economy at work, and with our wallets at home, have an opportunity to make responsible choices, to make sure that subscriptions are part of the solution — part of the change that we wish to see in the world.

Let’s look at how subscription businesses can help create change for social good.

Role of Subscriptions

In 2015, the UN identified 17 goals for sustainable development (SDG). It’s important to note that these goals aren’t simply about responsible consumption and production. They also include improving outcomes and access to good health and well-being, quality education, and affordable and clean energy. “The 17 SDGs are integrated—that is, they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability,” says the UN.

Besides being the right thing to do, being sustainable is good for business. According to a 2020 IBM study, on average, 70% of shoppers pay an added premium of 35% more per upfront cost for sustainable purchases, such as recycled or eco-friendly goods. And 57% of them are even willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact. Consumers are using their purchasing power for good, and it’s having an impact. Industry leaders have embraced sustainability goals in recent years with 9/10 companies in the S&P 500 publishing an annual sustainability/responsibility report.

While it’s important for consumers to hold businesses accountable for sustainability, change of the scale that we need will only happen when there is a strong economic advantage for companies that embrace sustainability goals. Fortunately, the subscription model is already providing an economic foundation whereby sustainability is advantageous for businesses and consumers and serving as a driver for change and social good in three primary ways.

Subscriptions can drive change in three primary ways

  • Never-ending Products: In the Subscription Economy, product longevity is a competitive advantage. When products become conduits for valuable subscription services, there is an economic incentive to manufacture high-quality, long-lasting products, which are modular in design and easier to repair, reuse, or recycle. This shift from products to services also up new market opportunities, injects new life into commoditized products, reduces margin pressures, and provides a foundation for ongoing innovation, as well as a host of other benefits.
  • Democratizing Access: While the old product ownership-based business model has always created a division between the haves and the have-nots, the Subscription Economy is inherently more inclusive. By leveraging the “as a service” model, subscription-based companies can free customers from the costs and burdens of ownership and democratize access to essential needs, life-saving medicine, high-quality education, and clean water. An “access” approach also opens up new market segments for providers, increasing the total size of opportunity.
  • Conscious Consumers: A subscription business is a relationship business. Customers make choices about the kinds of companies they want to have relationships with, and increasingly they are putting sustainability at the forefront. How much waste does the service create? What kind of packaging is used? Where are products manufactured? Subscribers can impact design decisions, and influence the product or service roadmap. By rewarding companies that offer subscriptions for good, the conscious consumer can change how we do business.

We see examples of subscriptions for good in industry after industry: Healthcare, Manufacturing/lighting, Utilities/water, and Education. No one person can solve all of the challenges of this world of this alone. But, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” We have the power to make a better future, but only if we work together with discipline and persistence toward the same goal. Individuals and organizations, working together for good.

Today, we are at a point where it’s an economic imperative for all subscription companies to start thinking and acting on these issues. The Subscription Economy can indeed make the world a better place for all of us.

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