Isla Rowntree is trying to green the kids’ bike industry, and in the process, this environmentalist is turning her back on the established bike buying model that she helped thrive. For the past decade, Rowntree’s Islabikes have been a popular kids’ cycling option, including various features designed to perfectly fit the size and weight of children. Despite her success, Rowntree was nagged by the dispensability and short life of kids’ bikes: kids grow quickly, resulting in regularly needing new bikes. Although children’s growth is good for business, Rowntree recognized that the continual need for new bikes (and therefore, more and more of the world’s resources) was taxing on the planet. After having an environmental breakthrough moment of her own, Rowntree decided to create the Imagine Project, a revolutionary bike rental program for kids that focuses on sharing, reusing and reimagining the bike industry as part of a “closed loop” supply chain. Such an idea may sound like the death of Rowntree’s own business, but in her capable and clever projections, it could actually be an opportunity for bike manufacturers to make the best kids’ bike yet.
Through the program, families will rent a bike, return it when it no longer fits their family’s needs, and then rent another, appropriately-sized bike, with the process being repeated as the child or children grow. As for the bike that is returned? Islabikes will completely refurbish it and then rent it to another family. If it’s too banged up to continue its journey, the parts will be disassembled and the materials will be divided among other businesses that can reuse them. Rowntree believes that this business model will cause bike manufacturers to make a product that is extremely high-quality. After all, the longer the bikes last, the more money the companies renting them can make.
For kids and families, the benefits will be plentiful and include the ability to easily swap out bikes when kids grow. Other perks include not having a bike graveyard in the basement, teaching kids the importance and possibility of a circular economy, and actually being able to use a bike at all. Rowntree believes that the price of raw materials, such as those used in building bikes, will increase greatly within the next few years, making bikes prohibitively expensive for most families. Rowntree doesn’t have all the answers or designs yet. She offers, “What we are doing is embarking on a journey to find out how to do this.” One of the key aspects of the plan is getting other bike companies and parts companies to take part in developing the sharing model. Rowntree currently has five staff members working on the Imagine Project, and she hopes to replace her current successful business model in a few years with one that benefits that planet as well as Islabikes’ bottom line.
via The Guardian