The Climate Impact of Subscription Services (and How to Use Them to Improve Your Life!)

Marley Flueger
August 9, 2022

Nowadays, life happens fast. From grocery boxes, to luxury fashion rentals, to streaming memberships – subscription services help us keep up with it all. 

The average American spends around $200 monthly on 12 subscriptions. For Joro users, digital memberships like Spotify, Apple, Netflix, and Hulu are our top recurring purchases. Most of us put our subscriptions on autopay, which makes them easy to forget about.

Consumer activity directly influences over 60% of global emissions, and subscription services put our spending habits on autopilot. So, what does that mean for climate change? 

The key to climate-smart subscribing? Be intentional

At their best, subscriptions can help automate good behavior. For instance, it may be easier to cook at home (which is more sustainable) when you have groceries or a farm box delivered. Curbside compost services like Bootstrap can help cut food waste. Ridwell makes it easy to recycle more efficiently. And Joro monthly offsets neutralize the impact you can’t reduce yet. 

At their worst, subscriptions automate over-consumption. We can wind up with things we don’t need, want, or even use. Or default to convenience instead of conscientiousness. And since over 40% of us have at least one subscription we’ve forgotten about – we might be paying to generate emissions, and little else. 

The bottom line? Chances are, you have a few subscriptions in your life that are no longer serving you. Taking a moment to purge the ones you don’t need can save you money and carbon. 

Climate change is a systems issue, but systems are made up of people (and subscription services). Our consumption choices add up – when we choose to consume more intentionally, we help reduce waste in our systems.  

1. Food & Drink Subscriptions

Food and drink subscriptions keep your fridge stocked, even if you’re busy. In general, many of these services can be part of a climate-friendly lifestyle. But how you use them matters:

  • Food waste: In the US, we waste 400 lbs of food per person each year. If you find yourself tossing half the items in your grocery box, make a point to customize your orders – or unsubscribe. 
  • Transportation emissions: Many grocery boxes hitch a ride on existing mail routes, which eliminates the emissions of driving to the supermarket. But this benefit diminishes if you also shop in-store.
  • Pro-climate choices: When possible, it’s often best to drop by the store yourself to make sure you’re buying only what you need. However, if a subscription is more convenient, and especially if it can save you the emissions from a trip to the grocery store, it could be a great option. When you subscribe, look for more sustainable options like Misfits Market “ugly” produce, Purple Carrot plant-based meals, or a local CSA box. 

Learn more: Food and drink make up 10 - 30% of the average American’s carbon footprint. Build your climate intuition with these guides to sustainable eating and eco-responsible drinking.

2. Fashion Rental Subscriptions

Fashion rental subscriptions help keep a wardrobe fresh. Unfortunately, they can drive up our carbon footprints if we’re not careful. If you subscribe to services like Rent the Runway, Stitch Fix, or Nuuly, here’s what to keep in mind: 

  • How often you shop: As a rule of thumb, if you purchase fewer than two clothing items per month, renting is less sustainable than buying new. In short, this comes down to shipping and production emissions. 
  • How long you keep clothing: If you buy fast fashion pieces regularly and only wear them a few times, a rental subscription could cut your carbon footprint. (But only if you transition to renting instead of buying.)
  • Pro-climate choices: A more sustainable alternative to renting is purchasing fewer, higher-quality clothes that last, and to shop vintage or secondhand. You’ll save money and extend the lifetime of gently-loved apparel. If you love deliveries, consider a vintage clothing subscription box

Learn more: The fashion industry makes up around 8% of global emissions – over twice as much as the global aviation industry. These blogs unpack the myth of sustainable fashion and how to build a pro-planet wardrobe

3. Lifestyle Subscription Boxes 

Nowadays, there’s a subscription box for everything. Makeup lovers get their fix with Ipsy. FabFitFun sends goodies for a healthy lifestyle. BarkBox even helps you spoil your furbaby. There are, however, a few important climate considerations: 

  • Automated consumption: If you wind up shoving half your goodies in the junk drawer, chances are you wouldn’t have bought them on your own – and won’t miss them. 
  • Wants vs. needs: Unboxing surprise goodies zaps us with a hit of dopamine. Over time, this can make us less diligent in discerning spending wants from needs. 
  • Heavy packaging: Many subscription boxes send plastic-packaged samples. In most cases, it’s more sustainable to buy a few full-sized items instead. 
  • Sustainable alternatives: On the flip side, subscription services can help make sustainable spending automatic. As long as you need and use them, getting eco-friendly products delivered is an easy win. 

4. Digital Subscriptions 

From Disney+ to Amazon Prime, most of us have at least one, if not several, digital subscriptions. They put the world at our fingertips, but contribute to our digital carbon footprints: 

  • Increased streaming: Streaming accounts for an estimated 1% of total global emissions. Subscriptions can incentivize heavy streaming and increase our carbon footprints. 
  • Increased screen time: Digital subscriptions make it easy to spend more time online. Unfortunately, this increases our electricity use – and our personal emissions. 
  • Funding fossil fuels: Most big corporations like Amazon, Netflix, and Apple keep their money with megabanks that invest in fossil fuels. This means our monthly subscriptions can fund climate change, even if we don’t use them. 

Learn more: If you use the internet, you have a digital carbon footprint. Here’s how to make your online activity more sustainable. 

Take Action: Audit and Purge Unwanted Subscriptions

Canceling unwanted subscriptions helps you better align your spending with your values. It can also save you money: studies suggest we spend around $133 more on monthly subscriptions than we realize. 

The good news? It’s pretty simple. 

Monitor your account activity

Your first step is to audit your existing subscriptions. Comb through your recent bank and credit card statements to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks. 

Joro makes it easy to see what you’re spending money on, and the emissions associated with each purchase. Simply download the Joro app, link your debit and credit cards, and uncover how your monthly subscriptions contribute to your carbon footprint.  

Use a “de-subscription” service

Another option is to use a de-subscription service. Trim and TrueBill monitor and catalog your recurring purchases on one platform, so you don’t have to hunt them down one by one. Both services also analyze your spending habits, so you can get smart with the money you save. 

Reflect on your recurring habits

Take a moment to reflect on each of your current subscriptions. Does it bring you joy? Do you use it enough to make it worth it? Is it still aligned with your lifestyle or your values? If a subscription is no longer serving you – it’s time to ready your goodbyes. 

Initiate the cancellation process

Next, cancel subscriptions you don’t want or aren’t using. Most companies make it easy to cancel online from their settings page. Some will allow you to unsubscribe immediately (states like California mandate this option) while others may require you to file a request.

Alternatively, both Trim and TrueBill will cancel subscriptions on your behalf. Simply select the ones you want to ditch and make a cancellation request. This can be helpful for subscriptions with arduous cancellation processes – but you’ll be charged for the convenience.  

Cancel smartphone subscriptions

Smartphone subscriptions often show up as “App Store/Play Store Purchase” on your bank statement. To audit these accounts, you’ll need to do a little digging: 

  • Navigate to the Android “Play Store” or Apple “iTunes & App Store” on your device.
  • Tap “subscriptions” for a list of paid subscriptions linked to your account. If you’re on an Apple device, you’ll first need to select “View Apple ID.”  
  • To unsubscribe from any item on this list, tap the app and select “cancel subscription.”

Subscribe to a climate action lifestyle 

Joro helps us build personal systems that bring our lives into balance with our world. Simply link your spending accounts to see the emissions behind your purchases.

Take it a step further with a Net Zero membership. This monthly subscription helps you track and modify your spending habits, and offset what you can’t change yet through a portfolio of rigorously-vetted carbon offset partners. 

Download Joro and become a Net Zero member today

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

Grow your practice with exclusive tips and advice.

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