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March 25, 2021

As a Dutch company, we know a thing or two about bicycles. Or so we thought, until we met this month's Wavemakers of the Month: Swapfiets. The world's first bicycle-as-a-service company is on a mission to reduce waste (yes, please), get people to rethink their consumption (excellent) and ultimately create a better future (count us in). How they're achieving all that with some 220,000 blue-tyred bikes? We had a chat with co-founder Richard Burger to find out.

How is Swapfiets creating a better future? “Firstly, a bicycle is the most environmentally friendly way to move around in a city. But there's much more to us. Our unique subscription-based business model actually allows for more circularity, which helps us do business in a more sustainable way. We are contributing to more liveable cities and a better future with two aspects: we make bicycles and micro mobility more accessible for everyone through a bike membership, and we are reducing waste with our product-as-a-service concept and improved circularity. We invite people to rethink their consumption. Why own products, if you can use them?”

"We invite people to rethink their consumption. Why own products, if you can use them?”

Swapfiets was conceived to build a better future. You're also a for-profit company. How do you balance planet and profit? “Planet and profit are oftentimes perceived as opponents. But this is only true for the old take-make-waste approach of doing business. We believe that planet and profit can go very well hand in hand if we create circular economies and reduce waste as much as possible. Getting there requires investments, of course. But Swapfiets is committed to doing so.

And by the way, becoming more circular and sustainable is actually also good for business and profit, because the majority of customers are increasingly conscious about ‘greener’ businesses that take their responsibility seriously.”

A bike is a bike is a bike. Or not? What makes your particular frame with two wheels better for the planet? “We build bikes that last because it’s not in our interest to sell you a new bike next year (as we don’t sell bikes), but to reduce costs of repairs. And creating products that last is the first big step to making bicycles and other products more circular. Furthermore, our whole business model is made to optimise the reuse, repair, refurbishing and recycling of each Swapfiets, making Swapfiets more circular.

An external life cycle analysis proved that the Deluxe 7, the most used Swapfiets, is reaching 88% circularity. That's more than twice as circular than linear produced, comparable premium city bikes.”

You recently became a member of the Dopper Wave against single-use water bottles (woop). What sparked your interest in joining Wave? “We believe Dopper and Swapfiets are riding on the same wave. Why buy more stuff when you can simply use a product? We love the fact that Dopper is reducing consumption and waste with a great product.”

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“We believe Dopper and Swapfiets are riding on the same wave. Why buy more stuff when you can simply use a product?"

What role has the plastic pollution problem played within Swapfiets? “Most of our plastic waste is related to packaging of parts and products. We've already reduced the packaging material for our bikes by roughly 60%, but there’s still a significant amount of single-use plastic packaging and we’re looking for alternatives for these. Another challenge for us is not necessarily plastics, but our use of fossil-/chemical-based lubricants - something we are aiming to solve, but this is probably the most difficult step. Similarly, our chain lock covers are currently made from a material that is fossil-based, so we’re looking into more plant-based high-quality alternatives.”

What does banning single-use plastic bottles mean for your environmental impact? “In our offices and stores we mostly use tap water already. Soft drinks have never been the norm for us and we've never handed out single-use water bottles to staff or customers. Regardless, by joining the Dopper Wave we will build even more awareness amongst all our employees.”