Rebecca Bland sits down with Caroline Seton, co-founder of London-based shared e-bike brand HumanForest, to discuss sustainability and affordability
This piece first appeared in the November edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Tell me about the brand, how did it start and what inspired you to launch?
HumanForest was founded in November 2019. We completed a three month trial in Islington and Camden in the summer of 2020 to prove the concept before launching officially in London almost a year ago. We’re coming up to our anniversary.
The name ‘HumanForest’ sums up our inspiration for this company. In the same way that trees capture CO2 from the atmosphere, our users riding our truly green e-bike avoid emitting CO2. In essence, they become a human forest. We really wanted to use our brand to promote sustainability and show people that just. one person can collectively make a difference to the climate crisis.
By offering 10 minutes free daily, making this an easy option for people, we bridge the gap between affordability and sustainability. Particularly now as we enter a cost of living crisis, we’re really aware of the fact that being sustainable shouldn’t be a luxury and it’s something that everyone can do if they’re given the tools. We’re one of those tools that we hope will help transform cities, changing peoples’ mindset and behaviour.
When does HumanForest hope to begin turning a profit?
We will be earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) positive in the next month. That was always our goal, to be profitable within a year of operation, and we are very close.
Do you find a lot of people are riding more than the free 10 minute daily allowance?
People do ride beyond the 10 minutes free daily, but then we also work with partners to give users more free minutes. We also have a loyalty programme so users can earn more free minutes as they pedal. You earn one TreeCoin for every five miles ridden (that’s equivalent to avoiding the amount of CO2 a tree captures in a day).
What are HumanForest’s plans for the future?
The future is really exciting for us, we’re planning to launch into Europe over the next couple of years and that’s a big focus. Larger capital cities tie in with our ad model. We’re also continuing to develop our TreeCoin loyalty programme. When people pedal they can earn TreeCoins which can either be redeemed for more free minutes or for goods and services of our partner companies. These partners are aligned to our vision of sustainable living, making another form of sustainable living more accessible and affordable.
Are you thinking about expanding outside of London in the UK?
Not at this stage, no.
How do you think shared transport schemes might impact the wider cycling industry?
Shared transport boosts cycling in all shapes and forms. It is absolutely a gateway into cycling and more physical activity too. The more you do, the more you want to do. In line with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, shared schemes help Londoners achieve their 20 minutes of active travel every day. Incidental exercise is a powerful thing, maximising every part of the day.
Shared bike schemes also appeal to people that already have a bike and have been converted to the benefits of cycling but they might have a different use case. For example, they might be going to the pub and prefer not to have to cycle home. It helps to provide an alternative. A big chunk of our users are commuters.
Our service means buildings don’t have to be retrofitted with storage facilities and showers. There are so many different use cases for shared mobility and we are really seeing that it’s becoming a more established part of the transport mix because it’s convenient, blends exercise, you don’t sweat, and it’s safe. I think there’s a whole lot of ways that shared mobility can really benefit the wider cycling industry.
That’s interesting from a commuting perspective, because a lot of workplaces don’t have adequate facilities to encourage cycling commuting.
Yes and also perhaps you live somewhere that does not have great links to the tube station and your alternative is the bus or taking more of an indirect route, with a bike it’s often the quickest way to get around. On A to B routes particularly around London, it can significantly reduce your travel time with the connectivity and flexibility riding a bike gives you. We’re also working to get more licences from new London boroughs, so at the minute it’s a bit like a patchwork.
In London with e-bikes, you deal with every borough on an individual basis and they each have their own nuances on how they want the schemes managed. So for example, neighbouring boroughs can adopt completely opposite approaches to parking so it is a bit tricky.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about HumanForest and its approach to encouraging sustainability amongst consumers?
We’ve only been fully operational for less than 12 months, and our users have avoided almost 200 tonnes of CO2 over the last year. That’s a quarter of a million car trips displaced by taking HumanForest bikes, we’re excited to see how much more of an impact we can have in the future.