“Our social impact goes beyond the environment to support positive health and wellbeing”: Interview with Caroline Seton, Co-Founder and Head of Growth at HumanForest

We are heading towards a great revolution in the mobility sector, moving towards a future shaped by shared, multimodal and green modes of transport.

On a mission to provide affordable mobility services to all while reducing air pollution, HumanForest is a UK-based startup that in 2021 launched its new fleet of truly green, fun and safe electric bikes in London, and has since partnered with Deliveroo.

Built with sustainability at its core, using innovative technology to improve battery life and reduce waste, the rental e-bikes provided by HumanForest are probably one of the most cost-effective micro-mobility solutions on the market. The company successfully created a pricing model where every user can cycle for free for ten minutes per day, every day, thus making the micro-mobility service available for as many socio-economic groups as possible.

To get some insights into their business model and learn more about this sustainable mobility scheme, we chatted with Caroline Seton, Co-Founder and Head of Growth at HumanForest.

Thank you for joining us today, Caroline! Could you please tell us how you came up with the idea of HumanForest?

Thanks for having me. HumanForest is the brainchild of my co-founder, Agustin Guilisasti. Having built his career around micro-mobility and transport, he saw that there was a gap in the market for electric bikes in London. When Agustin shared the concept with Mike Stewart and me, we jumped on board straight away, and HumanForest was born. 

What specific features differentiate your mobility scheme from your competitors?

Our focus on sustainability and affordability differentiates us from others in the sector.  Those two elements are very closely linked, and our scheme, offering 10 minutes free per day on a zero-emission e-bike is deeply rooted in both. 

By taking cost out of the equation, our business model frees up consumers to modify their habits and choose a transport option that is more sustainable and efficient. As John Thøgersen, Professor of Economic Psychology said: “Whilst most consumers are not capable of determining which behaviour changes in relation to the climate are worth doing, the biggest focus should be on making climate-friendly behaviour the easy behaviour” – and that’s what we aspire to do at HumanForest. 

What is the social impact you hope to have with your business model? 

The environmental impact is clear. For every mile ridden on a HumanForest e-bike, a Londoner saves 112 grams of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. We forecast our average ride to be 2.2 miles, which means that across our fleet, Londoners using e-bikes could save up to 2,000 tonnes of C02 per month. 

Our social impact goes beyond the environment to support positive health and well-being too. E-bikes may anecdotally be called the “Happy Bike”, but this is scientifically proven. Immediately after you start pedalling, your brain gets a spike of serotonin, the “happy hormone”. After 20 to 30 minutes, other mood-lifting chemicals like endorphins and cannabinoids kick in as the exercise increases the supply of oxygen to the brain, boosting the release of these “happy hormones’. Cycling also fires the neurotransmitters that alleviate pain, both physical and mental, low levels of which are linked to depression. A study in Science Direct also showed that aerobic exercise, like cycling, can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety.

How are you planning to raise awareness and help people understand the effects of climate change?

At the end of last year, for the first time ever, the scientific consensus that humans are altering the climate passed 99.9%. “It is really case closed,” Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University said, adding: “There is nobody of significance in the scientific community who doubts human-caused climate change.”

Now, efforts must pivot to show people how they can help. Transport is a great place to start. It’s the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas emissions, producing 27% of the UK’s total emissions in 2019, and there are already non-polluting alternatives, such as HumanForest, available. 

Our business is framed around addressing this problem. We use challenges and team goals to show our users that small meaningful changes to their daily routine add up and will make a difference. For example, our latest group challenge was to avoid emitting the amount of CO2 that Hyde Park absorbs in a day. 

E-bike sharing has exploded in recent years and there are many players on the market. How have you innovated on the e-bike sharing model?

The future of sustainable mobility rests on creating the conditions for more people to have access to affordable, clean transport. HumanForest’s innovative business model is the first of its kind to partner with companies to provide access and free mobility. 

You closed several partnerships with high-profile brands. Can you tell us more about these corporate partnerships?

We’ve worked with some wonderful brands that are aligned with our vision of a more sustainable future. These brands have made the 10 minutes per day possible. Nutmeg, Mr Porter, Bloomberg, Financial Times and lots of smaller brands too. 

Are you aiming to expand across the UK and/or Europe?

Yes absolutely. We want HumanForest to be able to provide free mobility to as many people as possible. 

What are the major hurdles you had and managed to overcome?

Shipping delays! I’m sure everyone reading this, whether it is in a personal or professional capacity, can relate to this one. The pandemic put immense pressure on supply chains, resources, and shipping, leading to delays. We’ve stepped up our control by bringing most of our functions in-house and we’re pleased to announce that we have another 1,000 e-bikes arriving in London later this month. 

The micro-mobility sector is growing very fast. What are your top three predictions for the upcoming years? 

The future of sustainable mobility will see more people on both traditional bicycles as well as modern, safe and sturdy shared electric bikes. Bikes are quick and easy but also much safer than the newly introduced e-scooters. Given growing concerns about air quality and climate change, as well as a recognition of cycling’s health benefits, I have little doubt that more and more journeys will be cycled.