“I definitely now try and walk more and take the bus or train rather than a car or taxi. I’m more mindful because I can see the numbers,” Singapore-based Alya Annabi told the BBC when asked about her decision to take her environmental goals up a notch by tracking her carbon footprint. “I’ve been on a more conscious journey for the past couple of years. I like to measure things so it’s a nice way to have real numbers.”
She’s not alone. A recent BCG survey of more than 3,000 people across eight countries found that people are even more worried about environmental issues and committed to changing their own behaviours to improve sustainability these days than before the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, three-quarters of respondents found environmental challenges just as, if not more, worrisome than health-related ones.
Unlike Ms Annabi, however, most consumers have yet to walk the walk. In a survey, Harvard Business Review reports, 65% of people said they wanted to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability – but only 26% followed through. Closing this intention-behaviour gap is crucial to move the needle on climate change. For instance, Unilever estimates that a whopping 70% of its greenhouse gas footprint depends on the products customers choose and how they dispose of them.
Helping the green agenda one feature at a time
How we could help drive climate change awareness and action has been a top-of-mind issue for us as well as for our clients. The answer, we’ve come to realise, was “through data”. More specifically, data that both banks and their customers have access to, but without the right analytics capabilities, struggle to make sense of – let alone act upon. Granted, there’s a whole arsenal of freely available online carbon footprint calculators out there. But the problem is that all rely on users self-auditing and reporting their transport, food or energy usage, which can be time-consuming at best and skewed at worst.
Banks, or at least 62% of them, are making an effort to monitor clients’ emissions and environmental profiles, but over a third cite the availability and granularity of such data as a major hurdle to gauging climate risk or the financial risk associated with evaluating lending decisions.
In cooperation with a long-term client of ours, we’ve developed a solution that makes the calculation process both accurate and painless while seamlessly integrating into existing banking software, client-facing or internal. In the simplest of terms, our carbon footprint widget takes users’ spending histories and translates them into monthly carbon emissions estimates based on conversion factors published by governments, international organisations and global environmental agencies.
But that’s not all. To most of us, carbon footprint data is just that – data. The fact that the UK’s average carbon footprint is 10 tonnes per year, for example, doesn’t say much. Unless you happen to know that it can be sequestered by 165 tree seedlings grown for 10 years. Or that the current global average of 4 tonnes needs to drop to under 2 tonnes by 2050 to avoid a two-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures – which would put virtually all coral reefs at risk and see the summer Arctic go ice-free.
This is why we’ve made it possible to display carbon emissions information along peer or national average rates and greenhouse gas equivalencies or highlight which spending categories are the main culprits.
Money makes the world go green?
Raising awareness of environmental risks, of course, is only half the battle. Shaping the attitudes and behaviours which can actively fight climate change is what makes a real difference to carbon and air pollution emissions.
“Humans are creatures of habit. Many behaviours, such as how we commute to work, what we buy, what we eat, and how we dispose of products and packaging, are part of our regular routines. Often the key to spreading sustainable consumer behaviours is to first break bad habits and then encourage good ones,” point out Katherine White, David J. Hardisty and Rishad Habib on HBR.org.
Prompts can be particularly effective in building sustainable habits. Think text messages or app notifications reminding people to hop on their bike, go for a run or take the bus instead of driving to work. The researchers advise, “Prompts work best when they are easy to understand and received where the behaviour will take place, and when people are motivated to engage in the behaviour.”
Our carbon footprint widget allows banks to send customers actionable advice on sustainable living, from quick tips on how to save energy at home to tailored guidance on socially responsible investing. In the future, we plan to add a feature that enables users to offset their carbon emissions without even leaving their banking app by joining or supporting carbon offset initiatives or wildlife conservation projects in just a few taps.
Environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investments have a sizable potential to help mitigate the impacts of climate change and build a low-carbon future. Investors are game: in 2019, a record $20.6 billion was poured into sustainable funds in the US alone, nearly four times as much as in the previous year, Morningstar reports. With insight into people’s investment behaviours, banks can use the widget to promote ethical funds to customers looking to make their money go from green to greener.
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