Bank customers offered carbon footprint-tracking app to give them ‘ethical nudges’
Westpac is offering its customers an app to track their carbon footprint through their spending.
The bank is promoting CoGo, which uses their transaction data to estimate their carbon footprints, and deliver little “ethical nudges” by suggesting ways to lower it.
Hundreds, rather than thousands of Westpac customers have so far downloaded the app, but CoGo founder Ben Gleisner wasn’t surprised.
CoGo was offered by British bank Natwest to its customers in September, and the proportion of its customers to download the app had been growing steadily.
”It’s about 2 per cent so far,” Gleisner said. “But it will come in time. People will say, ‘What, you don’t know your carbon footprint?’ It will be socially unacceptable not to understand.”
The CoGo app relies on “open banking” architecture with Westpac customers giving their bank permission to share their transaction data with CoGo.
CoGo’s algorithms analyse users’ spending, and estimate their carbon footprints, but it is only an estimate.
A large part of people carbon footprints is to be found in the production of their food, but as yet neither Countdown nor Foodstuffs had partnered with CoGo, so all the app currently saw was how much a person spent on groceries, not what they spent their money on, said Gleisner, a former Treasury economist.
If users of the app designate themselves as vegetarians, the carbon footprint estimate of their grocery spending was reduced, as meat was more carbon intensive to produce than vegetables.
But Gleisner was working to persuade the two big supermarket chains to partner with CoGo.
“The supermarket that decides to go first on this will be seen as a true leader,” he said. “They are very interested, but they are slowly coming to the table.”
Once people were using the app, they would start getting “ethical nudges” to give them tips on how to reduce their carbon footprints.
The experience with users of the app in Britain, where it had been available for over a year, had shown a large proportion of users were responsive to the ethical nudges, Gleisner said.
“In the UK, we have found that 25 per cent of users have adopted a new climate-friendly action. One in four people have done something completely new,” Gleisner said.
The nudges would encourage changes of habit, sometimes big ones, such as becoming vegetarian, replacing car journeys with pedal-powered trips, of cutting down on spending on clothes by switching at least partly to buying secondhand.
In time, it could become much more specific, suggesting alternate products with lower carbon footprints.
More than half of the people who have ever downloaded the app and linked their banking data to it, were still using it, Gleisner said.
People using the app could pay money to offset their emissions at the end of each month through it, Gleisner said, allowing them to become carbon neutral.
In time, CoGo would evolve and provide more than just carbon footprints to users, Gleisner said.
His plans included providing users with data on which businesses they gave custom to were living wage employers, and which were not.
“If they care about plastic waste in time we will able to track their plastic waste to help them reduce it,” Gleisner said.
“We’ll also do your pension, and your savings,” he said.
“Think about it a one-step shop to live a more ethical – in terms of your own values – life.”
“We call it sustainable living made easy,” he said. “We’re trying to help you live a life that’s more aligned with your values and aspirations.”
Westpac has been working to build a climate-friendly image with customers, and was also a living wage employer.
By Rob Stock