Updated: Aug 4, 2019
In Scandinavia, the Doconomy (or DO) card has a built-in carbon limit. It monitors the carbon footprint of its users and cuts off their spending when they hit their carbon max. The DO card represents a different way to leverage real-time data about consumption to shift behaviors.
Matter pension allows pension savers to track savings through a digital platform and see the green impacts of the savings. Like Ant Forest (which lets its users visualize virtual trees growing on the app and real ones growing in real soil), Matter pension shows savers results: the green buildings, clean energy, and green food production that their pension savings are helping to finance. Along with those all-important visual images, Matter understands the importance of language. They avoid technical jargon like “ESG investing” that leaves people cold (and that most people do not even understand). Matter pension understands that savers, especially younger ones, want to see the results of carbon dioxide reductions or the increase in biodiversity if their pension is invested in re-forestation. It is not an abstract “ESG” precept for them: they want to be able to tell their friends and children that they are helping ensure that new generations can also discover and interact with many different types of animals and insects. To connect with their savers at that level, new data is needed. Images from satellites in space, from the phones of ordinary people, or from drones flying up close to the green asset can help translate “ESG” into effective communication that allows people to see how they are building a green future.
Carbon Delta. Switzerland ‘s Carbon Delta provides another example of a green fintech leveraging big data to improve climate risk analysis. It uses Enian, a machine learning tool, that combines satellite data with Enian’s own data library of 100,000 commercial solar photovoltaics and wind power assets, to predict investment returns for greenfield projects.
. . . And Where Things Might Go
The Paris Agreement on climate change calls for an “all hands on deck” approach as the only way to shift capital into green assets and projects, and to incentivize each and every one of us to enter into carbon-light living. Parliamentarians can and should learn from the ways digital platforms are succeeding in establishing new behavioral norms—because classical policy tools increasingly appear outdated and insufficient to the challenge.
An exclusive focus on classical macro-policies, such as a general tax on behaviors that harm the environment for example, just seem beside the point in a world where everything else is so rapidly becoming based on actual data harvested about individuals’ exact behaviors. We see it in health, for example. Your fitbit tells you exactly how many more steps you need to reach your daily target. The individualized, real-time feedback keeps motivation up and makes the new behaviors stickier. Could we also make the formulation of individualized climate targets a citizen obligation? If you fail to formulate one, an individualized target could be defined for you annually. Just like you fill out your tax form, you will fill out your annual carbon form. Voting, primary education, and paying taxes are all acknowledged as basic duties of citizenship. Could others include defining one’s carbon target and planting a tree each year that can suck carbon out of the air?
Using the digital technologies that we already have and the data from credit cards, telcos, and financial infrastructure to give each citizen automated feedback on the grams of carbon dioxide attached to each behavior can help to make each one of us aware of exactly how to arrive at a carbon-light lifestyle. Most countries do actually have the data available to give each citizen individualized data on the carbon footprints of their choices, automated and in real time. It is data that already sits in telcos, mobile wallets, and with payment infrastructure providers.
Empowerment and Policy.
The bottom line is that political leadership is necessary for people to feel empowered and motivated to strive for a lower carbon footprint. Just as the world came together to adopt the Paris agreement, which has given rise to the design of carbon markets for corporations to buy and sell carbon credits, politicians could design climate behavioral policies at the individual level. It would not be difficult to develop national climate behavioral policies, assigning a carbon budget to each citizen and then developing a carbon trading scheme for individuals. If you manage to reduce your footprint to below the one budgeted, you could sell your surplus credits to citizens who need more. Or the government could design tax breaks or other benefits (e.g., free admission to national museums) in return for carbon credits. Again, the example of Ant Forest provides the best data so far about the potential of rewarding carbon-light behavioral choices rather than punishing negative externalities. Each carbon-light behavioral choice on Ant Forest earns you points. You can share your progress with the people in your social network, and vice versa, which reinforces behavioral choices by making the green aspirational lifestyle the new normal. What makes the launch of GCash Forest so exciting is the chance to test how that approach will work in a different cultural and political context, and to adjust as needed.