One Question Quiz
Getty Images; Additional design: Tina Tiller
Getty Images; Additional design: Tina Tiller

PoliticsMarch 10, 2021

The app that shows you the real-time ethical impact of your purchasing choices

Getty Images; Additional design: Tina Tiller
Getty Images; Additional design: Tina Tiller

A new, locally developed app promises to help users better understand the ethical and environmental consequences of their consumption.

In a world where supermarkets are full of brands with “eco” and “good” in their names, it’s hard to know if how we’re spending our money really makes a difference to the environment. Even the idea of “lowering our emissions” is so disconnected from our daily lives. How can consumers know if they’re really taking steps to reduce their impact on the planet? 

Open banking – the practice of allowing trusted third-parties access to your financial transaction data – is opening up a whole new world of possibilities for consumers looking for transparency in their spending. Simply put, open banking lets users authorise other businesses (usually fintechs) to access the financial data that their bank holds about them. This is done in a safe, secure way of course, but for what purpose? 

Well, there’s a lot that can be done with this data. Wondering if you’re getting the best deal on electricity? Open banking lets price comparison apps quickly and accurately gauge the gap between what you’re paying now and what other companies can provide. The same goes for comparing credit cards deals and mortgage providers. 

The CoGo app in action (image: supplied)

One way consumers are hoping to leverage the power of open banking is through better, more ethical consumption. Enter real-time carbon footprint tracker CoGo, New Zealand’s first open banking app. Launched in November of last year, Wellington-based CoGo leverages open banking data to show users just how their spending and lifestyle choices impact the planet and the people. 

CoGo started life in 2010 as the charity Conscious Consumers. By 2016 however, the group had reorganised as a company and was preparing for what would be a $2m funding round – one of the biggest capital raises for a social enterprise New Zealand has ever seen. When the CoGo app launched to the New Zealand market in November 2020, it was the first in the country to leverage the power of open banking technology.  

Operation of the app is simple, but the implications are profound. To get started, simply download the Cogo app, connect a bank account, then shop as normal. CoGo will provide a real-time, category-by-category breakdown of your CO2 emissions impact based on what – and how – you spend. 

According to CoGo, the results already speak for themselves. CoGo reports CO2 savings of 229,164 kg (the equivalent of an 855,089 kilometre journey in a car) from its users so far. Average carbon savings per user? Around 49kg per month. 

“If we reach 100 thousand users, that positive impact will be 58 million kilograms less of CO2 per year,” says Benji Hall, marketing manager at CoGo. “That’s amazing and we want to demonstrate that small steps like this, together, have a huge impact.” 

While climate and carbon footprinting is a key focus of the app’s functionality, users can also customise the application to more accurately reflect their own values. Inside the app, users can select areas of ethical interest, including climate change, waste reduction, supporting Fair Trade or organic produce, or businesses that pay a living wage.

The app then leverages that information to tailor suggestions to the user. If a shopper indicates that the Living Wage is an important value to them, when they use the CoGo app to search for cafes, the app will prioritise suggested cafes that pay a living wage to their staff.

“The app offers 13 values which users can use to indicate what ethical areas are especially important to them,” explains Hall. “That could mean prioritising waste reduction, buying NZ Made, reducing carbon or something else.”  

There’s clearly a lot of good that can be accomplished by leveraging consumer spending, and as the number of CoGo users grow – and as the company forms partnerships with other like-minded organisations – so does the positive impact on the environment. 

In February power company Flick Electric, joined the CoGo collective. It felt like a good fit for both brands: they’re like-minded tech businesses based in Wellington, looking to do good. Flick already had a focus on consumer access and transparency around electricity consumption and the environmental impacts of that consumption, but was looking to do more. 

Sunil Unka, CMO of Flick Electric (image: supplied)

“There was a bit of reflection last year in terms of Flick’s DNA and where our values were set and there had been some discussion about returning to some foundational values,” says Sunil Unka, Flick’s chief marketing officer.   

Unka says that during some of Flick’s “navel gazing” moments like these, the group had realized something was missing. 

“We were doing a bit of an audit on the direction of the business, and realised that, while we were doing good stuff, we weren’t necessarily amplifying it, not sharing it wide enough and not partnering with other people doing those good things.”

With its focus on transparency, conscious consumption and consumer empowerment, Unka immediately recognised CoGo as the perfect partnership opportunity for the company.

“Anything that brings consciousness to consumers is good, so we saw the partnership as a real opportunity to better enable and empower our customers, to really put Kiwis in charge of their power.” 

Before that could happen however, Flick had to prove their ethical chops. Businesses that come into the CoGo app have to fit within the Good Impact Framework, the “ethical engine room” of CoGo, which gauges the impact businesses are having on the four issues that matter most to New Zealanders: climate change, waste, community and environment. 

Flick is Carbon Zero Certified (meaning all of their operations are carbon neutral), and the group is also one the founding signatories of the Climate Leaders Coalition. 

“We’re Toitū Carbonzero certified and the developer of CHOICE, our world-first app that monitors the live carbon impact of New Zealand’s electricity usage, and lets our customers track their emissions,” says Unka. 

Users can also use that app to offset their carbon impact via Flick’s partner charity, Trees That Count who plant native trees to tackle climate change.

So what does this new age of transparency and accountability mean for ethical consumerism? Do apps like CoGo spell the end of the “greenwashing” once and for all?  

“With all the misinformation and misdirection that occurs, it has been really difficult for consumers to make conscious choices that actually have an impact,” says Unka. 

“With open banking technology, I think we’re going to see all of that misdirection unraveling, and now that users have access to the right data, we’re going to see people much more focused on making better ethical choices with their spending.”

And Unka says, for Flick, it’s about a lot more than just good PR. It’s about giving their customers faith and visibility over the ethical commitments the company makes. 

“Certifications and ethical partnerships like the one with CoGo, offer a way for us to stay true to our guiding principles. As with any sort of accreditation, certification or partnerships, it gives you something to hold yourself accountable to. Working with CoGo holds us to account as a business.”  

Now it’s about getting as many people as possible to start doing some “navel gazing” of their own, considering the impact that their consumer purchases have on the environment, and taking real steps to more closely align their consumer behaviour with their values. 

Increasingly, we’ve got the tools to do that, says Unka. 

“Consumers want to make a difference, there is a lot for them to digest at the moment and  there’s a lot to learn. And with some of the self-accreditation that we see on brands on supermarket shelves, there’s a lot to unlearn as well,” he says.

“That’s what we like about initiatives like CoGo; it’s an enabler for action that actually has a quantifiable impact.” 

This content was created in paid partnership with the Flick. Learn more about our partnerships here

Keep going!