Everything we buy has a price tag on the environment.
From your morning coffee to the new shoes bought for work, everything we purchase has a carbon footprint.
For Tom Ferrier, founder of Green Wallet, a new way to make sustainable purchases, consumerism is at the root of climate change.
In 2018, the United Nations released an alarming report on the future of humanity: It said we have less than two decades to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic consequences for the planet.
At the time, some argued individual actions couldn’t make a dent in the global problem when set against the systemic changes required to reduce carbon emissions.
But Ferrier, previously the youngest senior IT director of Brambles, sits firmly on the other side of the fence.
He has created a simple solution for individuals that is driving collective action in the fight against climate change.
“The premise is simple, we save people money by helping them go green,” he said.
“We understand everyone wants to save the planet, but it’s not happening by focussing on the emotional side of the discussion. So if we really want to unlock mainstream adoption and shift the needle on this problem, we need to turn it into a financial opportunity for people.”
Currently being piloted in Sydney, Green Wallet is an app which guides users to green and sustainable providers nearby.
It links your bank account through open banking, avoiding the hassle of transferring money, and provides a star rating and a cash back in the form of green dollars when you make a sustainable purchase.
The app is expected to launch Australia wide at the start of next year. Meanwhile, the City of Sydney Council has backed the vision presenting the team behind Green Wallet with its Environment Innovation Grant and bringing the company on board to engage residents on the journey to net zero carbon emissions.
Green Wallet has even drawn the attention of Harvard’s Behavioural Science team, which had been looking for a study project which reimagines consumerism as a force for good.
Now on board the Harvard team is supporting Green Wallet to embed behavioural science principles into the DNA of the app.
“It all starts with understanding your impact as an individual and we have simplified that away from the complexity of the carbon footprint, Paris Agreement and tonnes of CO2, which no one understands, into something everyone understands: a simple star rating,” Ferrier says.
“It is just like the system you see on your fridge or your Uber app and the message is simple, buy green products, get the four stars and you’re stopping climate change.”
Reach five or six stars, by switching banks and super funds, and you’re becoming carbon positive.
“You don’t have to do anything else except download the app,” Ferrier says.
“You just shop as you shop and when you’re shopping green you’re congratulated, if you’re not shopping green you’re made aware of that, and we provide you with alternatives.”
Each company on board is required to pass a green test or be accredited by an independent third party, and commit to providing funds to support the cash back.
In return they can expect to see growth in customer numbers.
Green Wallet began as an app aimed at helping people find out the extent of their carbon footprint.
However, Ferrier and his team quickly realised the complexities of climate change were causing people to put action in the too-hard-basket.
The average Australian carbon footprint is 21 tonnes of CO2 a year, Ferrier says. To see meaningful change that needs to be reduced to two tonnes, and it needs to be done at scale.
Ferrier says a stream of companies, particularly small businesses, have reached out to jump on board. Grill’d, Toby’s Estate Cafes, Manly Health Foods and Country Road are some of the retailers Green Wallet says pass the test.
“A lot of organisations are seeing [Green Wallet] as a key way to differentiate and a new way to really market themselves.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and the devastation of the 2019 summer bushfires have highlighted the scale of action needed to tackle climate change.
It has also spurred companies to reassess where they spend their marketing dollars.
And while the aim is to mitigate carbon, Ferrier makes it clear it is not an offset-first strategy.
The ultimate intent is to encourage society to ensure purchases are sustainable, powered by renewables and built to last; the carbon left over is where the offset should come in, he says.
Green Wallet is in discussion with a number of leading green brands expected to come on board ahead of the Australia-wide launch.
“Hooking in these large green brands across every segment demonstrates this isn’t just a one off thing, the message is we are coming together as a coalition to spearhead a clean economic recovery post Covid-19,” Ferrier says.
“We know that entire economies and trillions of dollars are shifting towards net zero in the next 20-30 years and Green Wallet is really here to help fast track that.”