Climate Tech

How tech will help us shift the dial on climate (in)action

- November 18, 2021 4 MIN READ
Photo: AdobeStock
For the past month, climate change has taken centre stage as media globally reported live from COP26. Don’t believe me? Google “COP26” and you’ll get 2,780,000,000 results in just .57 seconds.

The summit ended last week and so, naturally, media coverage will start to taper. The danger, however, is that while the rhetoric has ended; what we DO next is far (far) more important than what was SAID.

For the curious, COP or ‘Conference of the Parties’ is an annual summit that brings together governments, businesses and individuals around the world to address the biggest challenge facing humanity: climate change.

George Langlands

George Langlands

COP is attended by the countries that signed the UN climate change treaty in 1994, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or ‘UNFCCC’

As Cogo’s Chief Product Officer, it’s my day job to be across those 2 billion write-ups. OK, not every single one of them – but the themes, at least. 

Rather than go into those here, I’d like to highlight one, in particular, that talks to the pivotal role technology can play in helping shift the dial in the right direction.

Our UK CEO, Emma Kisby, put it like this: “This year, there was a definite move away from just talking about net zero targets to what solutions and tools are needed to deliver them…”


That tool is tech! 


To keep up, don’t give up

As I said, over 2 billion search results and that’s this year’s gathering only!

And it gets even more complex when you delve into the targets (developed nations had committed to pledge $100bn per year to combat climate change by 2020; corporations have begun making pledges to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050) and how each country plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep the 1.5 Degree Celsius goal within reach. Which as we know from the latest IPCC report findings in August 2021 is a goal that we likely won’t meet. 

As we all know, the scale of the climate crisis is so huge and systemic and it’s easy to feel powerless.

Not surprisingly, research has found that people report being aware of issues such as global warming, alongside high levels of care about protecting the environment, however attempts at positive behaviour change, such as limiting energy consumption and recycling, often fail (Flynn et al., 2009).

What’s more, when people’s values, intentions or attitudes aren’t consistent with their actions, this creates a value-action gap (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002).

That value-action gap highlights that people don’t struggle with understanding the urgency of climate action; but rather with taking the steps they need to take to make a difference and overall follow through.


Mind the gap

This is why an emerging focus on solutions and tech tools is so important because these will help move us (governments, corporations and individuals) beyond the ‘What’ to the more important question of ‘How?’ 

So why don’t we? Alas, it’s not that simple…or is it?


Tech-enabled behaviour change

The field of behavioural science studies how people behave in a complex world and identifies evidence-based strategies that can lead to changes in these behaviours. What we need to do is leverage tech to scale those proven strategies, i.e. to achieve tech-enabled behaviour change. 

An example of this approach in action is Cogo’s ‘Ethical Nudge Framework‘.

In its simplest form, the framework is based on the idea that successful climate action is a combination of understanding and taking active steps to improve your carbon footprint. It follows the nonlinear journeys those trying to improve their impact on the environment take between understanding and reducing(the two ‘loops’ of the framework). 

The company has applied the framework within its real-time API and free consumer app leveraging the principles of behaviour science and gamification in the form of push notifications (cues) that prompt users towards a suitable climate action; ‘boosts’ that promote the future potential savings of that action; and ‘ethical nudges’ that remove the barriers in the way of users taking action.

A ‘nudge’ might be anything from showing the consumer their real-time, personalised carbon footprint data based on their everyday spending to setting goals and receiving positive reinforcement for making emissions reductions. 

Banks including NatWest (one of the UK’s top 5) and Commonwealth Bank (Australia’s largest) both use Cogo within their consumer banking app to enable customers to see the CO2 emissions associated with their daily spending.

NatWest‘s customers are provided with hints and tips on how to go greener and resources to help them along their journey; while CommBank users are offered the option to offset their emissions. 


A multiplier effect 

Prior to wider launch to its 8 million customers, insights from the initial pilot with NatWest showed the average user saved approximately 11 kg of CO2 emissions per month by committing to behavioural changes that used less carbon – such as composting, reducing meat consumption, or switching utility providers.

If this behaviour was replicated across all customers who use the mobile app, it would save more than 1 billion kg of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to planting 17 million trees.


The best time to start… was yesterday

Cogo is just one example of the power of tech to enable hundreds of millions of consumers globally to understand the effect their spending has on their emissions and take actions to reduce their impact. 

It’s in our hands to make a difference; but to do this, collaboration and conversation by government and business with the tech industry is essential to help surface the tools to deliver climate impact at scale. 

Fast forward to COP27, and beyond talking about solutions and tools, what do I hope next year’s reportage uncovers?

I’m hopeful that HOW we get there takes centre stage, or at least makes up the bulk of those 2 billion results. 

Without these, net-zero announcements and reports with findings such as the IPCC will only ever get us to where we are now. 

* George Langlands is Cogo’s Chief Product Officer

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