The rise of carbon-centric super apps
This week, I have decided to do a bit of future-gazing to bring to life some of the technology implications of climate change, with a particular focus on a person’s financial experience and the potential emergence of carbon-centric super apps.
Following the science, there is little doubt that the world is warming. The outcomes from COP26 illustrate the complexities of a global approach to decarbonising. Political prevarication, corporate inaction, and greenwashing may well result in tepid action plans.
The net result will be atmospheric carbon rising, not falling, and it does not take a crystal ball to realise that extreme weather is likely to become the norm. From heat waves to hurricanes to flooding, nowhere on the planet will be safe from the effects. Drought and famine, with the resulting human impacts, will become commonplace.
Driven by fear, it is likely that citizens will demand change and a better understanding of how, individually and collectively, they can help make a difference.
A better understanding of carbon and its reduction is likely to be a real focus for citizens everywhere. Carbon and money are likely to become more intertwined.
Perhaps in the future, every citizen will be given a carbon budget. Everything they buy, consume, or sell will have a carbon figure attached to it, with this figure worked out for an item across the entire supply chain.
It would be surprising if Big Tech did not see the opportunity. Perhaps by launching super apps that act as a user’s everyday companion guiding them through decisions. The word ‘budget’ is important as it speaks to attributes of money. It is why money and carbon could co-exist so neatly in an individual’s life.
You could almost imagine a super app called Carbon Central. Maybe it could be an open banking application used for day-to-day finances, but with a carbon information layer on top?
Companies such as Ecolytiq, Enfuce, and Co-Go already have solutions that use transactional data to work out a person’s carbon footprint. For example, Co-Go analyses banking data and matches every transaction to a specific industry (fashion, food, insurance, and so on). It then multiplies each transaction by an ’emissions factor’ for that industry to work out the carbon footprint. From that, it can calculate a person’s monthly carbon footprint.
So it is already happening. Banks are starting to embed this type of content in their digital solutions. But what about the opportunity to build something all-encompassing?
Like all good super apps, Carbon Central might have many mini apps that support the mission, such as Earthchain. Earthchain was launched in early 2021. Its goal is to use receipt data to provide carbon analysis on shopping baskets.
Its founder Dan Graf maintains that whilst the bankside carbon calculations are valuable, they fail to provide consumers with the necessary details to make better buying decisions. His solution looks at till receipts to better inform customers about the carbon footprint on items for purchase.
Earthchain could evolve into a voice-based app. So, when a person scans an item in a supermarket, the app tells them the carbon information and advice on lower-carbon alternatives. Perhaps shoppers will wander around supermarkets with earphones, picking up things and quickly returning them following the app pronouncement.
Carbon Central could also include an investment app. Being planet-conscious goes beyond carbon. All savings and investments will likely have an ESG rating soon, and making this trustworthy will require standardisation and auditing.
RewiredEarth is an excellent example of an organisation building a platform that measures ESG across the supply chain. Based on the UN sustainability goals, it aims to ensure that tradeable assets include an ESG metric. Because it is based on the UN goals, people will be able to make investment choices based on what is important to them. For example, investing in climate action or zero poverty, or life below water, and so on.
Personal preference is essential. The firm has just undertaken some research globally which indicates that people’s ESG priorities vary across geographies and demographics. Obviously, there must be mechanisms to audit and check what is happening, build trust in the system, and identify bad players.
Technology can help here. For example, one growth area is satellite surveillance. Satellites have become very adept at discovering environmental cover-ups. They can already detect relatively minor gas leaks or illegal logging. They can even look at the heat signatures of individual properties. RewiredEarth hopes that people will shift more and more of their money into planet-friendly investments, creating better returns—a truly virtuous circle.
Another mini app could be for travel. The aviation industry is a primary source of carbon emissions. You could imagine making air travel less attractive than the marketeer’s dream it is today becoming a political mandate. For example, planes designed to be as uncomfortable as possible, with first class and business class seats removed. And private jets outlawed. Booking a flight may involve many decisions, particularly regarding an individual’s carbon budget.
The more I think about it, the more I think a carbon-centric super app is a likely outcome, and I believe Big Tech companies will be the owners. If done correctly, and at scale, it could be a beneficial tool for driving the correct behaviour to decarbonise.
About the author
Dave Wallace is a user experience and marketing professional who has spent the last 25 years helping financial services companies design, launch and evolve digital customer experiences.
He is a passionate customer advocate and champion and a successful entrepreneur.
Follow him on Twitter at @davejvwallace and connect with him on LinkedIn.