Interview: To connect consumers and businesses for the good of people and the planet

2020 / 10 / 4 | Author: EcoNetworks

“some of the most challenging issues,
such as climate change and workers’ rights, can be tackled at scale
when consumers are empowered to align their spending
with their values and influence businesses to be a force for good.”

 

Interviewee: Ben Gleisner, CEO and Founder at CoGo, New Zealand and the UK

Interviewer: Nao Okayama

Introduction

In Japan, more and more people are interested in ethical consumption, and they are trying to choose environmentally and socially friendly products and services as much as possible.

Although each person’s change of lifestyle is important, people feel difficulty to practice ethical lives. First, it is rather hard for consumers to find out where and what kind of efforts are being made. Second, consumers start feeling uncertain if their consumption truly contributes to realizing a sustainable society since they cannot grasp how much impact is given by their daily efforts, which ends up losing their enthusiasm. For businesses, on the other hand, even if they are making good approaches, greater efforts are needed to get noticed by consumers. In order to build a sustainable society, “easy” will be the key, and we believe we can realize it through innovative tools such as CoGo App.

CoGo which stands for “Connecting Good,” launched in New Zealand, and now its market expanded to the UK, makes ethical living easy. What all you need to do is just select the environmental and social issues you care about, and then find businesses that match your values. You can track the impact from your spending and get recommendations that boost your “good” spending.

(from CoGo website)

Through the CoGo app, consumers can motivate businesses to ethical direction, and both consumers and businesses can see the impact, including impact to the SDGs, visually. Consumers can also learn new perspectives (additional impact rather than their primary objective).

We interviewed Mr. Ben Gleisner, CEO and founder at CoGo, to find out how to make a positive impact on ethical living through CoGo app.

Interview

Q. CoGo is an innovative app, targeted at a wider range of industries while there have been ethical apps which focus on specific industries. Could you tell us why you started this app business?

I have always wanted to change the world ― and have set up charities, businesses and worked as an economist in New Zealand for many years to do that… but change wasn’t happening at scale, so 10 years ago I set up CoGo.

CoGo is built on the belief that some of the most challenging issues, such as climate change and workers’ rights, can be tackled at scale when consumers are empowered to align their spending with their values and influence businesses to be a force for good.

Q. Since launch, the number of users of this app has been increasing. What kind of positive impact has CoGo caused? On the other hand, what were the difficulties or barriers to moving on?

We only just launched CoGo in the UK, but we’ve achieved great things over the last seven years in New Zealand! Through the power of collective “conscious” consumer spending, the CoGo app has incentivised over 100 businesses to adopt new sustainable practices including waste minimisation and climate change mitigation, including:

  • Over 30 businesses to divert their food waste from landfill, avoiding more than 400,000 kilograms of waste every year.
  • Nearly 20 businesses to invest in more Fairtrade certified products, resulting in $250,000 of annual investment directed towards developing economies.
  • 25 businesses to increase their support for charities, meaning more than $50,000 of new funding for local communities every year.
  • 35 businesses to adopt eco-packaging or offer incentives for customers to bring their own containers, resulting in nearly 200,000 items of packaging potentially avoiding landfill.

Q. On this app, users can choose the field they care about from seven operational badges and five product badges. In addition to environmental aspects, there are also social aspects in badges. Could you let us know how it works?

(from CoGo website)

There are a lot of moving parts within CoGo that exist to make sure the feedback loop we create between consumers and businesses is both trustworthy and measurable. We know that consumers have different priorities when it comes to sustainability and we want to support that by providing people with the option to choose what matters most to them.

Our goal is to create a world-class accreditation system. We incorporate credible certifications, standards and NGO programme ratings into all our product badge standards (including the Fairtrade Mark, Responsible Down Standard, Global Organic Textile Standard, Marine Stewardship Council, Social Enterprise Mark and many more) and work in partnership with these certifiers and NGOs.

In terms of our Living Wage badge, at the moment we work with the Living Wage Foundation which focuses on paying the real living wage in the UK and NZ. We are always further developing our framework to ensure we are able to include key certifications that can further support key issues that are central to creating fair and ethical work for all.

Q. On that evaluation, how do you guarantee credibility?

At CoGo, as mentioned above, we have a rigorous accreditation process in place and all businesses have to supply evidence.

We are also clear that the brands listed are not 100% sustainable, this is impossible and why CoGo was set up, to help businesses to become this. As a listed business, you gain insight into what consumers care about and can thus see the real value in adopting more ethical and sustainable practices and thus gaining more badges on CoGo to show what your businesses are doing.

Q. Recently, you added the new function “Carbon Footprint tracker.” I personally welcome this function, because for general consumers, it has been very difficult to measure personal carbon footprint even if they would like to do it. Why did you decide to add this new function and could you tell us its special point? On the website, it shows “Built by our team of world-leading carbon footprint specialists and data scientists, CoGo calculates your personalised carbon footprint.” Who are the partners?

(from CoGo website)

Yes, this is our most exciting feature yet and has been in the works for months.
It was developed by myself (prior to CoGo, I was a climate economist), the CoGo data science team, and climate expert Professor Mike Berners-Lee ― a leader in carbon foot printing at Lancaster University.

This new feature in the CoGo app is underpinned by carbon footprinting data from Leeds University, led by Professor John Barrett, which is also used by the UK Government and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in their calculators.

Mike Berners-Lee has spent over a decade supporting businesses by helping them to understand their carbon footprint and advising them on opportunities to reduce it. CoGo’s real-time Carbon Footprint tracker is the first time he’s worked with a consumer-facing product, saying, “The use of Open Banking data is a big step forward, and I have every hope that the CoGo app will work in supporting individuals to measure and reduce their footprint.”

Q. At this point, CoGo app can be used only in NZ and the UK. In the future, do you consider starting this app in Asian regions including Japan? If so, what points can be the barrier? If you start this app in Japan, what kind of companies would you like to build partnerships?

Our ambition is to be the go-to app across the world for ethical and sustainable living so, yes, we hope this will happen in the near future.
We have just closed a round of investment and are currently aiming to close Series A which will help with our expansion beyond NZ and the UK.

In terms of barriers, in order for CoGo to function across markets, we first have to spend time to understand the various certifications and frameworks that we can use in the region to accredit businesses. At this point, there are few global accreditations and we want to ensure our Good Impact framework leads the way to define ethics and sustainability in businesses.

After the Interview

Through such a system as CoGo app, consumers will be able to know under what kind of idea and with what kind of ingredients companies are conducting business, and to choose their own consumption styles according to those information as their important choice criterion.

As such movements spread, companies may change their ideas and behaviors as well. Both consumers and companies can realize their own contribution by CoGo app.
We hope we can enjoy ethical business and consumption through the CoGo app in Japan someday soon!