Five years ago, a complete stranger came up to Tom Ferrier and started with a heavy introduction, “did you know, consumerism is the cause of the climate crisis?”. While it’s not exactly the kind of small talk we’re used to, Ferrier, now the co-founder of cleantech start-up Greener, can’t thank that person enough, because he says, “I have not had a day since then that I haven’t been working on or thinking about what Greener is”.
What that person explained was that everything we buy has a “hidden price tag” of carbon emissions, the key contributor to climate change. Ferrier says, “this person then went on to say that we could actually stop this climate crisis if we all got our carbon footprints down to two tonnes per annum, and it instantly led me to ‘well, what’s mine?’, and they said the average Aussie’s somewhere between 15 and 20 tonnes [per annum]”.
“I didn’t realise we all had our own target to make a difference, and that we could all drive to do that… It was one of those statements that rattled me in a good way”.
“What most people don’t know is 60% of the emissions that are causing climate change are really the result of what we, everyday people, buy every day. That’s because to manufacture, package and transport the things we buy all requires energy, and the bulk is still coming from dirty fossil fuels. There’s about 300g of carbon attached to every dollar we spend; and with consumers across the globe buying about $185 billion every day that’s a whole lot of dirty CO2 getting pumped into our atmosphere.”
So, Ferrier and co-founder Neil McVeigh started Greener, a platform that connects consumers with brands who are doing better for the planet, and offsets the carbon emissions of purchases. “We’re creating a new ‘Green Economy’, one that brings people and businesses together and ensures everything people buy is carbon neutral, to get us down to that two-tonne target, to help end climate change,” says Ferrier.
Users download the Greener app and are offered smart suggestions to reduce their carbon footprint, like more sustainable brands, as well as having their purchases automatically carbon offset, at no extra cost. “In under three minutes, people can be helping end climate change with every dollar they spend,” says Ferrier. Greener has already secured partnerships with brands like XTM, Afends, T2 Tea, Koala, Bondi Born, and Microsoft, and Ferrier says it’s because, “these brands understand that sustainability is the next frontier of customer loyalty”.
“The most exciting part is the impact opportunity in front of us, because it’s massive. Just here in Australia, if the Green Economy takes off, we could take the equivalent of 58 million cars off the road each year, and that’s three times the number of cars on the road in the country.”
Ferrier says, the key to success is helping consumers get educated about the relationship between carbon emissions and consumerism. “Education and awareness is really the first step anyone needs to take before they’re passionate about helping solve a problem, and it was where my journey started back at that event five years ago.”
For companies, being part of the Green Economy means being open and honest, and striving for better. Whether it’s reducing packaging and waste, using better materials, implementing energy efficient processes, or simply switching to 100% green energy to reduce emissions, it’s these actions that consumers want from businesses that will ultimately help us end climate change.
“Firstly, we figure out which businesses are eligible for the Green Economy, making sure they’re not only taking steps in the right direction to get greener, but that they’re also not doing anything to harm the planet – if your business is testing on animals, you do not qualify for the Green Economy, [or] if you’re fracking fossil fuels and yet you’ve got a green energy plan, you don’t qualify. It’s critical we hold those things true because greenwash is becoming so prevalent. But what we also know is that … no one’s going to take action and stick with it, if it’s too hard or if they feel like they have to be 100% perfect in every area. People and brands should feel good about the efforts they make, and a key message from us is not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Let’s make sure we celebrate those that are getting better; and when you do purchase from these businesses, we’ll make it even more rewarding by making carbon neutral, so you can get your footprint down to the target and feel good about helping to end this crisis.”
Education isn’t solely about consumers and businesses – Ferrier says, “everything we’re doing is really underpinned by the environmental science, as well as deep behavioural science”. “We’ve been really lucky to be working with some of the best and brightest at Harvard University and their behavioural science team. They’re actually the same brains behind QANTAS being one of the most successful airlines globally in the carbon offset market. So, Professor Michael Hitchcock is always challenging us – how do we make it easier, how do we make it more relevant, and how do we deliver more magic to the user but underpin it with the science to make sure the credibility is there, and everyone can really get behind the solution to help end climate change?”
Ferrier says the key to consumer loyalty is being frictionless and meaningful. “We leverage Basiq as our open banking partner and make it so simple that once a user connects their bank account… [they don’t] have to carry around a loyalty card or a barcode or anything like that - we know when they’re shopping with green brands in the Green Economy [and] we automatically apply the offset.
“It’s then meaningful … we’re showing these consumers the impact they’re having by either staying loyal to these existing green brands that they already shopped with pre-Greener; or how switching from a non-green brand to a Greener business is helping them reduce their impact and turn their purchase carbon neutral. By putting these brands front and centre with consumers and telling their story (not just ‘this brand X has helped you offset’, but ‘they’ve actually also got this great new pair of jeans made from recycled materials – they’re a sustainable brand already, and this is how they’re taking it to the next level and they’re avoiding X million truckloads of unused fashion, or what would typically be destined for landfill to create your new jeans’), we’re making it meaningful and consumers feel good about making a better choice for the planet.”
“We have seen through our early adopters, that not only do people think this is a great idea, but Greener is delivering tangible results for both consumers and businesses alike. Time and again, as we’ve been ramping up our Greener solution, we’ve seen in a very short period of time, that we can influence over 10% of customers to switch to Greener brands from their non-green competition. So, we know the solution is in our hands and we’re on the right path to nailing this”
Greener is being backed by NAB Venture, with Ferrier saying, “we know that building a new economy, changing deeply ingrained consumer behaviour, is a massive ambition. To do it you really need the scale of businesses on one side and the consumer reach on the other. That’s why we’re so excited to have the support of the largest business bank in the country, who also has millions of consumer customers who can potentially help accelerate our vision”.
“We’ve also just recently announced a strategic partnership with the Australian Retailers Association, who are the big body for retail in this country. We’re co-designing a solution that will help small businesses be part of this Green Economy; so every business big or small can also be part of the climate solution, even if they don’t have the expertise or the capital to bring in sustainability consultants.”
Greener’s goal is to double the 250 partners they currently have, before their launch in 2023. “We’d love to be working with the likes of your Patagonia, Harris Farm Market, Dan Murphy’s, Mad Mex, and others, who are already getting greener and are committed to continuing to reduce their climate impact.
“We know the success of this is bringing like-minded business together, sharing their values-aligned consumers to help solve the most pressing problem of our time. That’s what McKinsey is saying – the next frontier of loyalty is the coalition of different brands coming together with a unified and meaningful customer value proposition, and we just don’t see anything more meaningful right now than taking action on climate.”