Individuals hold the key to sustainable transformation worldwide

 Doconomy was founded in 2018 as a financial technology company to help consumers better understand the impact caused by their consumption patterns. They are now venturing into other aspects of measuring environmental impacts, such as product, lifestyle, and corporate level. The founders seek to establish environmental impact as a new language that needs to be part of every decision we make.   

The idea for Doconomy first emerged in 2015 when Johan and Mathias were working on ways to support the corporate social responsibility objectives of the Bank of Åland. While there they created the Åland Index, which enables banks, payment providers, and financial institutions to offer all customers transaction-based CO2 impact calculations on their purchase.

You come from the world of advertising and communication. What motivated you to switch to sustainability through purpose-driven innovation?

Mathias: Our motivation to explore the sustainability sphere was driven by the identification of a clear problem. Johan and I have been working together for a long time and we were intrigued by the enormity of the sustainability challenge facing humanity. We were successful working in advertising when we decided to invest in ourselves to expand our horizons. We both then enrolled on an MBA and started to look at the problem from a different angle. A whole new world opened up and we identified climate change as the greatest problem there ever was. So we approached it from a combination of approaches 1) we needed to understand the problem better and 2) find a solution from a business model perspective. The solution we came up with can be summarized as follows:  “We protect the impactful idea with a strong business model so that solving the problem is not a subjective pursuit but a business in its own right.”

Our first relevant projects started in 2014 in Sweden in the area of civil rights which then became an international project called The Natalia Project. We started working in the belief that we could design the end result as well as the narrative i.e. the business model motivational side along with the right communication tools. Then came the Åland Index in 2016. We followed a similar approach but from a different perspective i.e. we included proof-points. After these two projects we came to the conclusion that we could, and should, reach a wider audience with the message that every action has a consequence.

Johan: Coming from the advertising and communications industry we spent a long time working out ways to influence consumer behavior. Based on our background I believe we know how to use communication to motivate and change behaviors. Doconomy seeks to motivate and empower consumers with better information around environmental impact. We both decided to embark on an MBA 10 years ago which was instrumental for us in shifting from a traditional marketing mindset to one driven by innovation and business modeling. We focused on the end-user and on building services which many people would be willing to use every day. Consumers need to be well informed in order to take action on climate change, so we focused on empowering them with measurable impact metrics. With the Åland Index we sought to reshape the credit card into a vehicle for greater responsibility and accountability, achieving global reach through our partnership with Mastercard. At the same time, understanding the need to go from category and average impact computations to specific product-level, Doconomy launched The 2030 Calculator, a product carbon footprint calculation tool.

We protect the impactful idea with a strong business model so that solving the problem is not a subjective pursuit but a business in its own right.

Tell us about Doconomy, its mission, your achievements so far and your new frontier (i.e. the ecosystem of services).

Mathias: Our overarching mission is to protect life on the planet by enabling a sustainable lifestyle for all. We need to take care of planet Earth and educate the public on the best ways to do so. In order to reach that goal, we have designed tools that are digital and data-driven. We repurpose what is already in place instead of reinventing new tactics. By way of example, we use credit cards as a vehicle to educate people on the impact of their purchasing decisions. The rationale being that you are best placed to stop a car heading full speed towards a cliff when you are at the wheel of the car. A transaction is a contract between a buyer and a seller and the receipt is the acknowledgment of that transaction. Following this logic though, the environment should also be part of that transaction.

Johan:  When we reflect on our milestones we need to highlight that we were extremely lucky to facilitate a very powerful partnership with Mastercard and UNFCCC very early on. We had two giants deciding to join forces to find new ways to leverage our collective ability to understand impact and accelerate synergies for transformative change. We took a very conscious decision to stay away from the blame game and finger-pointing and instead worked on a tangible solution-driven platform. So rather than trying to stop consumption, we actively worked towards facilitating conscious consumption. 

We focused on empowering consumers with impact data as you are best placed to stop a car heading full speed towards a cliff when you are at the wheel of the car.

What are your biggest insights working with companies and consumers? And how have those insights informed your company’s new services?

Mathias: By leveraging the 2030 Calculator  and the Åland Index we were able to start a dialogue between brands and consumers. In this way, Doconomy is able to understand and communicate the perspectives of both the brand and the consumers. The existing infrastructure needs to support that shift. 

In that vein, our vision is to build an ecosystem of services. Being first in the market meant we were able to create that infrastructure. But there is a lot to do to understand the data we need to collect and provide to effect change and deliver impact to many different stakeholders. It is both an opportunity and a challenge

My insights are translated into hope. No matter who you are and what you do, we are all human beings. Everyone is affected by climate change regardless of their roles, abilities, status etc. You can be a CEO in the daytime and a Dad in the evening. There are different responsibilities and leverage in addressing this crisis but we share the same goal and ambition.

For Doconomy it is critical to understand that this is an unstoppable movement with more and more people joining every day. Statistics show that 85% of the global adult population are committed to climate action. Consumers are ready to change and that is a big uniting factor across the world. Individuals hold the key to sustainable transformation worldwide, but we play different roles. 

Johan:  We believe that we are entering into an era of transparency. Fortunately, many companies we meet see a real opportunity to rebalance the relationship with their customers through enhanced accountability and responsibility. We are adapting at speed to this new era of transparency while gathering new evidence of consumer behavior. We believe market imperfections, irresponsible business practices, and lack of transparency, have created the current state of climate change. But we also believe that we can change the trajectory and bring about the change we all wish for. As an example, one of our partner banks conducted a survey among their client base which shows that 25% of them have changed their consumption as a result of using Doconomy’s services. This is clear evidence that we can motivate more informed decisions.

As part of this effort, we support science and academia in their in-depth research and analysis efforts and that’s why we have teamed up with The University of Oxford, WWF, and Stockholm School of Economics, to better understand how data will play as a driver of the shift towards more sustainable systems. 

individual sustainable transformation worldwide

85% of the global adult population are committed to climate action. Consumers are ready to change and that is a big uniting factor across the world.

You have partnered with Mastercard and prominent actors in the climate change debate like S&P Global and the UNFCCC. Tell us about the value of partnerships and your vision for innovation.

Johan:  Collaboration is at core when building the ecosystem of services that allows for greater transparency around environmental impact. We can only achieve global reach and change through partnerships and collaboration with a wide variety of stakeholders. For instance, we met with an international organisation for consumer rights on the fringe of COP26. This would have been unthinkable for us, as advertising executives, only 4 years ago. Now we are convinced that we need everyone’s efforts and inputs to address the sustainability challenge. In the end, everyone needs to play a part. 

We are keen to work both with science and academia. Now and in the future, we need to leverage the latest science and data in order to contribute to something larger than us whose consequences will outlive us all. Our business is not only about commercial viability but, and let me underline it, it is about the overarching purpose. At Doconomy, we talk about impact as a language, and the power of this new language to address the current environmental challenge. And it turns out, this is more than a 9 to 5 job. But at the same time, we want to come back to our families in the evening with the feeling that we have done something valuable in the efforts to tackle mankind’s biggest problem.

As part of our purpose, we are very open to partnerships with all kinds of actors, including our competitors, because there should be no sense of competition when facing climate change. We always try to align our ambition to help solve climate change with the power of commercial interest, which has proven to be a very successful combination.  

Mathias: Financial institutions have been very successful in value creation and in enabling efficiencies. To leverage the efficiency of the financial system and put that at the service of solving the fragilities of the ecosystem while making it profitable is a very powerful strategy. The beauty and hope of this fight are that it is not a regional topic but a global endeavour that affects everyone across the world from San Francisco to Singapore.

We are very open to partnerships with all kinds of actors, including our competitors, because there should be no sense of competition when facing climate change.

What is your take of recent COP 26? Having attended, where do you think there is more potential for leading on action against climate change?

Mathias: There were two emerging themes as I saw it. On the one hand, language and on the other, leadership. On the former, leading feminist Shirley Chisholm once said, if you don’t get a chair at the table, go and find a folding chair. A broader audience reach was accomplished at COP26 as more voices were heard at this conference. On the latter, we have to apply basic analysis to the commitments voiced and to the bold “we are going to do this tomorrow” attitude. India did the world a big favour by highlighting the current climate injustice. We take for granted that developed countries have prospered precisely because they’ve used coal for over 200 years. More emerging countries cannot be told by them that they cannot develop the way we have on the back of polluting sources of energy without giving something in exchange and supporting them financially. So India poked the developed world in the eye and brought the current climate talks intrinsic unbalance to the fore.

As far as Greta Thunberg, it is important to realise that she has framed the debate emotionally. She is a big inspiration, we need emotions but also the tools to glean tangible data. We need the tears and the outrage but also the tools to measure impacts. There are two sides to the coin. The big shift is happening as more and more people are reflecting on what they can do. Doconomy has a road map and we are energised for being part of a community focused on redesigning the system.

Next year’s COP in Egypt will be critical to evaluate progress on commitments and to call the potential bluffs. I am also looking forward to Davos as the gaps between commitments and the reality of COP26 can also be exposed then.

individual sustainable transformation worldwide

What does still need to happen to make the global economy greener and what’s the role of the fintech ecosystem?

Johan: We started as a fintech and in a way created the fintech climate space, and by investing heavily in the “infrastructure” we were able to lay the foundation for many other players. We are today focused on what we call “Applied Impact”, which is the concept of promoting data-driven mindful and conscious decisions at every touchpoint (be it during a commercial transaction, pre-product design, product use, in their lifestyle, etc.).

Additionally, we are using innovation to speed things up in terms of regulatory developments. And we are hopeful that our services and methodologies will inspire or provoke the right type of regulation. We are trying to create new standards of conscious consumption, which we believe could soon be mandatory. This is further strengthened now when governments worldwide and the EU are approaching us to discuss how to help with “citizen activation”. Further proof of startups influencing regulation is seen when our competitor, Cogo, recently received public endorsement from their own government in New Zealand. Obviously, we are hopeful that our own Swedish government will also support Doconomy in our effort to empower consumers with a better understanding of impact.

We are focused on “Applied Impact”, which is the concept of promoting data-driven mindful and conscious decisions at every touchpoint.

What advice would you give to start-ups willing to make a mark in green finance?

Johan: Strive for innovation in its purest form, the value is in solving a problem that affects many people. Look for partnerships early on, ask yourself how you can connect with other players/competitors that share the same purpose. And stay away from any traditional business logic, the business model is a way to protect the innovation but should never be allowed to limit or restrict. Look at what already exists and try re-imagine it completely, using innovation to inject purpose in existing systems. This is part of Doconomy’s success. Remember that starting something that aims to help solve global challenges will never be an easy endeavor.  There are no shortcuts when it comes to addressing the big issues so you need the stamina and drive to disrupt current systems.

Mathias: innovation is the ability to re-create value and that’s what we’ve tried to do at Doconomy but indeed prepare for a steep learning curve and compassionate engagement.

Look at what already exists and try to re-imagine it completely, using innovation to inject purpose in existing systems. This is the essence of Doconomy’s success.

What keeps you motivated to continue this sometimes uphill struggle of pushing for systemic change to allow for a more sustainable future for all?

Mathias: If we focused on frustration we would not be where we are today. We have to focus on our ambitious objective and find the right people and support to get there together. There is a minority that tries to divert attention and create confusion but we don’t have time for nay-sayers or deniers. We focus on the positives which are that most people are striving to reduce their impacts and do good for the world. 

Johan: We need a big shift in terms of mindsets and behavior so there is always going to be an emotional counter-reaction. At the same time, we are hopeful because we can change the entire premise of how we will consume in the future. It is a major shift in the economy and the tide is turning. I am really energised as I encounter on a daily basis commercial pioneers and organizations that share this vision and the view that systemic change is unavoidable. 

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