In August 2016, UNEP FI member Ant Financial, one of the world’s largest digital finance companies, launched its pilot application ‘Ant Forest’ to engage individual citizens in greening their behaviour. As of May 2017, almost 50% of Ant Financial’s 450 million users had signed up to the unprecedented app which gamifies carbon footprint tracking.

“Two hundred million people – that’s three percent of the world’s population – are greening their lives because they are getting immediate information about the environmental impact of their choices in a fun and competitive way,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

“This shows that digital finance holds a huge untapped power to mobilize people in support of sustainable development and the fight against climate change. And this power is literally at our fingertips through our mobile devices.”  

The Ant Forest app tracks users’ behaviour assessing their avoided carbon emissions against a benchmark, for example walking instead of driving, and records these figures as saved energy. The saved energy points are accumulated to grow virtual trees, competing against friends on the social network. Once enough points are earned, a virtual tree is planted in the desert.

According to the Green Digital Finance Alliance report, during the first nine months of the app, 150,000 tons of carbon emissions have been avoided and over one million trees planted.

The early success of Ant Financial’s app demonstrates the possibility within fintech to engage individual citizens in a bottom-up approach that complements top-down action, such as the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, in support of sustainable development.

The Green Digital Finance Alliance, an innovative partnership between UN Environment Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System and Ant Financial, addresses the potential for fintech-powered business innovations to reshape the financial system in ways that better align it with the needs of environmental sustainability.

For more details on Ant Forest App’s impact, please read the full Green Digital Finance Alliance report.

For more information about fintech and sustainable development, please refer to the Inquiry’s recent report.