Using big data and creativity to tackle climate change

Sara Mattsson, Elham Rizi-Shorvon / September 2019

The purpose of corporations is changing like never before. But you still might wonder how two Swedish creatives, who have worked in partnership in the advertising industry for 20 of the past 25 years, established a fintech company with the goal of tackling climate change. However, when you consider the career paths of Johan Pihl and Mathias Wikström, you realise that founding Doconomy was a natural progression for the pair.

After both signed up for MBAs in 2013, Pihl in Berlin and Wikström in Stockholm, it completely changed their approach to creativity and communication. What followed was a run of award-winning projects from the Natalia Project (an assault alarm system for human rights defenders) to the Humanium Metal Initiative (a supply chain distributing metal from destructed firearms, making it available for commercial production), winner of the Cannes Lions Innovation Grand Prix in 2017. During the same period, Wikström developed the Åland Index to calculate the environmental impact of every credit card purchase, matching each transaction to CO2 emissions, which also resulted in a Cannes Lions Grand Prix in the cyber category.

With their core belief that you need to combine creativity and communication with something tangible in order to have a successful business model, it followed that they would develop a credit card that measures and tracks your environmental impact (DO White). But Wikström and Pihl went one step further and introduced a radical new idea: a credit card where the limit is not based on your available funds, but on the levels of CO2 emissions caused by your consumption (DO Black). The innovation was recently awarded the Cannes Lions Creative eCommerce Grand Prix.

Using big data and creativity to tackle climate change

Combining an idea with something concrete

"Some initial criticism we receive when launching projects like this is that people think our approach is too simple,” says Pihl. “We have launched several projects addressing big global challenges, and all those projects have a key component, something tangible. We aim to make the solution appear simple, but behind it is always a solid business model and strategy. In this case a credit card becomes the entry point and acts as a vehicle for the communication, engaging the user."

Pihl and Wikström realise how difficult it can be to communicate big ideas to people unless you provide them with practical solutions. “In many ways, what advertising leaves people with is a decision to make,” says Wikström. “We have succeeded in providing them with a tool to act on it, because it's not just about understanding. You have to understand to be willing to engage, and when you're willing to engage you have to have some tool to engage with in order to create results. And then you want to know what kind of results you’re getting, so it's important they're communicated back to you.”

Moving away from emotions

With Doconomy, not only can users measure and track their impact on climate change, but they can also offset their emissions. And communicating that without relying too heavily on emotion is something that Pihl feels has had a big impact on the company’s messaging. “That's a key decision for us,” he says.

“We've seen that emotional approaches to the climate crisis don’t always correspond well to the situation most people face in their everyday life. Most of us are stressed, we have very little time, and adding guilt doesn't help that. Instead people want a fast and efficient way to contribute and to be part of the solution.”

Using big data

One way Doconomy plans to enhance it’s offering is by making their insights available as open source data. “It's very interesting to see how ‘inside the box’ big data connected to something we are very familiar with enables ‘outside the box’ creative thinking,” says Wikström. “It allows us to create solutions that weren't available just a few years ago.

“Our next step in measuring the impact of carbon emissions is likely an open-source AI-powered platform. We plan to make it available to all universities, all media, and all private individuals who want to know more about how they can contribute to solving this problem. I think big data is an amazing resource to align with this effort.”

The role of brands

Having already developed relationships with the UN and Mastercard, both Pihl and Wikström believe we’ll soon see brands discover a competitive advantage from being transparent about sustainability, especially as searches for terms such as ‘sustainable’ continue to increase. “I vote for brands every day, I vote for politicians every fourth year,” says Wikström.

“Our ambition is to make it easier for brands to step up their responsibility and to bridge this disconnect between producer and consumer so they can address the problem of climate change together.”

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