What if, rather than having a wallet full of customer loyalty cards, you had a single app on your phone, and all you had to do was tap your credit card or scan a QR code to collect your points at checkout? And what if your points – rather than sitting idly, as the overwhelming majority of reward points do – went toward funding climate change mitigation in a transparent, verified way?
Such is the concept of Ark2030, a new smartphone app soft-launching 11 March that capitalizes on customer loyalty points, feeding 1 percent of purchases (one point equating to one USD cent) from participating brands directly into large-scale landscape restoration projects.
Up to 50 global brands and organizations are set to be on the app for the full launch on World Environment Day, 5 June.
Ark2030’s name recalls the Noah’s Ark survival story, common to the world’s Abrahamic religions and a metaphor for the throes climate change. Created in just 18 months by a small group of top-tier experts in ecosystem restoration, finance, tech, consumer behavior and science, it was borne from the recognition of a trio of related gaps in the consumer market and restructuring them to overcome one another.
The first is the gap between consumers and brands. Currently, more than 90 percent of consumers will not only switch to but even pay more for a brand that demonstrates care for the planet. According to J. Walter Thompson, only 12 percent of consumers believe that brands are really delivering on their sustainability promises.
The second is between the wealth and values of major global-brand–owning families, with whom Ark2030’s creator Stephen Fern has worked for nearly 20 years as the chairman of G9, an organization that works with the world’s top wealth holders on how to deploy their capital with impact.
Which leads to the third gap: between ideas for large-scale projects seeking to stave off the impacts of climate change through landscape restoration and the funding these projects need.
“I had spent two decades meeting people around the world with brilliant ideas, brilliant thinking, brilliant plans and no money,” says Fern. “No money to implement. No money to execute. NGOs with two-thirds of their overhead being individuals running around with a corporate begging bowl trying to get their hands on money.
“And I knew from working with the G9 brand-owning families that it’s incredibly difficult to get money out of them as a donation. People think that since you’re a billionaire, you’ll write them a check for a million, 10 million, 100 million. It is just not the case. So I knew immediately that the donor model was not the answer, because from the families’ perspective, anything coming out of their company’s existing bottom line is a non-starter.”
The trick, then, was to find idle or ill-spent money in these companies and transform it into active capital, which led Fern to loyalty points.
Here’s how loyalty points work: when a consumer buys, say, a pair of jeans and receives points equivalent to some amount of money, that amount is expensed and put in a separate trust-like account, essentially leaving the company. If the customer retrieves those points in the future, then the funds leave the trust account and return to the company or is spent with other reward partners; if the points are unclaimed by an expiration date, the amount returns to the company.
It would seem logical that companies would be happy to have the unused points money return to them – unless that money, which is already disengaged, is used in a way that benefits them even more than getting it back, through increasing their customer trust and loyalty.
“I spoke to some of our major brand-owning families who said, ‘Look, we currently spend 8 to 14 percent of our turnover on marketing and promotions and sales activity. So for us to give you 1 percent of our turnover – a tenth of our marketing budget – is actually fantastic because we can engage our customers and consumers with the number one issue for consumers around the world; by showing we care about the planet.’”
As for where the points money will then go, Fern is focused on taking ecosystems back to where they were prior to the Industrial Revolution. By many scientific measures, this equates to restoring 500 million hectares of degraded landscapes by the deadline of 2030, as demarcated by the IPCC.
Fern broke this down across the five main continents and five main ecosystems: ocean, forest, desert, rainforest and savanna. “Across the five main continents, this meant restoring 100 million hectares per continent,” he says. “And over 10 years, this meant 2 million hectares per continent per ecosystem per year. All of a sudden, it felt manageable, and we visualized the idea almost like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle with 500 projects of 1 million hectares each.”
In order to complete the puzzle, Ark2030 is collaborating with the full range of stakeholders in landscape restoration, from governments and organizations such as the UN Environment Programme and the Global Evergreen Alliance to Indigenous and local community landholders.
Using blockchain technology, consumers can trace every cent of their points to the exact project where it is invested, learning about the realities of landscape restoration while connecting with friends and users in a social network interface.
“And that actually is key to this,” says Fern. “It’s giving people hope that we can end the climate crisis rather than this feeling of hopelessness and despair that the world is on an inevitable path to destruction. It isn’t. If we get this right, we can do this in 10 years. So let’s just make it happen.”