Banks will Nudge you towards sustainability
Social Credit System edges ever closer
The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which began life as a small group in No. 10 Downing Street, has since grown to become a global ‘social’ consultancy. Its use of ‘nudging’ has been developed and refined over the last 12 years and is a major reason citizens went into a mass panic over the last few years. Masks, social distancing and vilifying the unvaccinated are all measures likely to have been conceived by the BIT.
It now has over 250 staff and advises governments and companies all round the world. Until 2021, the company was partly owned by the UK government but this one-third stake was sold to Nesta who already owned the other two-thirds. Nesta bought out the UK government because they wanted to attract more investment to create smarter ways to hit net zero by 2050.
Fun fact - The CEO of Nesta is Ravi Gurumurthy, brother of Krishnan Guru-Murthy, lead presenter of Channel 4 News. Their sister is Geeta Guru-Murthy, journalist at the BBC. And you wondered why you never got the full story from the news.
According to the FT, Nesta “specialises in devising low or no-cost interventions that change public behaviour for the better.”
But who decides what is for the better? And better for whom? Better for me, better for society as a whole or better for the secretive group who decides what behaviour needs changing?
On “net zero”, Gurumurthy said the group had three machine learning approaches to sift household energy performance certificates and income data. These will ascertain which of the two has the most predictive power over who will purchase greener but more expensive electric heat-pumps to replace their traditional gas boilers.
The group will also invest in using data and machine learning to provide “precision nudges” in order to target individuals in a more effective way.
One of Nesta’s missions is to create a sustainable future, with a target of 2030.
We want an economy that works better for people and the planet. Our mission is to accelerate the decarbonisation of household activities in the UK and improve levels of productivity.
Once again, I want to know which people this economy will work better for. Decarbonisation of household activities is a great catchphrase but what does that really mean? Probably most people’s standard of living going down.
In fact, we can see what they mean by looking at the BIT’s blog.
Eat less meat and dairy, minimise home energy use and choose to fly less. Looks like they do want your standard of living to go down. Switch to an electric vehicle, install a heat pump, switch to renewable energy and invest in green financial products - all things most people can’t afford to do.
And what if you can’t afford to do them? Will a social credit system be brought in to vilify you for the terrible lifestyle choice of being poor?
Well if the BIT get their way, it could well happen. They have partnered with a carbon impact platform called Cogo to explore how banks should go about nudging their customers to go green. Cogo already works with some banking apps with “the aim to help inform - and change - customer thinking and behaviours”.
Given the wealth of data they hold, banks are very well placed to provide timely and personalised advice on sustainability of our purchases. Moreover, because financial difficulties pose a major barrier in the adoption of green technologies – like electric cars or heat pumps – banks have a natural role to play in this space.
When you make a purchase, if they don’t like it, they will nudge you into thinking you have done something bad, so next time you will think twice.
Imagine you have just paid for a full tank at a petrol station. A message flashes up on your phone screen reading: ‘Did you know this purchase is equivalent to over 200 kg of carbon? You could save over half of that by using more public transport.’
Thanks, says the man who works three jobs just to pay for his new heat pump which barely produces heat. I didn’t know that, he says, nor do I really care. It is two in the morning, I have just finished my night shift and if I waited for public transport I would only get two hours sleep before my next job and barely see my family.
BIT have come up with various ways to nudge you to ‘encourage pro-environmental behaviour change’. They ran a survey with Cogo to test out these nudges, which include:
Prompts for energy switching (the bank sends you prompts based on your transaction);
A special green bank card if the carbon footprint of your transactions is below a certain threshold so you can virtue signal to all your friends what a great human you are;
‘Train miles’ - similar to ‘air miles’ but you don’t get to fly, you pleb;
Loans for eco purchases such as the heat pump you never wanted;
Electric Vehicle trials - the bank works with car manufacturers to let you trial an electric vehicle for an extended period of time at no cost, before you realise you can’t afford one;
Protection for second hand purchases & repairs - the bank encourages you to buy second hand because all the nice stuff is reserved for the special rich people.
After the survey, they discovered that 9 in 10 already consider the environment when making purchases. Shockingly 6 in 10 supported their bank helping them reduce their environmental impact. Surely the fact that 90% of people already consider the environment shows that it is a lack of money that stops people being environmentally friendly. So if nudging won’t work because people can’t afford to change, then what’s the next step - social credit systems and shaming?
Screenshot of Cogo’s UX showing carbon footprint information based on transactions
BIT conclude that “these findings serve as a strong indication that banks have a licence to operate when it comes to introducing carbon feedback on transactions”.
They conclude that:
Banks should nudge customers to take the sustainable actions that people are most willing to take;
Banks should try to educate their customers around their ability to help encourage sustainable behaviours.
Everyone wants to be more environmentally friendly. Everyone wants a clean planet with less pollution. You don’t have to be a genius working at BIT to realise that. But everyone also wants a nice life for themselves and their family. With enough wealth, people would buy an EV and use more renewable energy. But that wealth is clearly disappearing more quickly each and every day so the only way to achieve the same result is through nudging.
Even if nudging starts with noble intentions, it can quickly turn dark and nasty. What was nudging last week is shaming this week. What is shaming this week is a totalitarian social credit system next week.
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