Greenhouse Pioneer: Ben Gleisner, CoGo

CoGo green tech app social and environmental issues

Nowadays, it's hard to be certain that you're making socially and environmentally positive purchases, even for the most conscious of consumersThat's where CoGo can help. 

CoGo is the world's first ethical recommendation engine, helping consumers switch their spending to companies that match their ethical and environmental values. Following the purpose-led app's great success in New Zealand, having connected 500 business customers with 20,000 consumer members, CoGo has just launched in the UK to take easy, ethical shopping global. We spoke to Ben Gleisner, who, amongst being an economist, environmentalist and social entrepreneur, is also the CEO and co-founder of CoGo.

1. Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about CoGo – what’s its mission? 

CoGo is a free app that helps connect people with businesses that align with the social and environmental issues they care about.

2. What drives you? 

I have always wanted to change the world - and have set up charities, businesses and worked as an economist in New Zealand for many years to do that… but change wasn’t happening at scale, so 10 years ago I set up CoGo.

CoGo is built on the belief that some of the most challenging issues, such as climate change and workers’ rights, can be tackled at scale when consumers are empowered to align their spending with their values and influence businesses to be a force for good.

3. What is your greatest achievement to date? 

We only just launched CoGo in the UK, but we’ve achieved great things over the last 7 years in New Zealand! Through the power of collective ‘conscious’ consumer spending, the CoGo app has incentivised over 100 businesses to adopt new sustainable practices including waste minimisation and climate change mitigation, including:

  • Over 30 businesses to divert their food waste from landfill, avoiding more than 400,000 kilos of waste every year.
  • Nearly 20 businesses to invest in more Fairtrade certified products, resulting in $250,000 of annual investment directed towards developing economies.
  • 25 businesses to increase their support for charities, meaning more than $50,000 of new funding for local communities every year.
  • 35 businesses to adopt eco-packaging or offer incentives for customers to bring their own containers, resulting in nearly 200,000 items of packaging potentially avoiding landfill.

4. What are the challenges you face?

CoGo is all about empowering consumers through better information to make better choices (i.e. ones that better align with their values). The key challenge with this model is what information we provide them with. There are a number of solutions that currently exist to support more ethical and sustainable consumption.

Thousands of labels and accreditations are presented to consumers on what is the ‘right choice’, but they are hard to navigate, can be perceived as greenwash and there is little way for a consumer to know if their choice is having a real impact.

CoGo attempts to overcome this challenge bringing together credible third parties, such as Living Wage, Social Enterprise UK, and Carbon Trust, and listing all their business members on the app. This helps create critical mass of credible businesses, but we are still challenged to provide even more data on even more businesses!

5. What are you working on that's getting you fired up and excited?

On 11th November we launched a MAJOR upgrade to our UK app. CoGo’s core proposition makes ethical living easy and accessible for all. We do this by linking sustainable business accreditations (like those noted earlier!) with users’ banking data - through a new ‘Open Banking’ initiative that requires all banks to share personal data with the person who owns it… you!

Access to this data provides a personalised discovery and recommendation tool that highlights the impact of personal spending on issues they care about - starting with Living Wage. By signing up to CoGo, you can now see what % of your spending is with Living Wage businesses and great tips on how to shift it to more businesses that do!

6. Where do you want to take CoGo next? 

I often talk with staff about our 5 to 10-year ambition. The story I tell is this:

‘In 5 years, Elon Musk will still be making his electric cars, the SDGs will be driving more awareness around sustainability, and Tesco may have gone carbon neutral, but when you ask someone what they have MOST faith in changing the world they say CoGo. They say this not just because of the 1000s of examples of impact we have created through businesses changing practices, but because they themselves finally feel empowered to change the world - along with millions of other users of the platform'

That is our ambition - to build a movement of millions of people that changes the world for the better more than anything ever has.

7. What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

Join CoGo! We are starting with Living Wage, but you’ll soon be able to see your entire carbon footprint based on your transactional data - and be encouraged to reduce and offset it. In the end, we ultimately want to help make it easier for everyone to make a ‘difference’ through aligning their spending with their values - so every day they can make small and positive impacts on the world.

8. How is what you are doing inspiring change in others?

CoGo is 100% all about inspiring change in others! As outlined in the Impact Model, we use the collective power of consumer spending to drive attributable change in business behaviour: from reducing waste and carbon emissions; to more people being paid the Living Wage and more funding to charities.

CoGo measures the impact of these new businesses’ behaviours through our Impact Framework - which draws on more than 100 existing accreditations that verify the sustainability claims of businesses - as noted.  

Ultimately, the CoGo tool provides insights to inspire change in consumer AND business behaviour!

9. Can you recommend a life-or game changing book for our readers?

Natural Capitalism.

10. What's the best advice you've ever been given? 

For a happy work life: find something you are passionate about, identify a tangible and ambitious goal that makes that something better, and then work relentlessly to achieve it!

11. What do you listen to when you're cooking dinner?

I love cooking and music, so it is one of the happiest times of the day! Favourites are Angus and Julia Stone, Mumford and Sons, Of Monsters and Men… and many more.

12. Can you leave us with who'd be your Eco Hero?

YOU are my Eco Hero if you are actively taking steps to improve your impact on the world… maybe not every day, but certainly every month. We all have to do our bit - and you are a hero if you do!

Interested to learn more about starting your journey to good? Click here to join the CoGo Founding Community and put your money where your heart is, starting with the real Living Wage.

If you are a pioneer involved in creating a more sustainable future and have a story to tell, we would love to hear from you.