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March 1, 2022
Make a difference
Climate Tech

Don’t Look Up offers three simple lessons for banks

Ben Gleisner
In partnership with

In the Netflix chart topper Don't Look Up, an apocalyptic comet large enough to cause ‘an extinction event’ is headed for earth. Globally, popular culture has drawn a parallel between the giant mass and what scientists have been warning us about for decades: climate change. Unfortunately (yet another disturbing parallel), there's often an alarming sense of apathy around the potential for catastrophe. 

The world portrayed in the film is identical to our own - the tabloids are obsessed with celebrities; people are enslaved to social media and the news is focused, largely, on whatever will be most popular with viewers. When President Orlean learns about the comet, she trivialises the panicked warning and we follow astronomers Dibiasky and Mindy as they attempt to alert the world to the impending danger. They hustle for scraps of air time, insisting the event could be delayed or avoided if the world acts quickly. 

Slow motion scenes of destruction follow and Mindy utters some important final words, which were reportedly a suggestion from the actor portraying the character and well-known climate activist himself Leonardo DiCaprio: "We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, if you think about it." 

Ridiculousness aside (the closing scene reveals Orlean’s escape ship landing on another planet far into the future, only to be brutally attacked by a tall, ostrich-like creature) - it is those words that resonated most powerfully with me. If we (you and I) have created this problem; then we (you and I) have the means to solve it. 

Cogo has built a business off the back of the belief that millions of small changes by hundreds of millions of individuals can have a huge impact and move us much further forward, together. Leveraging the power of tech, we aim to enable hundreds of millions of consumers globally to understand the effect their spending has on their carbon footprint and take actions to reduce their impact.

To do this, we’re currently working with five of the world's top 50 banks, with this number expected to double over the next year. 

Banks including NatWest (one of the UK’s top 5) and Commonwealth Bank (Australia’s largest) both use Cogo within their banking app to enable customers to see the CO2 emissions associated with their daily spending. NatWest's customers are provided with hints and tips on how to go greener and resources to help them along their journey; while CommBank users are offered the option to offset their emissions using credible projects. 

Why? Because a growing number of customers have seen ‘the comet’ and they expect banks to help them become part of the solution. They won’t ignore it; and they’re starting to demand that banks start to solve it. 

Banks have a key role to play in fighting climate change and advocating climate-conscious lifestyles amongst their customers. As carbon output is closely linked to spending, banks can integrate carbon tracking into their offering to enable customers to track, reduce and offset their carbon emissions. 

Here are three simple lessons for banks (no, that isn’t a typo) from Don’t Look Up:

#1 It’s all about the data

The truth: 

It was easy for society to ignore the comet because they simply didn’t have the data. Dig deeper into climate change, and you’ll discover a chilling parallel - our world’s financial systems consistently fail to provide people with information on how our money is contributing to issues like climate change. Yes, we know some spending is ‘bad’ for the climate, but that is about as much data as most people have. 

How this applies to banks: 

Banks have a catalytic role to play in solving the climate crisis and other ‘big issues’. More often than not, when we spend, we’re simply making decisions around what to buy and we don’t allocate our spend around environmental and social issues. We haven’t been told how our actions impact on these. As a result, we support climate change through lack of awareness and ‘by default’. 

Banks and accounting platforms have the power to change this! The technology to share the impact of what we spend exists - we just need it to be more widely adopted! What’s more, giving customers the ability to align their spending with their environmental and social values is a huge drawcard for banks as this shifts from being ‘good to know’ to something that customers demand. 

#2 Banks need to change what they’re doing

The truth: 

The ‘comet’ is on its way and if we don’t act now, there will come a point where we’ll all regret our collective apathy. 

How this applies to banks: 

One of the biggest levers we have to pull in terms of change is the trillions and trillions of assets under management globally. It’s time to put our money to work as the biggest potential for bringing about a fairer, more inclusive and more equitable society. 

To start with, we need to divest in coal much faster. 50  years of funding high carbon activities is why there’s a comet in the first place! The time to start funding a new model is now, and banks have the ability and obligation to finance low-carbon businesses over the comet-creating alternatives! (Find out more about how banks can achieve net zero here.)

#3 Soon, banks won’t have a choice!

The truth: 

When earthly onlookers saw the ‘comet’ for themselves, they were forced to confront their plans for survival and the fallibility of their escape. 

How this applies to banks: 

Right now, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures is working on mandating  climate-related financial information. The requirements are hurtling towards banks at break-neck speed, whether comfortable or not, as a signal that the market expects more. The estimates are dire with pension fund analysis suggesting that "...if you add up the policies of all of companies out there, they are consistent with warming of 3.7-3.8C…" (The Bank of England Chief Mark Carney). When it’s time to share your ‘escape plan’ - it’s far better to be prepared than caught out. 

Change isn’t easy and sharing the real data can be uncomfortable for both banks and consumers - but unlike Don’t Look Up, financial institutions now have a captive audience on their side who are cheering them on as the race changes to one in which competitiveness will see banks compete on impact and carbon and how effectively they’re mobilising clients against the fight against climate change. 

Again, if they created this problem; then they have the means to solve it. The reality is - they may just be our greatest shot at survival.