Participation from the general public is key to advancing green development for the future, said Sabrina Peng, Chief Sustainability Officer of Ant Group, at the China Pavilion of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, UAE. Peng shared the story of Alipay Ant Forest, highlighting how this green initiative encouraged China’s general public to engage in environmental initiatives through everyday green choices.
Sabrina Peng underscores the importance of providing effective incentive to encourage more public participation in making eco-friendly choices. Internet platforms are well positioned to help out because users can easily keep track of their green choices through the use of these platforms and see how they translate into meaningful impacts in the real world.
From Land to Ocean
In 2016, Ant Group launched Ant Forest, a green initiative implemented as a mini-program within the Alipay app. After user authorization, users can earn green energy points in the mini-program as a reward when making environmentally conscious choices through the Alipay platform, such as paying for a bus ride instead of driving to work, booking a train ticket online to reduce paper use, or unlocking a shared bike. Once a certain number of green energy points are accumulated, users can convert them into donations funded by Ant Group to support environmental initiatives. Initially, Ant Forest enabled users to contribute to tree planting initiatives via collaborating with environmental partners like conservation organizations. Over time, Ant Forest has expanded the support scope to include biodiversity conservation efforts in protected areas.
In 2022, Ant Group launched Alipay Ant Forest | Fantastic Ocean, extending Ant Forest’s initiatives from land-based ecological protection to the ocean. Users can convert their green energy points into donations matched by Ant Group to support marine conservation projects, including seagrass planting and mangrove restoration.
Open and Collaborative Model Amplifies Positive Environmental Impact
Sabrina Peng also explained that as the operator of internet platforms, Ant Group has been playing the role of a connector and enabler. Ant Forest’s open and collaborative model allows partners to utilize the green energy points as incentives for their users and combine efforts to protect the environment. For example, Ele.me, a prominent food delivery platform in China, offers its users the option to earn green energy points in Ant Forest by ticking the “no cutlery” checkbox when ordering food in the Ele.me app. According to a study published in Science Magazine, this option resulted in a 648% increase in the share of no-cutlery orders for each Ele.me user. The study estimates that if similar options were applied across China, more than 21.75 billion sets of single-use cutlery could be saved annually, which would prevent the generation of 3.26 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.
Since its launch in 2016 until August 2023, Ant Forest has connected more than 650 million users with over 1,500 partners on a cumulative basis. These partners include brands, environmental conservation institutions, charity organizations, universities and local urban administrators. Ant Forest has enabled its users and partners to use green energy points, and their own reward schemes, as incentives to encourage the public to make environmentally conscious consumption choices in their daily life. These choices made by Ant Forest users have contributed to the planting of 475 million real trees in arid areas of China that are suffering from desertification, supporting biodiversity conservation in 31 protected areas from 22 provinces.
Speaking about the future, Peng said that Ant Group looks forward to collaborating with more partners to amplify the positive impacts of Alipay Ant Forest’s open model, joining forces for a greener and more sustainable future.