What if you could plant a tree just by paying a bill online? More than 280 million Chinese consumers are doing just that, alongside other similarly environmentally friendly acts. The Ant Forest app, launched as a pilot initiative in 2016 by Alipay, China’s leading mobile payment platform, gamifies going green. It rewards users who engage in activities with a low carbon footprint, such as using public transportation or walking to work. Through an animated, interactive mobile game, participants can collect “energy points” and compete with friends to grow a virtual tree. Gathering enough points means Alipay’s parent company Ant Financial will plant a real tree in Inner Mongolia or Gansu province.
Social-impact banking is a rising trend among fintech startups and banks, and responds to a growing appetite among millennials for companies that give back to their community or to the environment. In China, young people increasingly care about charity and sustainability, but the lack of development, regulation, and trust has dampened enthusiasm. This is prompting influential tech platforms such Alipay and WeChat to find innovative ways to step up and support such initiatives.