“We think that what we’re doing as individuals doesn’t matter, but it actually does when we’re acting together with a larger community,” says Melbourne-based Lily Dempster, CEO of One Small Step, a personal sustainability app that launched in May 2020.
When it comes to sustainability, the data doesn’t lie. If 50,000 of us reduced our personal carbon footprints by a quarter over the next year, we’d save 250,000 tonnes of carbon; the same as taking 54,000 cars off the roads or planting four million tree seedlings.
The One Small Step app – which helps Australians track and limit their carbon footprint via an innovative combination of behavioural science and tech – is about helping you foster a sustainability skillset.
“I think that when it comes to making sustainable changes, a lot of people know that they should be doing more, but there’s just so much information,” says Lily, who’s also a Bank Australia customer. “They don’t really know where to begin, and a lot of people are put off.
The purpose of the app is to help you recognise that there are some finite changes you can make, and that it’s all achievable with a bit of support. “Structurally, the app is like what you’d see in health and fitness optimisation apps, where you want to give people a sense of where they’re starting from,” says Lily.
You’ll first complete a quiz designed to give a breakdown of your carbon footprint. Then, you’ll be able to see how your impact compares with others before receiving a roadmap on how to get where you need to be. The UN’s goal is for everybody to be at two tonnes of carbon emissions per year by 2050. One Small Step provides a series of tailored programs that help move you towards that goal.
One Small Step recognises that the amount of information regarding climate change can be overwhelming, which can quickly lead to individuals feeling overwhelmed. “Rather than a list of 200 things you can do, we try to help people get a sense of what’s going to be impactful for them,” says Lily. “There’s a fair amount of coaching, support and handholding, all within a great community, so it’s easier for people to make those changes. The programs are tailored to suit people’s actual lifestyles, so you won’t be recommended things that aren’t going to suit how you live.”
Lily’s interest lies primarily in taking the lessons from behavioural economics, as well as cognitive science on behaviour change, and putting them into a user interface to test what might help achieve environmental behaviour change at scale.
“What we know about behaviour change is that information alone isn’t sufficient to support people to change their habits,” says Lily. “You need systems and they need to tie into your existing routines. If you’re going to sustain anything over any period of time, it needs to actually feel enjoyable. If you hate going to the gym, you’re better off finding a type of exercise that you really enjoy, like doing a yoga class with friends. You have to find out what you enjoy then positively reinforce yourself each time you do a little more.”
And speaking of positives, the app seems to be working. “We’ve had a really good response,” says Lily. “Now we have to do a lot of testing and we have some big-ticket items we want to include in the next few months, like a habit-tracking tool. It’s so important that we can actually connect people’s behaviour with their real-time impact, and the more we do that, the more compelling it is for people to use One Small Step.”
Now that the app has actually launched, the team has time to think about what’s next. “We’re planning on doing a crowdfunded equity campaign next year, so we can open up ownership of the business to the community if there’s any interest,” says Lily. “Then we’re also going to apply for B Corp status because it’s a really good, non-governmental certification to ensure businesses maintain great labour standards and environmental credentials, and are strongly purpose-driven.”
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