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Green digital finance

German version

English title for a German contribution? For once. It might read like a counter-spin or fiction, but it is a reality with more than 200 million users within six months. At first glance, more for young Asians than more mature Europeans, but still worth a closer look: The “Ant Forest” project - breathtaking growth, huge dimensions, educational ideas and creativity in combining digital possibilities with the needs of the real world.

17th August 2017

Dr. Ralf Breuer

The Green Digital Finance Alliance

The Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA) was founded in Davos in January 2017. Founding partners were UN Environment and Ant Financial, a founding of Alipay, the payment service of the Chinese internet retailer Alibaba. Meanwhile, UNEP FI (financial initiative of the UN Environment Program), the development bank of the World Bank IFC, and the Kenyan M-Kopa Solar are partners of the alliance.

The GDFA is a complement to Green Invest, a dialogue platform initiated by the G20 in 2013 and under the German presidency in 2017. The core and currently the only project with an external impact is the Ant Forest project.

Ant Forest - mass mobilization for climate protection

With 450 million users and nearly 200 million transactions per day, Ant Financial is one of the world's largest payment services. With Paytm in India, the platform serves another 200 million users. The “Ant Forest” project started in August 2016 with 2 million subscribers and in January 2017 it had more than 200 million active users.

An additional CO2 account will be set up for the users registered with Ant Forest, to which the daily (payment) activities are booked with regard to saved CO “emissions, e.g. when using public transport or walking instead of driving by car. The (estimated) values ​​for the saved CO2 emissions were developed in cooperation with the CO2 exchange in Beijing (China Beijing Environment Exchange, CBEEX). The symbol for the account balance or the personally saved CO2 emissions is a virtual tree that grows as the balance increases.

As soon as the virtual tree is "fully grown", Ant Forest plants a physical Saxaul tree in a region in Inner Mongolia that is threatened by devastation (desertification). By January 2017, more than 1 million trees had already been planted.

Quick success, short effect?

In contrast to other rapidly widespread things (e.g. Tamagotchis, Skoubidou, Pokemon Go), Ant Forest could leave a positive effect in the form of the trees planted, even with waning interest. Unfortunately, the author has not yet received any information on further developments in 2017.

With 200 million subscribers, Ant Financial was able to tap 40% of the user base by January 2017. This corresponds to about 20% of the adults in China. 60% of the participants are under 28 years old, only 2% over 50. Since “Millennials” and younger people tend to be more open to environmental activities and social media at the same time, there is a certain probability of success.

All FinTech stops pulled out

In any case, Ant Forest is a good example of a successful FinTech in Asia: All possibilities of today's information technology are used, including social media and "gamefication". And the ravages of time are met to achieve positive (environmental) effects in two senses. About your own behavior and the trees that have been planted.

Younger customer groups in particular increasingly expect this from their financial service providers, as a study by Morgan Stanley found. Particular attention is paid to climate protection and poverty reduction. The study also shows that investors want to create impact. Only "sustainable" in the sense of improved corporate management is the right step, but not the goal.


Combining financial services with additional added value is neither new nor absurd. The connection to sustainable development goals has also been sought for some time. Ant Forest offers a good idea of ​​how a FinTech can do this in practice. - Of course, if it fits the customer or target group. The world in Asia certainly works a little differently, but also in different generations.

Sustainability is an elusive topic. It is a process, has many dimensions and relates to a distant future. But sometimes it is possible to equip apparently fleeting things with sustainability. A very clear example was the ticket to the exhibition "Life Form Tupperware - The Cultivation of Use" in the Zeche Zollverein in Essen Essen in 1997. The ticket was a can lid, the can was at the exit. Not a souvenir useful for the seconds at the entrance, but a practical companion for some time.