Alibaba's e-commerce arm counts carbon to encourage you to buy more stuff

Encourages 'eco friendly' consumer choices in exchange for discounts

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba launched a tool on Monday that encourages "eco-friendly consumer behavior" by rewarding customers for purchases and "green" activities on its apps with discounts on more stuff.

It works like this: Consumers earn points when they buy "low-carbon" products or select eco-friendly options on Alibaba's Taobao shopping app. Qualifying purchases include energy-efficient appliances, or items from Alibaba's second-hand marketplace Idle Fish. Shoppers also get points for carbon-saving behaviors like recycling boxes, declining disposable cutlery with their takeout, or taking public transport.

The points can be swapped for digital badges and shopping coupons to use on the platform to acquire more stuff.

Alibaba directs users back to the site to redeem the points, driving consumer actions by laying out which behaviors garner points each day.

The initiative, referred to as a "carbon ledger platform," is called Carbon88 and is available across Alibaba's ecosystem. It's common in China to include 8s in a product or shop name as 8 is considered the luckiest number in Chinese culture, with 88 symbolizing fortune and good luck. That is why the platform launched on August 8 [Just like a new casino in Australia aimed at Chinese tourists – Ed].

On the lucky Carbon88 platform, users can check their Alibaba-associated carbon footprint – the e-commerce giant said it has measured over 70 low-carbon behaviors.

They can also engage in virtue signalling by uploading photos of eco-warrior gestures – like using reusable cups for takeout coffee or turning off the lights in an empty room. The gestures don't earn points, but uploading photos showing off your behavior does. Even though uploading a photo requires network and storage resources that all consume electricity – it's not a perfect system.

Alibaba said the initiative – which provides social media-style stickiness to the app and encourages Alibaba purchases – brings the company "closer to its goal of slashing carbon emissions by 1.5 gigatons across its digital ecosystem by 2035."

According to Alibaba-owned news outlet South China Morning Post, Carbon88 also "lists products that have achieved net-zero emissions from production to logistics, or those that use low-carbon materials or packaging to make customers more conscious of their shopping choices and the impact those choices have on the environment."

"Demand-side behavioral change will give brands and corporations more incentive to invest in green initiatives, since going green incurs additional cost," said Yang Lingye – head of environmental, social and governance strategy and operation at Alibaba – in a canned statement.

But all that verbiage glosses over the issue of whether encouraging people to buy more stuff that has to be hauled around the world might have a negative environmental impact.

According to a 2021 International Energy Agency report, energy and industrial processes account for 48 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in China.

The company's cloud segment announced a separate climate capitalism initiative last month in the form of a paid SaaS-based platform that "helps organizations measure, analyze and manage the carbon emissions of their commercial activities," called Energy Expert. ®

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