Meet Ben, the founder of CoGo aka the app that's changing how easy it is to do good.

Ben and Melissa.JPG

Meet Ben, co-founder of CoGo: the app changing how we shop.

As if social entrepreneur, economist, and environmentalist weren’t impressive enough, Ben Gleisner decided to add CoGo co-founder to his CV. With this background and with such a drive to create meaningful and impactful change through business, Ben “started this company with a mission to fundamentally change the world for the better.”

You can click here to find a little bit more out about this game-changing app, but to understand what makes Ben tick and about how CoGo came to be, we picked his brain. Read on to find out what he told us:

What made you start CoGo?
The idea for CoGo first started when my best friend Melissa and I were doing a masters in environmental studies in 2010. We were frustrated about how hard it was to find local cafes that were doing good, so we created a range of stickers that businesses could put in their windows to indicate the good things they were doing: recycling, using fair trade coffee and free-range eggs, paying their staff a living wage, etc. The stickers did the trick and helped the Wellington community initially, but we quickly realised that we could have a far wider reaching impact if we went digital - and so the CoGo app was born!

Available for free on all smartphones, users simply download CoGo and select the ethical and sustainable issues that matter to them most - from minimising packaging waste to paying staff a living wage. The technology then links these issues to the user’s payment cards, enabling them to send an anonymous signal to businesses every time they shop and see how their spending is contributing to good.

The ethical and sustainable sector is characterized by lots of good intentions, lots of hope-filled rhetoric, and lots of heart-felt hand wringing. What it hasn’t yet made,
sadly, is lots of progress. CoGo takes a different approach. It understands that to make real change happen, people – both businesses and consumers - have to be able to see the difference they are making. The CoGo app presents evidence of success so that both businesses and consumers are encouraged to participate more fully in the ethical and sustainable economy.

By making it easier for consumers to make ethical choices, CoGo empowers individuals to live by their values while simultaneously demonstrating to businesses that a people- and planet-friendly way of operating is - and must be - the future!

Do you have a morning routine? If so what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
On a weekday my alarm goes off at 6am. When I wake up the first thing I do is check my emails to see what has come in from CoGo’s New Zealand team overnight. I moved my family over to London in July to support the product launch in the UK, but the HQ is still based in Wellington, and we work very closely together. Depending on what’s come up I might jump on a quick call while the timing fits - the time difference means that we practically have 24-hour coverage, so there’s always someone somewhere in the world working on CoGo!

At 7am the family takes priority. I fix the kids’ breakfast, help with reading and homework checks, and get them dressed and ready for the day. Once a week I drop them at school - it is only a nice 5min walk from the house, so we all walk down together with me pushing my bike.

At 8.30am I cycle to work, which clears my mind and gets me ready for the day.

What’s the biggest barrier you’ve found to succeeding as a socially conscious business?
Startup funding can be hard – you need to create a business model. It can be difficult as a social enterprise when some of the benefits you offer are non-monetary (e.g. environmental and social). Being able to measure your social impact plays an important part in illustrating and shining light on the social benefits your business provides to its customers. Initially we were getting funding from councils, government and incubators/philanthropists to help support some of our non-monetary benefits. We started out as many startups do, part-time and based out of a garage, but slowly we were able to build up to charging businesses for our services, and we are now 100% self sufficient.

Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question that we ask which is 'who made my clothes?'. In the scope of CoGo, how do you find the businesses you feature? What's your process for this?
For the most part, businesses find us! They will get in touch with us to let us know what they are doing for sustainability or how they are hoping to improve. Then we will go through our comprehensive accreditation process with them, to ensure that consumers can trust the good work they are doing. 

Our accreditation system is world-class, incorporating credible certifications, standards and NGO programme ratings into all our product badge standards (including the Fairtrade Mark, Responsible Down Standard, Global Organic Textile Standard, Marine Stewardship Council), and we work in partnership with these certifiers and NGOs. We have also become an ISEAL member and B Corp Certified business, and we connect with these business members who are committed to the issues we care about. Aligned with the UN SDGs, our 12 badges reflect sustainable practices in business operations and products that respect people, our planet and animals. At a glance, they show consumers how a business is taking action on important social and environmental issues, such as who made my clothes!

Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Cycling to work! It may not sound life-changing, but it is. It doesn’t hurt the earth, it helps you clear your head, it builds strength, it gets you outside in the fresh air (sometimes too fresh!), and by the time you get to the office, you feel energised and excited for the day. My brother Sam, who works at CoGo in Wellington, cycles to work too.

What’s next for you and CoGo?
The focus of the next two years is on getting CoGo established as a UK-wide business. Although we’re new in the UK, the idea of CoGo has been evolving for 7 years in New Zealand and as a result of our work 100+ businesses have already adopted new ethical and sustainable practices. Now we want to make that 1,000+ in the UK.

We envision a world in which all of your purchases are from businesses that we have been able to accredit for their good practices, so that people and the planet are both better off.

We have been working hard to better understand our users, and define a product strategy and roadmap that we think will enable us to achieve our vision of a better world. We have also been in the trenches prototyping new features and testing them with awesome people who want to feel like they are spending money with businesses who are doing their best to make a positive difference.

We will be launching a whole suite of new features in the next couple of months designed to make it easy for you to discover and shop with businesses that match your values, and see how your good spending is adding up.

I am also excited about a new feature called CoGo Go - different ways that we can anticipate what you may want next: Caffeine fix? Lunch to go? Shampoo? - and immediately help to find ethical and sustainable businesses taking action on the things that matter to you.

One book everyone should read? Why?
Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. Natural capital refers to the earth's natural resources and the ecological systems that provide vital life-support services to society and all living things. These services are immensely valuable from an economic standpoint - many are priceless, without any known substitutes - yet current business practices and policies degrade and liquidate the capital by wasting precious resources. The book outlines a new industrial revolution where farsighted companies will respond to environmental issues by developing new technologies and approaches that solve problems rather than causing them.

One documentary everyone should watch? Why?
Our Planet on Netflix. It’s not just another Planet Earth, which showcases the gorgeous, striking diversity of the place we call home. Instead of being a celebration of the beauty of the world, it is a warning, a call to arms to save the world before it’s too late. Our Planet revels in the remaining glory of the earth, while being very upfront about the critical ‘remaining’ aspect of it. The show illustrates how we're the first generation to understand the effects of our behaviour , and the last who have a chance to fix what we’ve done. It’s powerful, startling, and immediately necessary.

Are there any other Movers & Shakers our there in your world that you think people should know about?
Too many to list! The Sustainable Business Network (SBN) would be my first point of reference - it’s a membership organisation full of outstanding sustainable businesses in New Zealand. SBN inspires change, connects like-minded businesses and showcases sustainable practices.

I also really admire Living Wage Aotearoa - the Living Wage emerged as a response to growing poverty and inequality that holds back so many Kiwi workers, their whanau and our economy. The concept is simple yet the outcome is life-changing – helping Kiwis to pay for the necessities of life and participate as active citizens in the community.

Enviro-Mark Solutions helps businesses to manage their carbon, environmental and energy impacts. If an NZ business is part of the SBN, Living Wage Accredited, and/or Enviro-Mark Certified, you can be pretty sure you’re in good hands.