According to section 5(1)(a) of the Building Societies Act 1986 (as amended) a building society’s “purpose or principal purpose is that of making loans which are secured on residential property and are funded substantially by its members”.

No doubt building societies have lots of statutory powers (and/or permitted powers under their constitution documents) to carry out activities ancillary to that main purpose, but I don’t know why my local building society (the Cumberland) has chosen to associate itself quite actively (via a section on its website and posters in its branches) with Cogo (though read on, and you might gain an idea why it does so).

The Cumberland Building Society website offers up this:

Cogo’s free app enables you to view and reduce the carbon footprint of your spending.

The app highlights ways for you to improve and compensate for your climate change impact by using Open Banking to view your bank transactions and access real-time information about your carbon footprint, enabling you to become a more conscious consumer.

Cogo are on a mission to empower hundreds of millions of consumers and businesses worldwide to become conscious consumers and we’re pleased to partner with them.

Partnering with Cogo is the first step on our journey to understand our impact on the climate and the environment around us, learning more about this will us [sic] build future plans to help us do our bit for the planet.

The first step, apparently, involves this:

The app is free on both iOS and Android, simply follow the link below to download it. When creating your Cogo account you will need your Cumberland Internet Banking Username and Access Code to link you accounts together.

That worried me, for starters. I realise that where some aspects of technology are concerned I am very old-fashioned, but in this age of internet and banking fraud, I think it is important to be careful about supplying private financial information to third parties. Why would I want to supply my building society account information to a third party in order to set up a virtue-signalling app? And, sure enough, if you have got this far, and read the “legal stuff” at the foot of the website page, you will find this:

If you click through to Cogo, you will be leaving the Cumberland and entering their website which is subject to their own Data Privacy Notice. We recommend that you read it before providing Cogo with any personal information or connecting your Cumberland account to their app.

FAQs include one asking how Cogo uses personal data. This is the answer:

Open Banking uses secure technology. Cogo works with consents, online, which is regulated and approved by the Financial Conduct Authority. This means your data is securely stored and encrypted so it can only be used for features that are necessary to the Cogo experience.

Fair enough, I suppose, but this bothered me:

With your consent via Open Banking, Cogo will help you identify opportunities for you to shift your spending to businesses that better align with your values. We do this by analysing your bank transactions to identify which businesses you’re currently shopping with. We never share your personal transaction data with any third parties. We use very aggregated, completely anonymous data to report on the overall impact of Cogo community and to make the case to companies for improving their business practices (e.g. 15% increase in spend at business X by customers who care about the Living Wage).

Big Brother is watching you (if you let him).

Another question asks whether I can really make a difference. To which the answer is:

Yes, you can! When you join Cogo, you become part of a winder [sic] community where everyone’s individual actions add up to make a significant difference. This can’t happen without the actions of every single member, including you.

It depends what you mean by a significant difference, and difference to what exactly? If it’s about making a difference to climate change, then patently the correct answer is “no”. And it’s clear that calculating carbon footprints is definitely their thing, as you discover if you follow the links to the FAQs at the Cogo website.

The Cogo website also tells us:

Through Open Banking, the Cogo app can help you measure your carbon emissions, give you personalised ways to reduce them, and certified options to offset the rest of your footprint.

Now we’re getting somewhere. My guess is that someone will be making money out of those footprint-reducing “certified options”.

By the way, Cogo’s website tells us that its own “carbon footprint” for 2021/22 is 18.35t CO2e.

Remind me. What are building societies for?


  1. That’s a no thanks from me.

    You could file this under “green jobs”: an otherwise pointless exercise that is only valid in a world obsessed by carbon dioxide, an effort that is not only non-productive for society, it is anti-productive for it.

    In other green tech news, it seems that PayPal has banned the Free Speech Union, for not shutting up, or something:

    Pity, because PayPal is a useful service. Now I’m going to be conflicted about using it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But JIT, we have to be obsessed by carbon dioxide: there’s a shortage of it – again!

    “Why is there a CO2 shortage and how will it hit food supplies?”

    …Food grade CO2 is used for hundreds of products:

    to carbonate water, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks
    to dispense drinks and beers in pubs
    to promote the growth of plants – such as cucumbers – in greenhouses
    to stun pigs and chickens before slaughter
    for packaging meats, baby foods, fresh foods and baked products (CO2 extends shelf life by preventing bacteria)
    to keep food fresh in transport (CO2 is used in the form of dry ice and snow)…


  3. Two questions immediately spring to mind:

    a) I presume the setting up and operation of all this ‘free’ carbon-footprint-cum-personal-transaction information tracking actually costs somebody something, so who in the end is funding it?

    b) Are all these hidden costs included in Oxford University’s calculations?


  4. John,

    At first I thought your point about the cost of this sort of thing was potentially a little exaggerated. Sorry, I was wrong, and you make an important point. The net zero Nirvana relies heavily on encouraging behavioural changes, and nudges such as these are an important part of this. Somebody is paying these people, and in the absence of a belief in the need for behavioural changes, one could argue they are just an on-cost and that they add nothing to GDP. Destructive, not constructive, “green” jobs, in other words.

    There are loads of organisations like these. Individually, their costs might be modest. Collectively, they add up to a lot. I am sure it’s never included in calculations of costs relating to “the project”.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes indeed. Think of it as an additional quality control function but one that is administered at the level of the private individual as well as at corporate level. Such overheads are usually the first to be trimmed when times are tough, but we are supposedly living in a time of crisis that seems to have protected and inflated the budget. Taken individually the costs can be relatively modest, but when they are scaled up to the magnitude required to effect societal change the costs must be huge. In fact, the scale of the operation is so huge that (courtesy of universal ESG obligations) companies now seem keen to make it part of their core business to apply such quality control on behalf of their customer base. It’s not adding anything to the effective and efficient prosecution of business and it’s one of the things that HSBC’s Stuart Kirk was bemoaning.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In a similar vein the Co-op bank is now advertising that it has not supported fossil fuel investment for over 20 years. Pity their share-holders.


  7. Jit (back a while):

    In other green tech news, it seems that PayPal has banned the Free Speech Union, for not shutting up, or something:

    Pity, because PayPal is a useful service. Now I’m going to be conflicted about using it.

    Not just the Free Speech Union but The Daily Sceptic has had this disgraceful and punitive treatment. And the latter is most definitely climate sceptical as well as covid quizzical these days. So bang on topic, however narrowly one construes the CS mandate.

    I’m sure others will have seen that Jack Dee has unexpectedly joined the fray, saying he’s closing his PayPal account as a result, without mentioning Toby Young’s outfits explicitly (as far as I have seen). He’s also spoken well of Andrew Doyle, creator of the witty ‘Titania McGrath’ parody on Twitter. Andrew founded the Comedy Unleashed comedy club in the East End with Andy Shaw, who’s definitely a climate realist. (You see, I’m trying hard not to stray out of bounds.)

    I intend to cover this and related news about Big Tech on the Bit Rot thread. Because this is all about limiting debate, as was always my concern there. Big subject.

    Liked by 1 person

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