Using proximity as a social design tool for climate sustainability action and empowerment.

project type
Masters project / Hogeschool van Amsterdam
(Sep 2022 - Oct 2022)


team members
Laura Klimaite, Meng-Chieh Chen, Jasper Boot

Value delivered

A UX design strategy that helps shorten the physical distance between sustainable action and long-term gratification embedded within a carbon footprint tracking app. 


ING Bank is one of the largest banks in the Netherlands with sustainability being is one of their top priorities. Their daily banking app keeps track of their users’ finances with a new beta feature that roughly calculates the carbon footprint of their purchases. 

The main problem was the fact that their customers are not “empowered” enough to take more action in regards to sustainability through their day-to-day expenses. They wanted us to explore how we can use their app’s loyalty system to reward users for good, sustainable behaviour. 

I led the research and strategy concept, designed the “activity monitor” feature in line with the original benchmark, designed the high-fidelity wireframes, and modified the designs according to the usability results. 


We designed a UX strategy concept that incentivizes users towards more eco-friendly choices, and helps visualize and quantifies their daily progress through a closed-loop reward system that benefits all stakeholders.

Primary Research

We found that across 17 advanced economies, many are willing to alter their behaviour to combat climate change. 

Pew Research Center, 2021

Concern that global climate change will harm you personally at some point in your lifetime

Willing to make changes about how you live and work to help reduce the effects of global climate change

However, the lack of one’s action can be attributed to carbon literacy and the intention-action gap.

Carbon Literacy Project
Think Insights

Carbon literacy: the knowledge and capacity required to create a positive shift in how mankind lives, works and behaves in response to climate change. This can be attributed to the complexity of messaging with terminologies such as formals units of measurements (ex. 160 C02e) or inconsistency of messaging (ex. 3 flights from NYC to LAX).

Intention-action gap: the phenomenon where one’s values, attitudes, or intentions don’t match one’s actions.  This can be attributed to behavioral bias such as a lack of immediate gratification which can often be labelled a physiological condition due to the dopamine/serotonin effects. It can also be attributed to a cognitive bias where the action feels too ambitious or impossible. 

Research Through design

We tried to simulate our own mini eco-system using poker chips to see what would happen.

We tried to recreate the ecosystem structure using stacked poker chips, as they are fragile elements just like the many parts that make up the ecosystem chain. The purpose of this was to explore a hands-on approach without a goal or expectation.

After building the structure, we asked 5 students to pull one chip out. All students expressed some form of worry that they would destroy the structure(or efforts of those who built it) and felt discouraged to do it. There was also the factor of noise that happened when the structure collapsed that made students feel pressured by other people.

This exercise visualized a negative consequence of someone’s action, which later inspired a reverse question.

If we can visualize the negative consequence of an action and be discouraged from doing it, what if we can visualize a positive consequence and be rewarded for doing it?

The key insight learned here was the proximity of the student to the consequence of their action (the structure falling). If they could not have seen or heard the structure fall, they wouldn’t have expressed any doubt or shame from it falling. This applies to eco-friendly actions as well.


By removing cognitive and behavioural bias, we can achieve more user-initatied action.

Our strategy was to visualize the effect of a user’s sustainable actions in close proximity to them. This is the starting point that, if proven to be successful enough, the user can be later driven by their own motivation through habit in the long term.

I created a set of four pillars, inspired by our research, to eliminate these biases and support more engagement.

1. Personal approach where users would have some personal benefit gained from the app to make it meaningful to use.

2. A reward or incentive inspired by both the instant and delayed gratification, that would keep users in a positive feedback loop.
3. Physical proximity of the user to the effect of their actions, as inspired by the externalization exercise, in which a user sees the good consequences of their actions displayed within their neighborhood.

4. Achieving empowerment to ING customers by giving them the power to influence change within their neighborhood through collective PlanetPoints that ING would match with improvement projects.

CX Flow

A customer experience flow visualized the core pillars in parallel to the app concept.

Throughout the entire app journey,  3 frameworks had to be set in place for the app strategy to function properly. 

Carbon Literacy Messaging

One of the main goals of the app is to educate the users on what a carbon footprint is and means. In order for one to track progress, one must understand what it is and how it works.

Ethical Nudge Framework

With the use of specific language and activities, we created a small system to help nudge users in a non-intrusive way to guide them through sustainable daily actions with small and progressive steps. 

Accountability Loop

We revamped ING’s existing loyalty reward system towards a more sustainable one by suggesting the shop only stocks sustainable or sustainably-sourced items. We also suggested the establishment of a small network of local shops that run in a sustainable matter. In addition, ING Bank would be held accountable to match a certain number of collective PlanetPoints through a contribution of some form.

Data Visualization

Visualizing each expense’s carbon footprint in comparison to other alternatives’ footprint was the carbon tracker’s main focus. 

By accessing a user’s daily banking habits, each expense can fall under one of 4 standardized categories: transport, fashion, dining, and other. Each one of these transactions can be measured into a rough footprint measurement and tracked across several months. The less the footprint, the more PlanetPoints gained with each sustainable transaction. When comparing footprints, we can gain a better understanding of alternative habits or actions.

The carbon tracker transport component was visualized using a spectrum from an example of least emission to an example of most emission, across 4 categories.

The design was built in reference to a previous benchmark design by Cogo, but modified to fit our concept and strategy. By visualizing a user’s data on a spectrum from good to worst across 4 categories (transport, fashion, dining, other), we can give them a sense of balance and understanding of what their next positive choice could be. 

Initial Wireframe
Transport Wireframe

Transport Final Component Design

Final Design

With each transaction, a user can become more acquainted with the “C02e” terminology, achieve PlanetPoints with each positive purchase, and learn about the footprints of each other alternative within that category they could have taken.  

When there is less progress, a small notification can start nudging small challenges or activities to engage the user into earning more PlanetPoints.

With PlanetPoints, the users can choose to spend it in the PlanetShop, an ING local shop network built for exclusively sustainable products or services. 

Users can either buy through the app or use a barcode to use their PlanetPoints at a shop’s scanner. 

The collective impact of each neighbourhood’s PlanetPoints can be matched with an ING contribution or sponsorship. 

Each user can get to choose on behalf of their neighbourhood what ING should focus on through through a voting system based on how many points per quarter or bi-yearly each neighbourhood has earned. 


While the project contains many limitations and loopholes, it is only an exploration of how we can visualize and quantify the consequence of someone’s action in a way that satisifies their behavioural and cognitive biases towards sustainability action.

The reward method can be applied among many other app or non-app concepts as it encompasses a basic reward system that is tied to our neuron and habit system, which is what creates longer-term habits. This project was applied with the neighbourhood concept, however it can also be more individualized within societies that are less collectivist.