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Zhen Zeng


Zhen Zeng is a PhD student at the University of Helsinki. Her research interest is political ecology, consumerism and mass tree plantation projects. Her PhD project explores how Chinese society is evolving into the regime of green capitalism, and the social and political impacts of this process. She earned her B.A in Japanese, and MA in both Finance and Asian Studies. During 2018 to 2019, she worked on two participatory action researches regarding community capacity-building in a Hmong community in southwest China.


Saving Environment by Being “Green” with Fintech: the contradictions between environmentalism and reality in the case of Ant Forest

The recent decades have seen a growing tendency towards ‘green capitalism’ which often manifests itself through market-based environmental schemes. Under the prevalent discourse of sustainable development and green economy, many believe that environmental problems can be addressed through these market-based approaches under the current capitalist economic regime. As a newly emerging business model, fintech (i.e. financial technology) is also believed to have the ability to deliver both social and ecological benefits. On August 2016, Ant Financial, the biggest fintech company in China, launched a gamified green initiative—Ant Forest, whose aim was claimed to be combating climate change through cultivating green lifestyle of its users. It allowed consumers to participate in nature conservation and afforestation projects by depicting the carbon footprint of their consumption records. By April 2017, the participants of Ant Forest increased to 220 million people, and 8.45 million trees had been planted in the real world. In contrast to its ever-increasing social influence, its engagement with and impacts upon the participants remained much under-explored. This research aimed at filling this knowledge gap by probing Ant Forest based on a conceptual framework derived from ludology and a theoretical guideline of Marxist ecology. It looked critically at Ant Forest as a gaming process, from the perspective of game users, to analyse the environmental value discoursed within the game settings and the actual influence exerted by the game rules. By conducting in-depth interviews with the users in two Chinese cities, it was found that Ant Forest enhanced reliability of the users on Ant Financial and created an inconsistency between the environmentalist mentality and the consumption behaviours of these participants. Further, it was also found that Ant Forest facilitated metabolic rift by creating a knowledge gap which impeded the games users from fully knowing the consequences of their consumption behaviours on the environment.

Affiliation: University of Helsinki