Change your habits and change the world, goes the popular adage. But changing decade-old habits, even if they are as simple as buying packaged water or using single-use makeup swabs, can be quite the task. But worry not, Ailuna, a sustainability training app that is backed by solid behavioural science is here! The premise is simple, pick from one of the many challenges, (from avoiding single use plastic cups for a week to changing your laundry habits), complete a series of fun dares and share your progress with the Ailuna community who will encourage you throughout the journey.
What makes Ailuna different is that the app encourages you to tackle one new habit at a time, rather than taking on something new each day. By sticking to one small change and truly mastering it, you’re much more likely to create a lasting habit that makes a real difference. And when these small habits compound, the impact created by your lifestyle can be remarkable. Co-founded by the husband-wife duo Lars and Helene Ronning, the Ailuna app allows you to set green goals, embrace the low-waste and low-carbon habits needed to achieve them, and track the positive impact you’re having on the planet. They have users from over 50 countries and a majority of them are between their mid-20s and early 50s.
When I interview Lars over a video call, he is in Denmark and has just finished breakfast. A traditional Scandinavian breakfast with muesli, raisins, oat, a couple of eggs, some orange juice and cheese and jam. But breakfast for the now vegetarian couple looked different a few years ago and so did the other parts of their lifestyle like energy consumption and transport. Lars tells Ayushi Shah about this transition to a more sustainable lifestyle that inspired the inception of Ailuna, why individual actions matter and how there is still hope for the people and the planet. Read on:
Ayushi Shah (AS): Your personal journey impacted the inception of Ailuna. Can you tell me more about it?
Lars Ronning (LR): We’ve always been committed to being good citizens and good inhabitants of the world but until a couple of years ago, we did not think about sustainability as an art form or our journey. So , my wife Helena and I decided to change the diet by going vegetarian. We significantly reduced our single use plastic use, made changes to the insulation in our house and also got an electric car.
At that point, we were looking for apps or platforms but couldn’t find many.
So we are not activists. We’re not campaigners. We’re just people who want to leave the world in a better place when we are gone at some point. And we couldn’t find an app or platform that could help regular people like ourselves adopt a more sustainable way of living and build better habits. So we decided to build one. And that’s really how Ailuna came about. Ailuna (ai luna) is Hawaiian and means “upwards, up there, aiming high towards the moon”. So aiming high is what we do.
AS: This reminds me of the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. The big idea in the book is that small habit changes can transform your life.
LR: The book is one of the biggest inspirations for Ailuna and so is Couch to 5K, a very successful fitness app. The book – ‘How to Save the World: How to Make Changing the World the Greatest Game’ by Katie Patrick talks about gamification and the importance of measuring everything, which inspired us. Lastly, we also have behavioral scientist Emmie Fulton on our team who has been helping us build an app that is scientifically proven to help people build better habits.
AS: What sets Ailuna apart from other apps in the same space?
LR: We have built structured training programs that help people build new habits, one habit at a time. And, and that’s really important because if you look at other apps or platforms, they will have you do a new thing every day. So, on Monday, they will have you walk or bike to work, instead of taking the car. On Tuesday, you remember to bring your single or your usable cup and not buy coffee in a single use cup. On Wednesday, you should turn the heating down. But that doesn’t drive change. These may be fun things to do for a day, but then you do something else the next day, and it doesn’t drive change. We know it takes time to build a new habit. That’s why we build structures around three stages where you do one stage at a time. You do the same thing for seven days, move to stage two for seven days and then do the last stage for two weeks. So after three stages, you would have done a month with this new thing that you’re doing. After this month, you will be on your way to have started building some better habits.
AS: What is the role of the community in driving change?
LR: Many people feel alone while building new habits. So, with each dare, there is a small community where you can get help, ask questions, browse hacks and tips. Also, if you’ve had a bad day. we’ll ask you what went wrong and then come up with suggestions for solutions so that the next day is better for you.
AS: What has been the environmental impact of the app’s users so far?
LR: We measure impact in units saved as people understand them better over Co2 footprint. Within a few months of the app’s official launch, our community has saved 1280 disposable period products, 1162 disposable bottles and 652 pieces of meal packaging by changing habits through the app. And we have 50 countries so far. What people also like about Ailuna is that we are basing everything around positivity. We don’t believe in showing people videos of burning rain forests or polar bears on sinking icebergs because it doesn’t drive positivity. It is positivity that drives behavior.
AS: Can individual actions change the world?
LR: We believe that every citizen of the world, every company, every organization of the world has a role to play and a responsibility to improve. Once the masses start improving, the collective impact from all those people will be immense. And that’s why it’s really important to have a community aspect on the app – people realise that their individual improvements become a part of a greater global movement.
AS: Do you think combining technology with eco-solutions is the future to tackle the climate catastrophe?
LR: think you need both – with technology, you can help drive development and behavior in the right direction. We don’t believe in making people sit behind their screens longer than absolutely necessary. Because the changes need to be made in the physical world, not in the virtual world. I think the combination of technology and an actual physical human activity is very powerful.
AS: Can sustainability be profitable in your opinion?
LR: Without a doubt, yes. Research shows that companies embracing sustainability actually become healthier and more profitable. Traditionally product bottom line is all about profit. But, the triple bottom line stands for people, planet and profit. These are companies that look after their people and the planet and are actually able to drive bigger profits. It’s a proven fact that people want to work with companies that are taking good care of their employees and the world around them. Companies embracing sustainability are better at attracting and retaining talent than companies that don’t. So sustainability absolutely has got a big role to play.
AS: Your team is fully remote which is also environmentally friendly especially since they aren’t commuting daily. Was that a conscious decision?
LR: It’s been a conscious decision because what we are interested in is finding people with the right skills and the right passion for the right mission, regardless of where they are in the world. With modern tools like Zoom, Slack, and Google Drive – you can run a very successful business without having a physical place of work.
AS: Is there still hope for the planet and its people, in your opinion?
LR: There definitely is hope. But, I also think that we need to act. Based on action, believing that it’s possible to change things. But if we don’t do anything, then I think the prognosis is quite depressing. We need to do something and every effort matters.
AS: Apart from downloading the Ailuna app and using it to form better habits, what tips would you give our readers to become more sustainable in their daily lives?
LR: Take one step at a time, and don’t try to do everything at once because it becomes overwhelming. So take one new thing, build a new habit, and then go on to the next one. But also make sure that you’re not trying to do this alone. So invite friends and family and colleagues to join you on the way because it’s more fun, and it’s proven to be more effective.
And in a more tangible way, one can look at the list of dares we have, and then pick a dare that feels achievable and start with that. It could be something as simple as remembering your reusable water bottle everyday, or switching to a shampoo bar. It could be preparing your own lunch and not buying plastic packed fast food.
AS: Lastly, what are the future plans for Ailuna?
LR: There are a couple of plans. Right now, Ailuna is only addressing one category of lifestyle change, and that’s around waste like reducing household waste, plastic energy and water waste. We want to add more categories like food and drink, clothing, transportation and commuting. Like, how to make your house more energy efficient, buying more sustainable services and consumer items. So we’re taking people and organizations on a journey that was going to make them more sustainable. That’s the first thing. The second thing is to evolve Ailuna from being a single consumer proposition to a team based proposition for organizations and that is Ailuna for X. The X is for government, businesses, charities and NGOs. A lot of them are focused on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in their supply chain, manufacturing, and logistics, but they’ve not yet looked at how they can help their employees. Or how can they help their citizens, their students become more sustainable? And that is where we are now creating a business version of the app, that will help companies drive employee engagement, citizen engagement and student engagement. And that’s, that’s going to be a very important driver for sustainability.Big companies have got a big role to play in this crisis. We believe we can help those companies make their employees more sustainable in a fun way.
And ultimately, we would like Ailuna to become a global platform and network, where people can search, connect, and exchange ideas, information and services. So that you’re not alone in making the world a better place.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
Read the interview. What next?
During our conversation, Lars brings up a couple of books as references. Take your learnings from this article a step further by adding those to your reading list:
Our interviews focus on eco-friendly organisations and social entrepreneurs. The scope of the interview will revolve around the company’s vision, mission and initiatives. Climate change solutions and sustainable development are two of the key points we explore here.
Eco-Spotlight is a digital publication that focuses on different aspects of climate change solutions: projects and ideas focused on sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, environmental businesses, eco-friendly practices, and similar green initiatives. Through our solution-focused interviews and articles, we want to bring good news to the forefront and remind the world – without hope, there is no future. We also syndicate our content with White Print, India’s first English lifestyle magazine in Braille.