This is your “utility function”

Lessons from Leaders

As a lead up to Sustainable Brands conference SB’18 , students, alumni, and faculty of our MA in Sustainable Design program interviewed selected speakers — leaders in corporate sustainability initiatives.  In this blog we share our interview with Ben Gleisner, CEO & Co-founder of Conscious Consumers — now called Connecting Good

Ben Gleisner is an economist, environmentalist and social entrepreneur. He has founded several businesses and charities and worked for 6 years at the New Zealand Treasury. He co-founded Conscious Consumers while working at the Treasury, and has grown the social enterprise to a thriving New Zealand movement with over 20,000 consumer members, 550 retail stores and 150 suppliers. His vision is a world where consumers and businesses work together for the good of people and the planet.

What did you talk about at SB’18?

The idea that individuals’ data is a hot issue, in terms of how its used by businesses (e.g. Facebook, loyalty programs, banks)  for things you don’t know about, trying to sell you stuff, with no transparency. With our platform you can use your own data to do good in the world.  We collect data on values, what people want to see in the world (for example cleaner rivers, more gender equality in management), things they can’t make happen on their own. This is your “utility function” or “preference set”. We embed all the things that you value into your payment card, so that every time you swipe the card, the business gets to see what matters to you. This sends a signal to the companies that these things matter to their consumers.  It delivers a collective punch.


What is the most exciting thing you’re working on?

Even more exciting than that, we are creating a whole ecosystem, building a network of people that are looking for inspiration about businesses that align with values.

Because we know about what consumers value, we can tell the sustainability stories of businesses that are on our  platform. We do appraisals of businesses, which are verified. Each story inspires the consumers and reinforces the idea that they can align their values with the businesses they support.

The exciting thing is the power of positive messaging in creating mass behavior change in consumers. There is a mass appetite out there.

“People are wanting to feel meaningful. I’m   excited that we’re providing the stories, that we’re part of the solution.”


What was your personal path to sustainability?

I was brought up by my parents to be non-materialistic. My dad’s work gave me the chance to travel all around the world when I was young. Because of this, I was always thinking about the bigger picture, even as a kid.

When I started running my own businesses, I realized how different they were from mainstream economy. I had my own “Kundalini” experience at age 21.  I was just observing the world, without a job, sucking everything in for 6 months. I felt the future trajectory of the world was not where people wanted it to go. Primary economic and social drivers were not aligned with what people value.  I knew I had to do something about this.

I’ve run sustainable businesses, sustainable festivals, created government policies, and now scaling a tech solution.


What has been your proudest moment in Sustainability?

I have the most hope in current data platform work, but right now, it’s the adoption of the sustainability framework by the New Zealand government (that I built) for how countries can measure progress.  A big achievement. New Zealand is role model. The Living Standards Framework.

For more information see:
The original paper:


If you had a magic wand and could completely solve one sustainability problem, what would it be?

I would like to solve time travel. Let people today spend a day 50 years in the future.  Give them a chance to see the world that we’re creating.

The thing we’re doing is all about awareness, letting business know how much these things matter to people.  We’ll have the data to drive this. We will be able to show the consumer the good stuff that business are doing AND then let them know that their decisions and sharing of data are impacting these businesses to change — and we’ll let them know of their power in the world.


If you could travel back in time what would you tell your 20-year-old self?

Keep doing it!  It’s a worthy mission. Keep hold of that fundamental inner driving energy for this stuff.  

“It’s a good life when you’re working for a bigger cause.”  

Thanks, Ben!



If you want to learn how to apply your skills and passions to work for a bigger cause, explore our MA in Sustainable Design program!

[image courtesy of]

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]