The Biodegradable Credit Card That Fights Climate Change
Would you feel less guilty about whipping out your credit card if you knew buying stuff could help save the planet from climate change? Especially if that piece of plastic was biodegradable?
Here’s your chance to find out.
A company called Sustain:Green will purchase two pounds of carbon dioxide offsets for every dollar spent using its new biodegradable MasterCard. (The first purchase made with the card earns 5,000 pounds of offsets.) The carbon credits help finance reforestation of the Amazon in Brazil to absorb greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.
The credit card, that symbol of rampant consumerism, is being repurposed. Instead of giving you frequent flier points as a reward for buying an airline ticket, it will offset some of the carbon emissions from your flight by helping to grow a new rainforest.
Arthur Newman, CEO of Sustain:Green, said no matter how dedicated people may be to reducing their personal carbon footprint—recycling, composting, driving an electric car—they almost certainly use a credit card to buy new products. In other words, if we’re all going to buy carbon-intensive goods and services, why not do what we can to ameliorate the damage?
“Credit cards are a real issue,” said Newman, a former Wall Street banker who cofounded Sustain:Green in 2013. “It’s something that you use every day, but it doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of the discussion” about climate change.
Carbon offsets, of course, have been around for years. When companies or nonprofits undertake projects that slash greenhouse gas emissions, they can receive credits for avoiding that spew. Those credits can be sold on carbon markets to finance other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Consumers have been able to buy carbon offsets for a number of years. For instance, some airlines let you choose to voluntarily offset your flights by buying carbon credits. Commerce Bank, which issues the Sustain:Green MasterCard, has let some customers cash in their credit-card points for carbon offsets.
The problem, according to Chad Doza, Commerce Bank’s senior vice president of consumer credit cards, is the voluntary part. “We saw some struggles in that area with the recession, as people were not willing to redeem their points for carbon credits,” he said.
Users of the Sustain:Green MasterCard, on the other hand, need do nothing but hand their plastic to a cashier to rack up offsets, as each purchase automatically results in the purchase of carbon credits.
“Once you’re a cardholder, you get a personal carbon home page where you can track your offsetting through the use of the card and compare that to your footprint,” said Newman. “You really get to see what you’re doing and can compare yourself against your peers.”
Sustain:Green buys carbon offsets generated by Nike. In 2006, the athletic apparel giant voluntarily stopped using sulfur hexafluoride in the manufacture of its shoes, preventing millions of pounds of the potent greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. Nike earned carbon offset credits, which were verified and listed by the nonprofit American Carbon Registry. Sales of the Nike offsets finance the Mata no Peito project, which aims to reforest swaths of Brazil.
Over time, the forests will generate their own offsets that can be sold to pay for other projects to reduce carbon pollution.
The Sustain:Green card itself is designed not to pollute the planet. Throw it into your home compost or a landfill and it will biodegrade into water and oxygen, according to the company.
“There’s about a billion and a half credit and debit cards in circulation in the U.S., and about half a billion end up in the dump every year,” said Newman.
Doza said his bank, which has promoted sustainability, doesn’t see the Sustain:Green MasterCard as a niche market.
“There’s been an evolution of the mind-set around sustainability in the U.S., and we do see there’s growing awareness of these issues,” he said. “It’s harder and harder for people to ignore the data out there about climate change.”