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Andrea Newell headshot

Battle Climate Change With Sustain:Green's New MasterCard

By Andrea Newell

Yesterday, Sustain:Green launched a MasterCard that rewards its users with carbon offsets, giving individuals a way to reduce their carbon footprint and fund the Mata No Peito rainforest preservation project in Brazil.

Numerous studies point to manmade emissions as being one of the biggest factors in global climate change, and on the heels of the hottest year on record, Sustain:Green's CEO, Arthur Newman, believes that a biodegradable credit card with carbon offset rewards is a welcome solution for customers looking for another way to live more sustainably.

After recycling, reusable grocery bags, and turning down the thermostat, the options most people have to reduce their carbon footprint usually fall into three categories, too difficult, too expensive, or not possible," Newman said in a press release. "Just by using our card for purchases they would make anyway, consumers can shrink their carbon footprint for free, every day, while also helping to preserve rainforests critical to combatting climate change. We hope they will use the card in conjunction with other carbon reduction lifestyle changes, such as fuel efficient transportation choices.”

For every dollar they spend, Sustain:Green reduces card users' carbon footprints by two pounds (fine print excludes cash advances and returned merchandise), and by an initial 5,000 pounds upon first use (within 90 days). There is a personal online dashboard where users can track their carbon offset credits and calculate their carbon footprint. The rewards are automatically recorded on the American Carbon Registry and 100 percent of the money spent buying carbon offsets to reduce users' carbon footprints is allocated to the Mata No Peito project to preserve, protect and reforest Brazilian rainforests.

In this economic climate, will users opt to benefit the planet over receiving cash rewards or accruing travel points? Outside of the green community, will users sign up? And, millennials, who are generally thought to gravitate toward causes and sustainable lifestyles, tend to shy away from credit cards, with Forbes reporting that 63 percent do not have them.

In an email interview with 3p, Newman was optimistic.

I would not want to minimize the size of the green community. If last year’s Climate Marches demonstrated anything, it is that there is a substantial community of dedicated individuals committed to taking action. Also, market research shows that the vast majority of consumers believe climate change is a serious threat, are likely to switch to brands that support a cause, and consider sustainability in selecting a product/brand.  While we do expect our product to have particularly strong appeal to Millennials, the interest in green brands extends across age groups. That being said, we also have a prepaid card coming out in a few months that we feel will be particularly appealing to Millennials.

Those cash rewards and travel points? They shouldn't be too hard to give up, since Newman says they take so long to accumulate and many users never cash them in. When using this card, he says, users can see their rewards directed toward rainforest preservation every day.

There have been green credit cards offered in the past, but Newman believes this card has a unique set of benefits.

The Sustain:Green MasterCard combines four great features that have never been offered together: (1) personal carbon footprint reduction, (2) direct financing of rainforest preservation/reforestation programs, (3) a biodegradable card addressing the problems of adding 1 – 1.5 billion cards to landfills each year, and (4) a close relationship with a major non-profit carbon registry, the American Carbon Registry.

It could be a double-edged sword to promote credit card use - which when used responsibly can help your credit score, and used irresponsibly can impact your financial stability - as a tool against climate change, where the more you use it, the more you offset your carbon footprint. One perk would be if there could be additional carbon offset rewards when users purchased items that promoted sustainable living like public transportation passes and bicycles, and paid the balance in full at the end of the month.

In a year, we would like to see the numbers: how many people have signed up, how many pounds of carbon were offset by their use, the progress of the rainforest project and the number of plastic cards this biodegradable card has kept out of landfills. If this card has a significant impact on carbon emission reduction, it could pave the way for more sustainable credit card rewards and more user adoption.

Image courtesy of Sustain:Green.

Andrea Newell headshot

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

Read more stories by Andrea Newell