Buy Your Way Out Of Your Carbon Footprint With A Credit Card That Saves Trees With Every Purchase

Instead of earning frequent flier miles, why not acrue points that get rid of the guilt of your consumption?

Buy Your Way Out Of Your Carbon Footprint With A Credit Card That Saves Trees With Every Purchase
[Top Photo: Flickr user Salim Virji]

Almost everything we buy comes with greenhouse gas emissions attached. The average American lifestyle produces 17.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is the equivalent of driving a car 41,000 miles.


Feeling guilty? If so, you might want to offset your contribution to global warming by safeguarding some trees. And now there’s a really easy way to do that: Sustain:Green, a credit card that automatically tracks your payments and buys offsets on your behalf.

For each dollar you spend, Sustain:Green buys up two pounds of carbon through an offset scheme in Mata no Peito, a Brazilian rainforest conservation project. When you sign up, you get an additional 5,000 pounds of CO2, and if you buy more than $1,250 a month, Sustain:Green will throw in a 2,500 pounds bonus.

In effect, customers forgo more traditional credit card perks in return for that environmentally-conscious feeling. “The people who get this card are making a choice that this is more important to them than some airline miles they may or may not be able to use. It’s something they can do to make a difference,” says Arthur Newman, CEO of the business.

Of course, it’s already possible to buy offsets. For instance, many airlines will offer them when you purchase a flight. However, Newman argues that’s not really the best time–most people don’t want to fork out an additional few hundred dollars after already spending plenty on a ticket. Sustain:Green, he says, takes away some of the agonizing decision-making, automating the whole process.

You can track your activity at the Sustain:Green website. The offsets are managed by the American Carbon Registry, which is run by Winrock International, a non-profit. The actual batch of offsets was originally created by Nike for another project and then donated back to the ACR.

The card itself, a biodegradable MasterCard, is issued by Commerce Bank, which handles the credit side of things. Sustain:Green does the marketing and branding, and donates some of its profits to non-profits like Friends of Outdoor School and Sustainable Action Network (several other cards also facilitate donations to green groups).


Can we really “swipe [our] way to a healthier planet,” as the Sustain:Green web site claims? That seems optimistic, to say the least. You might say consuming stuff in the first place is a root of the problem and a credit card actually encourages us to spend more on stupid stuff, not less.

Newman resists the charge. “Adding another credit card to the market is not going to make people spend more,” he says. “What we’re doing is give people an option to switch from whatever card they’re using right now. This isn’t something for everyone. But it aligns with a certain group’s social ideals and promotes a social cause.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.