Stripe, the digital payments startup, wants its customers to get in the carbon removal business. Through a new tool called Stripe Climate, the first of its kind for online businesses, users can contribute a fraction of their revenue to projects that permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere—something that’s necessary for the world to do in order to meet climate goals, even if emissions shrink to zero.
The company announced in 2019 that it would commit $1 million to help support nascent carbon-removal technology, and unveiled the first projects it’s backing last May: A company that sucks carbon directly from the air, another that creates “bio-oil” that can be injected underground, a company that sequesters carbon in concrete, and a startup that plans to spread a mineral called olivine on beaches, where it will interact with waves to capture carbon. Stripe’s customers can now help fund the same work with a few clicks.
“We got a lot of really positive feedback from the carbon removal community, which is mostly a testament to the fact that this field is so starved for capital that a million dollars would really raise anybody’s eyebrows,” says Nan Ransohoff, who leads the climate team at Stripe. At the same time, some of the company’s millions of customers also started reaching out, saying that they’d been wanting to act on climate change themselves but hadn’t had the time to do it yet—and asking if they could give their money to Stripe to figure out how to spend it. “That really got us thinking, maybe there’s an opportunity here for us to take to go far beyond Stripe’s million dollars and try to make a large scale market for carbon removal,” she says.
The projects Stripe is backing aren’t the cheapest or most intuitive ways to draw down carbon; planting trees is far less expensive, though it’s less intriguing than more tech-focused projects. But the methods capture carbon permanently, and the company also recognized that to remove carbon on the scale that will be necessary by the middle of the century, tree-planting and other biological methods won’t go far enough. “There is a big gap in that portfolio, because those solutions alone are not going to get us to the scale that the world needs,” says Ransohoff. By some projections, as the world moves to a net-zero carbon economy and eliminates emissions, we’ll still need to remove between two and 20 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere every year to keep global warming in check.
Businesses can put a badge on their site telling customers their purchases are going toward carbon removal (Stripe itself isn’t taking any percentage of the funds). So far, more than 25 beta users have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being directed to the projects.
Each of the new technologies in development, which the company evaluated with the help of a scientific panel, has the potential to eventually be used at a low cost and high volume. The list of tech it supports will continue to grow. “We definitely view this as a portfolio approach,” Ransohoff says. “Many of the projects that we have picked are quite early. Some of them will succeed wildly, and others will not. But we are really betting on a breadth of projects here that we need in order to hit what are ultimately massive carbon removal numbers in 2050.”