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Why this socially responsible bank just bought a carbon measuring company

With the acquisition of Carbon Insights, Aspiration customers will be able to get a full carbon accounting of their purchases.

Why this socially responsible bank just bought a carbon measuring company
[Photo: Aspiration]

Aspiration, a bank that offers fossil-free deposits and products like a debit card that pays cash back for purchases made at socially responsible stores, is in the business of helping people manage their money more ethically. The company’s first acquisition, announced today, will help it go further: Aspiration acquired Carbon Insights, a climate-tech company founded in 2020 that offers a tool that can measure the carbon footprint of any debit or credit card transaction.

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“We’re in a time and place now where, fortunately, most Americans want to do something in their daily lives around addressing their carbon footprint and fighting climate change,” says Aspiration CEO Andrei Cherny. “And yet most people don’t know where to start and don’t know what they can really do. The first step of that is measurement.”

The company launched another tool, Aspiration Impact Management (AIM), in 2017, which gives customers a “people and planet” score based on data about the places where they shop. But Carbon Insights’s tool will do a deeper dive, Cherny says, allowing customers to view their carbon footprint at the level of the industry in which they’re spending money, the company at which they’re spending money, and the product for which they’re spending money, as well as how those products are created.

A growing number of startups are entering the space of carbon footprint or carbon management software. Aspiration closely evaluated nearly a dozen, Cherny says, and chose Carbon Insights because of the level of detail the technology offered. Carbon Insights uses economic and emissions data from hundreds of industries and commodities to calculate the total emissions of producing each dollar’s worth of a particular item, and gives consumers feedback so they can make different buying decisions.

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Aspiration, which plans to become a listed company as a public benefit corporation later this year, also works with both large and small companies to help them measure their carbon footprints, make plans to cut emissions, and then offset remaining emissions through reforestation; the Carbon Insights technology can also help businesses understand what changes they need to make. (Right now, Cherny says, the companies that it works with through the program are planting roughly as many trees every three hours as there are in Central Park—though there have been some questions as to how many are actually being planted.)

While changes have to happen at a societal level to deal with climate change, the company believes that individual consumers have a role to play as part of the larger system. “We are in an existential crisis for humanity,” Cherny says. “And we need to look at every solution and every actor. I would never say that you or I offsetting our individual carbon footprints is a replacement for what governments need to do, or what big businesses need to do. I wouldn’t say that offsets are a replacement for reducing our carbon footprint. But all of those pieces have to fit together.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley

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