LA's socially conscious bank challenger, Aspiration, launches a carbon offset credit card

Jonathan Shieber
·2 min read

Aspiration, the financial services business for socially conscious consumers, is back with another environmentally friendly offering for its customers -- this time, it's a credit card.

The Los Angeles-based company, which has raised roughly $250 million from investors including the celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr.'s Footprint Coalition and Orlando Bloom, and more traditional institutional investors like AlphaEdison, Capricorn Investment Group, the Omidyar Network and Allen & Co., wouldn't say much about the terms of the card or the credit limits available.

What Aspiration co-founder and CEO Andrei Cherny did discuss was the company's sense of the significance of its new offering.

“There are plenty of credit cards out there that let you rack up miles, this is the only card that rewards you for taking miles off of the planet,” Cherny said in a statement. “For the first time, you can have a climate change-fighting tool right in your wallet.”

The key to Aspiration's offset services is nothing more or less than tree planting. It's the easiest way for consumers to eventually cancel out the greenhouse gas emissions associated with daily living in the U.S.

Every time someone uses the card, Aspiration will have one of its global reforestation partners plant a tree. If a customer uses Aspiration's credit card 60 times, the resulting trees that are planted are enough to offset the carbon emissions from an average American home.

"What we’re doing is basing it on the average American’s carbon footprint," Cherny affirmed. "Every time you make a purchase Aspiration plants your tree. The way the math works out, the average carbon impact of the average tree when you have 60 of them you eliminate the emissions from an average American home."

Using Aspiration's app, which includes other tools for consumers to gauge the social impact of their purchases, credit card customers can track their progress toward offsetting their emissions. For every month in which a user gets to carbon zero, Aspiration will reward them with 1% cash back on their credit card purchases.

Cherny said the company works with accredited partners and uses satellite imaging and on-the-ground monitoring to ensure that the forestation projects are proceeding according to plan and that the trees aren't being harvested.

The company isn't just doing this out of a sense of corporate responsibility, there's actually an arbitrage case where the planting of seeds becomes a profit center (however nominal) for the company.

"As we get to scale that will be the case," Cherny said. "We are not a nonprofit, we're a for-profit company dedicated to saving the planet. Until people can make a profit off of saving the planet in the same way people have been profiting on destroying the planet, there are going to continue to be problems... If only oil companies and incumbent banks can make money by destroying the planet, then we're in trouble."