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July 25, 2007



"The Earth Rewards card will invest 1% of consumer purchases made with the card in carbon offset projects. (Consumers can opt to get a half-percent cash back, in which case only one-half percent of their purchases will fund offsets.) The company isn't claiming that the card will necessarily render purchases "carbon neutral," though its promotional material explains that an average consumer charging $750 per month on an Earth Rewards card -- that's $9,000 a year in purchases -- would offset all of the emissions he or she is likely to produce in a year."

I'm sorry, but this simply doesn't add up. 1% of 750.00 is $7.50 x 12 is $90.00. That simply cannot offset a single American's carbon emmissions for a year in any real way. Additionally, I find this disturbing because it is promoting more consumerism, i.e., the more you consume the more your carbon emissions will be offset, yet the more you consume, the more your carbon emissions go up. And I would guess that the 'more consumerism' is not itself offset by the 1% donation.

Joel I like your essays and have learned much from them, but I've got to wonder where you were with this one.


You've have made a safe and profitable bet for GreenOrder and for GE Joel. Incremental change is "realistic" when the problem is approached from an exploitive political and marketing standpoint. But, as you know, Global Warming is not an incremental problem. It's a radical problem that will require radical solutions as we approach the climatic tipping point (that we may have passed already). In your last article you brought up the issue of Green mushiness while now you're actively contributing to it. People will use the "Earth Rewards" credit card to hold up as a way to (falsely) absolve themselves of responsibility and guilt. Much the same way that you appear to be using this blog.

Ben Roberts

How about a card that provides you with estimates for the GHG your purchases generated and gave you reports that helped you understand and reduce those emmissions as well as options for offsetting some or all of the total? Obviously there are some technical challenges with the data, but as we move towards fuller accounting of carbon, it should become easier to produce such numbers.


Danna is incorrect. $90 is sufficient to offset a typical American's carbon footprint. Depending on how you count, a typical footprint is about 10 tons (direct energy use) or 23 tons (which you get by dividing total US greeenhouse gases by US population). CCX tons currently sell for $3.70. Many certified and high quality projects can be funded for less than that--or GE can even develop their own projects, since they have a lot of money.

On the point about consumerism, I partially agree. However, the fact is that most people will continue to use a credit card anyway (I bet you have one--or several--yourself, Danna). Is it better to have 1% of their purchases go to reducing environmental harms or to VISA? I vote the former.



If it is true that $90.00 a year is all that it takes for an American individual to offset their carbon outputs than it should be easy enough for all of us to take care of that without a card from which 1% of the consumption cost is put into offsets. But it really surprises me that that is all it takes. I'll have to find a legitimate offset service to invest in. I would hope that one that saves and spreads the equatorial rainforests in cooperation with the indeginouse populations would be available.

No I do not use credit cards. I consume as little as possible and buy as locally as possible when I do. I'm not interested in paying 18% or more in interests to cover my basic necessities.

Jon Gelbard

Can you absolutely 100% document how $90 will result in preventing the release of carbon emissions (CO2, CH4...) equivalent to, or even almost equivalent to, an average American's annual emissions?

I'd love to see the calculations, presented simply and concretely so it's plain as day how the money we're spending to offset emissions is resulting in the carbon reductions we're paying for.

Because such clearly presented calculations are the kinds of solid assurances consumers and businesses need to really make the carbon offsets market work.

Trust me - I'm rooting for it just like all the forest conservation efforts and clean energy projects that this market has the potential to give a huge boost to!

And I hope this new standard Joel talks about works - the market BADLY needs stringent standards.

But I'll believe that $90 number when I can plainly see how my purchase of offsets is making the exact difference (in terms of lbs of carbon emissions kept of out the atmosphere) the offset provider claims it is.

If GE and Green Order's work can develop some way to meet this crucial benchmark, it would be huge boon to the carbon offsets market and a significant contribution to the fight against global warming.

Alan P.

Danna: I'm not sure why anywould would have to pay 18% in interest to cover basic necessities. I bet 90% of the money I spend (other than mortgage)is spent via credit card, and that's been the case for the last ten years. I haven't paid a penny in interest in that time. I simply pay my credit card bill on time.

I'm not arguing that GE's card is a good one. But it is certainly something worth talking about.

I would really like to see something that helps each of us understand our carbon footprint. Assuming one can not do "everything" to reduce their footprint, we should each have the info so we can decide which things to do and which things aren't worth the candle. For example, if you knew that eating meat once less per week saved the same amount of CO2 as junking your perfectly-good but 22 mpg car to get a new 32 mpg car, then you might just cut out the meat and stop worrying about your car choice. (just an example for discussion purposes - am not suggesting it is a real example)

Nathan Schock

From a post on my blog: "I say a credit card is a perfect metaphor for the entire climate change debate. We're dedicating one percent of our resources to a serious problem and then leaving it for future generations to take care of."


I want to believe, but I can't help but equate this to "buying a star" and the Star Registry.

Will we soon find out that this is hype and companies are bilking the public out of millions of dollars. Sorry! it's hard not to be paronoid in today's world! Who isn't going to jump on this bandwagon to allow people to "buy" carbon credits. Unfortunately, people want tangible! Frequent Flyer Miles, Free Gas, and so on!

I see lots of sites that are starting to offer carbon credits. For example, based on the number of miles you drive per year, and then you should donate based on that. I want to help in anyway possible. I'm just not yet convinced this a way to go.


Seems to me everybody overlooked Joel's statement "So, Earth Rewards is GE Money's contribution to GE's overall goal of making money by helping its customers become cleaner and more efficient." To me that means GE is going to make big money on the consumers' fear of global warming. Using GE's estimates of 25 million customers
x $90 each equals an annual Carbon Reduction Fund of 2 Billion 250 million dollars in their coffers. Does GE put the money it collects daily into a dedicated money market/bank account? Is the interest earned added to the carbon reduction fund or does it revert to GE's general fund? Will GE provide a quarterly statment of the amount of cash in the Carbon reduction Fund? Will I, as a shareholder make money on this scheme? If so let's do it.

Georjean Adams

Indulgences for your indulgences. But no real behavior change. I agree with Jeb - what we need is information to make better consumption decisions. Maybe the green card will make a few people think a second about their purchase, but they will only look at the card at the checkout counter right before they swipe. Maybe they'll think before the next purchase. More likely the thought will be, "Look at me - I'm buying GREEN!"

Gary from Think-Creditcards.com

"If it is true that $90.00 a year is all that it takes for an American individual to offset their carbon outputs then it should be easy enough for all of us to take care of that without a card from which 1% of the consumption cost is put into offsets."

I couldnt agree more, the thing is, it's not always enough to be aware, or to spread awareness, the issues are pandemic in nature and will take a whole lot more than $90 per year. We're talking something much more valuable..effort

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