How about that GE Money Earth Rewards Platinum MasterCard? Hard not to make fun of it, right? So hard, in fact, that Daily Grist failed. To not make fun of it. That is to say, they made fun of it. And by "they" I mean "we."
Beyond the mockery, there’s actually a reasonably interesting story here, and less of a Paradigmatic Example of Our Greedy, Rotten Culture than you might think.
Joel Makower, as usual, has the goods. This is particularly relevant:
The launch of the card is accompanied by the release of a standard for carbon credits in the United States. The standard, which will be used by GE’s joint venture with AES Corp. to develop and sell carbon credits, aims to ensure that the offsets purchased by GE on behalf of its credit card customers "are scientifically verified and provide a positive, measurable environmental benefit," in the words of the company. …
GE turned to GreenOrder to help develop the standard. Among GE’s concerns were that given all the questions over the quality and authenticity of some carbon offsets, that theirs would be seen as credible. "GE realized that there was controversy about the offset market, about whether carbon reductions were really resulting from the offsets," says Nicholas Eisenberger, GreenOrder’s managing principal. "And they realized that they have a lot at stake in addressing those concerns proactively."
GreenOrder and GE consulted with the World Resources Institute, The Nature Conservancy, ClimateCHECK, the Pew Center for Climate Change, and others, and conducted an evaluation of the major global standards for offsets — both regulated and mandatory — in order to craft a standard that addressed things like additionality, verification, and the myriad other techno-geeky issues surrounding offsets. You can download the standard here (PDF).
GE isn’t the first to come up with this idea:
In March, the Dutch-based Rabobank introduced the Climate Card, which claims to offset consumer purchases. Earlier this month, U.K.-based Barclay Bank announced the Barclaycard Breathe card, which will "donate half of all profits to carbon reduction projects around the world." It’s unclear exactly how the bank will calculate "profits," but Barclay has guaranteed at least £1 million (just over US$2 million) in donations towards environmental projects in its first year.
Stateside, Bank of America is readying plans to introduce its own card, probably in the next few weeks, contributing a portion of consumers’ purchases to an environmental organization to invest in carbon offset projects. And there are still other climate-focused credit card schemes forthcoming from smaller, start-up ventures, often in partnership with leading environmental groups.
GE will be communicating with cardholders periodically about the impact they’re having and other ways they can reduce their footprint.
In the end, this will siphon a little bit of money out of the private sector and direct it to carbon reduction. It won’t solve the climate crisis. Nor will it “encourage” people to spend more, any more than any credit card will. It’s a modest effort that will engage lots of folks that aren’t now engaged. As Joel says:
Incremental realism versus radical change: I’ll bet a lifetime of carbon credits on the former, any day of the week.