Green credit cards. Reward cards that help the environment?

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There are credit cards that offer just about every incentive under the sun. For those who want to earn cash back, airline miles, or even strange things like hours in jetfighter training, there are cards that reward cardholders with a percentage of every dollar spent. Now, several companies have rolled out credit cards with an environmental affinity. For every purchase on these cards, a portion of the fees are invested into carbon offsets and financing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

General Electric launched the Earth Rewards MasterCard. It offers two green options – users can donate 1% of their purchases to fighting global warming, or they can keep half a percent for themselves and donate the other half percent to saving the planet.

Bank of America is behind the Brighter Planet Visa. They use a point system where every dollar spent earns a point and 1,000 points equals a ton of carbon dioxide offsets. That makes it a bit hard to compare apples to oranges, but a ton of carbon costs anywhere from $5 to $40 with an average value around $10 per ton. So, that equals about the same reward rate as the Earth Rewards Card (1% or 1:100).

MetaBank offers the GreenPay MasterCard. It rewards cardholders with 5 lbs of CO2 reduction for every dollar spent and 10 lbs for every dollar spent on gasoline or utilities. The first thing to do in comparing these is to convert carbon pounds to carbon tons. Carbon credits are measured using metric tons and 1 metric ton is approximately 2205 lbs. So, at the lower rate, every $441 spent on the card earns 1 ton of carbon credits. Assuming $10 per ton of carbon credit, that works out to about a 2.2% reward rate or 1:45.

From the information on their websites and responses to my inquiries, it appears that all of these cards are printed on standard plastic blanks. That’s a real shame, considering that many stores now offer gift cards printed on biodegradable plastics.

In summary:
Earth Rewards MasterCard: 1:100 (1 cent earned per dollar spent)
Brighter Planet Visa: approximately 1:100 (1 cent per dollar )
GreenPay MasterCard: approximately 1:45 (2.2 cents per dollar )
Greenpay MasterCard for gas and electricity purchases: 1:22 (4.5 cents per dollar)

The cards also have critics:

Some advocates question whether the green cards will actually lead to fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. “What I am more concerned about is that it gives people an easy pass: ‘OK, I’ve got my green credit card, so I can do things that are carbon-ridiculous,'” says Leslie Lowe, director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility on Energy and Environment, a nonprofit based in New York.

For now, your best bet may be to keep a high reward card and use the rewards to purchase carbon credits on your own. Whether you join one of these programs or not, you can always sign up for paperless statements and cut your footprint that way!

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