Cutting your carbon footprint with everyday purchases? That’s what Sustain:Green’s Green MasterCard is enabling consumers to do.
August 17, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Festival edition in Washington, D.C., and we are here today with Arthur Newman. He is the CEO and founder of Sustain:Green. Welcome to Green Is Good, Arthur. Arthur Newman: Thank you. John Shegerian: It’s great to always have a fellow New Yorker on the show. We are here in D.C. at the Green Festival, and before we get talking about your new company – Sustain:Green – I want you to share the Arthur Newman story. How did you even get to this point where you were so excited and had an epiphany and a vision to start Sustain:Green? Arthur Newman: Well, I started out as a Wall Street analyst. So I worked on Wall Street for quite a few years. I have an MBA in Finance. I wanted to work in biotech and healthcare and those areas, but just as things evolved, I ended up becoming an Internet analyst, and I was very well known on Wall Street as an Internet analyst. I also spend quite a few years working as an investment banker. John Shegerian: Ah. Arthur Newman: And I did very well for myself, but as time progressed, I was looking for things that interested me more. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: That really were meaningful to me. Along the way I took a bit of a personal journey, because my daughter developed some severe allergies to some chemical additives – severe enough that people were starting to diagnose her preliminarily as maybe she had ADHD and they wanted to medicate her. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: And my wife and I said, “Maybe not,” and we were very committed to organic food in the early days. And you know sometimes parents slip a little bit, and we said, “We’re going to straighten all this nonsense out with her diet,” and now she is very successful at a top-rated college and doing great. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: The diet made the difference, and it’s just something that people don’t appreciate – that there actually are people with real sensitivity to some of these food additives that we have. It really made me want to focus the remainder of my career on things that I felt really could make a difference, that I wanted to be a change agent not just for raising money for Internet companies but for doing good for people. John Shegerian: Right. Right. Arthur Newman: So I was at a position where I felt I could do that, so I started focusing my activity more on green tech companies. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: And started looking at different ways of generating alternative energy and along the way became very interested in carbon offsets. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: Which is an area that not that many people are familiar with. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: But it’s a really important avenue for promoting clean energy and clean development. John Shegerian: When you say “carbon offsets,” something like what Richard Sandor started with the Chicago Climate Exchange and things of that such? Arthur Newman: Exactly. Exactly. And at the time I started getting into it, people were actually starting to abandon the market. John Shegerian: Ah. Arthur Newman: California had been talking about putting in place cap-and-trade and it wasn’t happening or it was happening too slowly. So the big banks and the big finance people were all leaving and I thought from my experience, “Oh, this is a good time to be entering.” John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: So I started to investigate, and I formed a company with somebody else and we started to join the different registries. So I became a member of the Carbon Trade Exchange; I became a member of the American Carbon Registry; and we started helping some companies offset their carbon footprint. John Shegerian: Got it. Arthur Newman: So along the way I had an epiphany – because I was working with individuals like you and me, and I mean, all these companies are made up of people and they were motivated to have their organization be carbon neutral, and they wanted to be carbon neutral as well. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: But the question was: “How can they do that?” John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: They could go out and buy carbon offsets but it’s really cumbersome. They’re not well designed for individuals to purchase it. And we can all do actions. There are a lot of things we can do individually to reduce our carbon footprint, make an impact. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: But at some point there is only so much an individual can do in the same way there may only be so much a corporation can do. You may still need to own a car. You have kids. It’s very hard to take your kids to soccer practice on your bicycle, right? John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: So you have to be realistic about it. So I said, “Well, what if we could make it easier for our people to reduce their carbon footprint, to educate people along the way about other things they could do, other actions they could take in their lifestyle? What if we could just make it really easy that you didn’t have to change what you normally did each day but just incorporate it into your daily routine?” John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: And then I said, in my wish list, “Let’s make it free also.” John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: So I said, “That is my wish list; is it possible?” John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: So, “OK. Let me think about it for a while,” and in the end, what we developed was a credit card – because “Let’s go where there is some profit,” right? John Shegerian: Of course. Arthur Newman: We all know there is profit in the credit card industry. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: So the first trick is to find a bank that is willing to work with us, that is willing to allow some of that money to be used for – let’s say – for good, right? John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: And it means more than just lip service, it’s not just window dressing for what they’re doing but really has a commitment for that. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: So we found a partner – Commerce Bank – a large Midwestern bank, very highly rated. Management has been rated in the top 10 – I believe – for the last seven years by Forbes Magazine. So it is a really great organization, and we have really strong support from them for this mission. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: Then, as we developed the product, I started working with the America Carbon Registry. That was one of the organizations that I knew. It’s a not-for-profit, and importantly, not only is it a not-for-profit, but it really believes in market-based solutions to climate change. So it’s not all about just donating money to a problem but let’s change the behavior. Let’s change. Let’s make the market work for us. John Shegerian: Got it. Arthur Newman: So adapting a credit card for this purpose was, again, something that was right in line with what they supported and their way of thinking. John Shegerian: Wow. OK. Arthur Newman: So as we put all the pieces together. What happens now with our credit card is when you use it – every time you use it – we reduce your carbon footprint. The way we do that is we purchase and we retire carbon offsets on the American Carbon Registry. John Shegerian: Well, before we get there for our listeners out there, we’ve got Arthur Newman with us. He is the CEO and founder of Sustain:Green. You can learn more about Arthur’s great company at www.sustaingreen.com. You have your idea, Arthur. Arthur Newman: Yes. John Shegerian: And when do you start developing a business model around it like, “I’m going to launch this business, and I’m either going to raise money or I’m going to do this out of my own pocket or I’m going to bring partners on” – when was this now going on? Arthur Newman: I would say it was about a year-and-a-half ago. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: Maybe even a little longer than that when I first had the idea. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: When I put together my wish list. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: Then it was probably six months of thinking about my wish list going, “Is this really even feasible?” John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: And then once we got to the point of going “I think it can work this way,” then I’d say that was about a year-and-a-half ago when we started getting serious about talking to people and trying to put our partners together. John Shegerian: And so do you raise money for this? Or you did this on your own? Arthur Newman: So crazy enough this is self-funded. Myself and my partners. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: We put our own money into it. John Shegerian: And how many partners? Arthur Newman: There are three partners in total – myself and two others. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: And we have financed it because it is something that we believe in. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: One of my other partners is also a successful Wall Street guy. We’re not all bad and some of us really believe in causes and want to make a difference and are willing to try to develop solutions. And instead of asking someone else to put money into this, we said, “We’re going to do it ourselves.” John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: “This is our, dream our motivation, we’ll finance it. If it works, that’s great and if it doesn’t, there is nobody to come and blame us.” John Shegerian: So now you put the business model together and you launch it when? Arthur Newman: We launched it early this year. John Shegerian: Early this year it launched. So again for our listeners and our viewers, it’s www.sustaingreen.com. Talk a little bit about the Green MasterCard. What do people get if they go to your website today and sign up for it – and that’s the best place to do it right now? Arthur Newman: Yes. Yes it is. Unless you’re here at the festival and you can sign up in our booth. John Shegerian: Right. If you’re here today. But if you’re listening or watching online. Arthur Newman: Come to our website. John Shegerian: Right. To sign up. Arthur Newman: And you can sign up. So you get a MasterCard network card. John Shegerian: Looks like this? Arthur Newman: Looks like more or less like this. I would show you mine, except I don’t think I want to broadcast my numbers. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: But yes, that’s what it looks like. John Shegerian: It’s a great-looking card. Arthur Newman: The card is actually biodegradable. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: So to my knowledge, it’s the only card available in the United States that is biodegradable. John Shegerian: Come on. Arthur Newman: That’s a really important point that just doesn’t – I think – get appreciated. There are roughly half a billion – 500 million – credit cards roughly get thrown out each year. They end up in dumps. They’re plastic. They sit there. John Shegerian: So your card is biodegradable. Arthur Newman: It’s biodegradable. John Shegerian: Brilliant. Arthur Newman: You cut it up. You stick it in some dirt. It’s the bacteria in the dirt that causes it to break down, so it’s kind of compostable in a sense. John Shegerian: Dumb question. If you already knew where this technology was, what about all the other banks? Why aren’t they making it? Arthur Newman: Yes. Isn’t that the right question to ask, right? John Shegerian: Yeah. I mean, come on. Arthur Newman: Why? It costs more money to produce this card. John Shegerian: Great answer. I got you. Arthur Newman: And it’s a great answer and it’s a terrible answer. John Shegerian: Right. Shame on us. Arthur Newman: So the only way – and Commerce Bank believes otherwise – but I think most banks believe that consumers just don’t care enough. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: There isn’t enough demand for them to spend the extra dollar, dimes, whatever it ends up being. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: And I think this is one of the cases where consumers need to – if 500 million credit cards in the dump each year bothers you, this is an example for consumers to stand up and say, “We need credit cards like this.” John Shegerian: Well, I’m so glad you’re telling our audience right now, because I’m sure – like myself – I didn’t even know that those were just going into dumps and, of course, were non-biodegradable and that actually the technology existed for biodegradable cards, so I am so glad that you brought that to our attention. So now talk about the card. I sign up, I get the card. Arthur Newman: Yup. John Shegerian: How does this work? What goes on? Arthur Newman: So you sign up on our website, and hopefully, as part of the signup process, you will use some of the calculators and tools we have for calculating your carbon footprint. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: And it’s information and it’s educational because you are not just getting a number, but you are hopefully understanding how your number comes there, what you do that increases or can decrease the impact that you have. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: And we save that number for you and you have a personal carbon homepage. Now every time you use this credit card, we reduce your carbon footprint. When you first get the card and make your first charge on it, you get a 5,000-pound offset bonus. Put into perspective that 5,000 pounds is roughly equivalent to taking a car off the road for six months. John Shegerian: That’s huge. Arthur Newman: Right. So just by getting the card. Just with your first charge. You go out, you buy something. John Shegerian: You have offset half a year of your driving. Arthur Newman: Half a year of driving for one of your cars. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Arthur Newman: So it’s an enormous impact. The card has no annual fee, so it’s not costing you anything to get the card then every time you use it you get two pounds of carbons eliminated for every dollar that you spend and then we have certain bonus tiers for people who use it more. John Shegerian: Now, Arthur, is this like a charge card where I charge and then I pay at the end? Arthur Newman: Yup. It is a credit card. It works. It is a credit card. John Shegerian: Straight up. Arthur Newman: It’s not even fair to say it “works like a credit card.” It is a credit card. John Shegerian: Straight up credit card. Arthur Newman: It can replace any credit card that you have in-wallet. Again – backed by Commerce Bank, a major bank, MasterCard network. It has all the same protections you are used to from a MasterCard branded card this one has. John Shegerian: I mean, this is amazing. Arthur Newman: You can use this with Apple Pay, you get your online bank statement and then on top of all that, though, every month you come and you can look at your carbon page and you can see how much you reduced your carbon footprint, what kind of benefit that you’ve had. John Shegerian: And everywhere where MasterCard is accepted this is accepted around the world? Arthur Newman: Absolutely. John Shegerian: That’s huge. So then talk a little bit about the other benefits that come, what other great conservation and benefits that come. Arthur Newman: So to do that I need to talk about some of our other partners. So the headline is all the money that we spend offsetting your carbon is then donated – all the money we spend offsetting your carbon – is donated to the Mata No Peito coalition, which funds rainforest preservation projects in Brazil. So how do we do that? In developing this card, we worked with the American Carbon Registry, which is a not-for-profit registry. We buy all of our carbon offsets through them. We work with Winrock International, which is a huge global not-for-profit – Rockefeller Family Foundation not-for-profit – and we actually write our checks to them. They manage the money. So it’s not that we’re holding on to the money for [inaudible]. We write our checks to Winrock, they manage it and the money goes to Mata No Peito. Now what does Mata No Peito do? It is – the best way to describe it – a Kickstarter for rainforest preservation. So they develop scientifically validated, market-based plans to help preserve the rainforest. And that means that the plans could be different for different regions, different villages, because they look at what are the reasons that the rainforest is being cut down. What are the economic pressures being faced by the population there? What can we do to eliminate those pressures? Or in a different village, where it’s already been cut down, what can we do to replant? We fund it. They develop some of the programs. Any one of our cardholders is welcome to submit their own ideas – they have to be scientifically validated by the ACR and Winrock – and then the ideas will actually be voted on. So our cardholders can actually vote on which of these projects they want us to support. So they’re our own projects and our cardholders have a say in what they’re doing. Then, functioning like a Kickstarter, we provide the initial financing for these projects to get off the ground, but because they’re being operated under the auspices of the American Carbon Registry, those projects themselves will generate carbon offsets, which can then be sold as an ongoing source of income for the projects, so the projects become self-sustaining. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: So it’s not just that we pick one project and it’s our pet project that we each year have to keep going. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: We can have multiple impacts across the board and each of these live beyond and independent of our cards. John Shegerian: I love it. So how do we get people to sign up for your card, and what other tools do your users get in terms of becoming greener and becoming more conscious of what they’re doing in terms of their daily lifestyle? Arthur Newman: OK. So two separate questions. John Shegerian: Yeah. Arthur Newman: How do we get people to sign up for the credit card? John Shegerian: Yes. Number one. Arthur Newman: Number one, tell your friends. John Shegerian: Tell your friends. Arthur Newman: Tell your friends. We’re a B-corp. First of all, I wanted to say that. But we are pending B-corp. John Shegerian: Why did you do that rather than? Arthur Newman: Because it was important for us to just establish legally, on paper for everybody to see that for us our social mission is as important to us as profits. Honestly, to me, it’s more important than profits, but we wanted to just establish and make clear to everybody. And what that means is I don’t have a huge marketing budget, and I sure don’t have a marketing budget that compares to the money center banks, so I can’t put our credit card on every bus, I can’t run it on TV shows, so the reason I bring this up is this has to be a grassroots effort. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: So we need people who are watching this, people who see us, if you’re a blogger, to write about us. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: Put us on your Facebook page. John Shegerian: OK. Arthur Newman: Tell your friends about it. If this is a cause you believe in, get the card, tell your friends. We also have a reward for telling your friends, because you know what? We’re happy to offset more carbon. You do something for us, we’ll retire more carbon on your behalf. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: That’s the goal is to eliminate as much of the CO2 as we can. John Shegerian: Right on. Arthur Newman: Through our process. So we really need the support of the community. The people who say this is a great idea and care about it there is a simple action that you can take. Apply for the card. John Shegerian: And let’s just pause at that. I have a MasterCard in my wallet right now. Why would I not just cancel that MasterCard and then get this? Arthur Newman: Laziness? Inertia? John Shegerian: Apathy or something. Arthur Newman: Apathy. Right. John Shegerian: So the idea is let’s switch over. No reason. Arthur Newman: There is no good reason not to switch over. If you are using a credit card already, use this one instead. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: Accept some rewards that really make a difference. Look at the bank that’s behind your credit card and say, “Do their values align with my values?” John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: “Do I support what they support?” If the answer is “I’m not so sure” or “no,” maybe look at who you’re banking with and try a different credit card. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: You’re not going to be giving up anything. John Shegerian: Anything. Arthur Newman: And you’re going to be gaining a great deal. John Shegerian: What else do we get as a user? Obviously, there are already so many great reasons to sign up. I read about your card before I even met you, Arthur. Talk a little bit with our audience about tracking tools and other great benefits that you’ve designed into this process. Arthur Newman: So for us, this is a lifestyle. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: This is a commitment, and this card is one tool in a commitment to fight climate change, to make a statement, to make a visible statement that people can see when you use this card. John Shegerian: That’s great. Arthur Newman: They’ll go, “That’s an interesting card.” John Shegerian: This is great. Arthur Newman: I get compliments. I get comments when I use this card. John Shegerian: I love it. Arthur Newman: So we want it to be incorporated into everything that you do so with that, yes, we provide tracking tools so you can monitor the impact that you’re having and the benefit that you’re creating. John Shegerian: Right. Arthur Newman: And you can get that right on our website. You log in, you see it. We also have a community, so you are joining a community of people who are like-minded, who have similar beliefs. You can interact with them on our social sites. And we believe that we have created a site of scientifically valid information. So if somebody is saying, “Oh, I don’t believe in climate change, this doesn’t make any sense,” and you want a rebuttal, you can come to our site and we will have the facts laid out – I think – in a way that is really compelling. Beyond that, if that’s not what you need but you’re looking for other suggestions of things that you could do to make a difference, we have that on our site, and in fact, we will shortly be launching another site, which will have multiple actions that you can take that we’ve quantified, such as when you go to get your cup of coffee in the morning. So one thing is when you get your morning cup of coffee, we’ve quantified on our site you can see how much coal equivalent you will have eliminated. John Shegerian: Wow. Arthur Newman: How much gasoline equivalent you will have offset by putting your coffee on our card. But beyond that what else could you do? So what we’re adding is information about “Well, what if you took a cup” – like the cups we have at our booth, a reusable cup – what the impact is of that. So you can actually learn about it. You can sign up to take that challenge, and then it will actually quantify how much CO2 equivalent you have eliminated by taking that challenge for a week, and it will total up what you’ve done. You can do multiple actions. So now you can see the impact from your card, the impact from other actions that you’re taking that aren’t related to spending and you can challenge other people. You can form groups. You can have a group challenge versus another group challenge. The best tool is education about it. John Shegerian: I love it. That’s right. I love it. Well, this is wonderful and I just think all of our viewers and listeners if you use a credit card, do what I’m going to do – sign up for Sustain:Green’s Green MasterCard. This is wonderful, Arthur. We just want to help you spread the word as much as possible. We’re so glad you came on the show. We’re so glad your daughter was the change-maker in your family and that she’s doing so well right now. What a great story. Arthur Newman, he is the CEO and founder of Sustain:Green. Thank you for making the world a better place, Arthur Newman. Arthur Newman: Thank you. Thank you for spreading the word. John Shegerian: And you are truly living proof that Green Is Good.