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Putting global warming on the plastic

credit cards

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Kai Ryssdal: We learned today U.S. economic growth is officially "modest." That's the word the Federal Reserve used in its regional survey of the economy known as the Beige Book. Among some of the other things the Fed said: It noted household credit quaility deteriorated a bit. In part, because we're carrying ever higher balances on our credit cards. If we can buy something with a swipe, many of us do.

Today, General Electric introduced a credit card that capitalizes on that love of plastic and combines it with concern for the environment. Ashley Milne-Tyte has more.

Ashley Milne-Tyte: Say you spot an irresistible summer dress. If you buy it with the new GE credit card, GE will put 1 percent of the purchase price towards buying carbon offsets. Offsets help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So the more you buy, the more money you can put towards cutting pollution. Tom Gentile is chief marketing officer with GE Money.

Tom Gentile: A typical individual has a carbon output of 10 tons per year. And if you spend $750 per month on our card, you would generate enough rewards to fund carbon offsets which could completely neutralize those 10 tons.

Critics sneer that this program is a bit rich coming from GE, a big polluter itself. But Julia Bovey of the Natural Resources Defense Council says it will have a positive impact.

Julia Bovey: Steps we can take in the right direction help to solve the problem, but I think the key is that they help to generate the political will to pursue real solutions.

Matt Arnold of consulting firm Sustainable Finance agrees. He says plenty of other U.S. banks have similar programs in the works. He sees a time when green credit cards like this will offer more than carbon offsets.

Matt Arnold: So imagine if you could also buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, or energy efficient appliances, that you would actually have a series of product choices that you could cash your credits in towards and maybe get a discount on.

Arnold says industrial companies like GE will always generate pollution. And Americans will remain rampant consumers. But, he says, why not let them help the environment while they're spending.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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