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Climate app will pay you for reducing pollution tied to purchases: ‘We have less than 10 years to cut global emissions in half’

It’s essentially a rewards program for sustainable spending.

It’s essentially a rewards program for sustainable spending.

Photo Credit: iStock

Earth-friendly app Commons believes in our power to better the world. With assistance from your mobile device, you can measure and improve your environmental impact. Currently, it also pays you for eco-positive purchases.

Of course, nobody can save the planet simply by shopping or tapping on touch screens, but the app leverages the fact that household spending influences more than 60% of the global air pollution that’s overheating our planet, citing a 2015 study.

Commons, an Oakland-based startup founded in 2018 under the name “Joro,” tackles the need for humans to urgently reduce pollution. 

“We have less than 10 years to cut global emissions in half,” wrote founder and CEO Sanchali Seth Pal. As Fast Company reported, Pal took this call to action from a U.N. appeal to nearly halve heat-trapping air pollution by 2030.

Commons works by tracking the heat-trapping pollution caused by your purchasing decisions — your footprint — and giving you real-time monitoring and management tools with customized tips for how to buy less or switch to sustainable brands. 

Each month, you can earn up to $30 in cash back, $60 in nonprofit donations, or $90 in investment in vetted projects to offset pollution you can’t avoid. It’s essentially a rewards program for sustainable spending. Per the website, your payback depends on the percentage of purchases made at preapproved companies “measurably lowering” global carbon pollution. 

There are other benefits. Users who joined in 2022 reduced their pollution by 20% on average, Pal wrote in a blog post. She added that “the average user saved about $200 a month by living healthier and more balanced lifestyles.”

To receive personalized recommendations, you must answer initial questions, such as how many people live in your home, how often you eat meat, and what transportation you use. 

You also need to link the Commons app to a credit or debit card to assess your spending. Commons uses third-party service Plaid — which you may have already used connecting with Venmo or Paypal. With this connection, Commons notes in its FAQs that it “can analyze and provide insights … [but] cannot access the bank account itself.”

The app then provides carbon accounting and alternative purchasing tips to reduce your impact. The companies that Commons recommends have been assessed with a “rigorous evaluation process,” per the website. The brands can’t pay for recommendations.

Commons says it makes money by charging a fee if you buy offsets — another process that the company monitors for “high-integrity” projects.

The app went live in 2020, reports Time magazine, which listed Pal’s venture among the 2022 TIME100 Most Influential Companies. It has also been App of the Day on the App Store.

Commons’ backers include the founders of Fitbit and Candy Crush, as well as Sequoia Capital, which wrote that “Sanchali Pal is putting climate action in your pocket.”

Ultimately, the company’s return on investment has been measured not just in dollars, but in carbon reductions by tens of thousands of users. 

“If every American reduced their footprint at the same rate as Commons users, we’d reduce global emissions by 1 billion tons,” Commons has reported. “That’s equivalent to taking 2 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year.”

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