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Driving Change

This debit card offers cash back for sustainable purchases, including electric rides

Future's debit card platform is pioneering strategies to incentivize sustainable choices and map the path to a greener economy.

A cyclist rides a Citi Bike past a row of parked Citi Bikes down a street in Manhattan

The FutureCard incentivizes consumer actions such as riding a Lyft Citi Bike. Source: Jimin Kim/ SOPA Images/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

On its face, FutureCard, launched by Silver Spring, Maryland-based Future, is a debit card platform that rewards consumers for sustainable purchases. After speaking with Future's co-founder and CEO Jean-Louis Warnholz, I found that there is more to the company than meets the eye. Its efforts in mapping the sustainable economy, as Warnholz put it, are what stands out to me. 

Future’s transport footprint

Unlike other debit or credit cards that incentivize non-sustainable practices such as purchasing gasoline or flying, FutureCard, which launched in 2021, rewards sustainable choices with tangible benefits.

By reframing green decisions as economically advantageous, Future aims to motivate individuals to contribute to climate action. Its platform offers cash-back rewards for opting for renewable energy and purchasing secondhand goods. Its Future Marketplace also offers a curated list of sustainable goods eligible for cash back. For example, at the time of publication, if you were to purchase a Levy Plus Electric Scooter priced at $729, you would receive an instant cash-back reward of $36.45. These features earned Future recognition among Fast Company’s best-designed finance products of 2023

Future advances transport decarbonization by collaborating with transport companies and public agencies such as New York City Transit, Lyft, Revel and Volkswagen. Future incentivizes actions such as switching to electric rideshare vehicles, taking the subway and riding a Lyft Citi Bike.

In addition to awarding 5 percent cash back for items categorized in the company app as sustainable purchases, Future says that users can earn a "FutureCoin" for each metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent saved, redeemable for $90 per coin. 

Mapping the sustainable economy 

While the rewards program for sustainable purchases is exciting, Future’s mapping of the sustainable economy is something that other financial institutions and card companies should watch.  

If you’ve ever used a Lyft Citi Bike and purchased it with a standard credit card or debit card, you’d see a charge from Lyft on your statement. That Lyft charge classification would be no different if you rode a Citi Bike or in a seven-passenger SUV rideshare. 

What distinguishes FutureCard from other cards is that it’s able to differentiate a Citi Bike from a passenger vehicle or an electric Uber ride from a gas Uber ride and reward the user according to how sustainable the choice is. These rewards also apply to other purchases, such as buying secondhand clothing versus new clothing.

"We’re able to give you rewards for every single bike share, every single charging session … in the country, and I can safely say that no other card is in a position to do that as far as I’m aware of," Warnholz said.

The limiting factor

Even with these perks and benefits, I see one simple problem with FutureCard — actually using it. I love travel hacks and racking up credit card points. However, I’ve had the FutureCard app downloaded on my phone for roughly a month and still have not used it. 

Several weeks ago, I tried to create an account, but hit a small block in the app when my background needed further verification; I still need to return and finish my account setup, link my bank account and transfer money to begin making purchases. While I find myself forgetting to start using FutureCard, that isn’t the case for everyone. After this article’s publication, Warnholz wrote to me via email and shared that almost 10,000 people made a FutureCard transaction on Feb. 29, which was Transit Thursday in New York City. “Engagement with FutureCard is high across various benchmarks, reaching top of wallet for many members,” Warnholz wrote. “That’s because we are by far the most rewarding debit card in America (3x more rewarding than traditional debit cards according to American Banker).” As context for the market size FutureCard is targeting, 106 billion payments were carried out via debit cards in 2021.

However, in today’s world of major credit card reward programs from companies such as Chase and American Express, I think the more general consumer market prefers to centralize purchases across a select number of credit and/or debit cards rather than diversify across many and use one card just for sustainable purchases. While that can be affected by several considerations such as how willing one is to juggle multiple cards to maximize rewards, research does show that it is difficult to shift personal habits and behaviors. 

Warnholz asserts that by offering the best debit card, consumers will adopt the FutureCard. “I believe consumers will adopt a better way to pay if it is 3x more rewarding for everyday purchases (mobility, utility bills, clothing, tech, food) than the next best alternative.” Warnholz thinks FutureCard is not just for eco-conscious individuals but for all consumers. In 2021, 106 billion payments were carried out via debit cards.

Looking ahead

I hope that major credit card companies follow FutureCard’s lead and adopt similar practices by creating unique incentives and cash-back or point programs for more sustainable practices. For now, FutureCard stands unique in this position. “The low-carbon transition is one of the biggest economic disruptions we have ever seen and needs a payment network purpose-built for a low-carbon future,” said Warnholz. As consumers increasingly prioritize eco-conscious choices, integrating sustainability into mainstream financial products becomes desirable and essential for a greener future.

[Clarification (3/4/24): This article has been updated to provide further context to the analysis of FutureCard’s potential limitations and to include additional comments from Warnholz.]

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