Many concerned people make donations to support climate change remediation, but many more would help if they could do it directly, automatically and without extra cost. Now they can, with Soli®, the patented loyalty program that fights climate change by linking brands, stores and consumers together.
Every dollar the consumer spends keeps two pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
“I’ve been concerned about the environment since the mid-‘70s, and by the ‘90s, I knew I had to do something,” recalls Soli Founder and Chairman Robert MacArthur. A longtime professor at Boston University, MacArthur was designing courses in sustainability when he had an inspired realization.
“Big manufacturers are responsible for the climate problem but externalize its costs onto consumers and other businesses. We bear the cost but get no reward for contributing to climate mitigation. I wanted to design something to help the environment without costing the consumer.”
The Soli® program was developed at Boston University. Consumers reduce carbon emissions with every purchase at participating merchants and receive SoliPoints™ to redeem for cash back on the card. They can also receive gift cards or make a donation to a climate-focused nonprofit. (Soli® works synergistically with the non-profit Climate Remediation Foundation whose Alliance Members include National Wildlife Federation, The Adirondack Council, UN Global Compact and Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, among others.)
“We leverage everyday consumer spending to reduce CO2 emissions and give participating businesses a marketing edge,” MacArthur says.
Soli® was tested at BU as www.GreenCampusPoints.com with a dozen popular chain retailers and numerous website affiliate partners. The project was named a finalist in the Harvard Business School New Venture competition and in the international MassChallenge accelerator initiative (www.MassChallenge.org). Soon after, Soli® and its SoliPoints™ was created. The Cambridge, MA-based firm is working with several universities in the Boston area to launch to their students, faculty and staff in Phase I, as well as with the City of Boston, and will be reaching out to all consumers throughout the country. Near-term plans include an IPO thru Regulation Crowdfunding under the Jobs Act.
The SoliPoints™ reward program can work for any enterprise, MacArthur says. Participants include numerous e-tailers as well as local brick-and-mortar shops and restaurants, popular chains and independents. The 15,000 merchants already involved include Bloomingdale’s, Einstein’s Bagels, Guess, Panera, Ann Taylor, Stonewall Kitchen, Body Shop, Orvis, PetSmart, Eastern Mountain Sports, Steve Madden, Moosejaw, New Balance, Jamba Juice and Tommy Hilfiger. In subsequent phases, business sectors will include entertainment and sports, hospitality and transportation, durable consumer goods, and e-commerce sites.
Big manufacturers are familiar with cap-and-trade, a market program that sets a maximum allowed amount, or “cap,” of a pollutant that are allowed to be emitted in generating power. Soli enters these markets and acquires carbon credits by the ton, retires them and in the process creates increments in the form of redeemable Points. When Soli buys these carbon credits and retires them, they never enter the atmosphere.
“SoliPoints™ rewards consumers in two ways, with cash back and by making a measurable impact on CO2 pollution with every purchase at participating merchants,” MacArthur says.
“Measurable” is key: Soli® buys only from cap-and-trade providers that are state government-audited to prevent greenwashing (overstating the climate benefits). “We can track our points right back to the original number of carbon tons we bought from our state-regulated provider,” MacArthur explains.
Merchants — online and on Main Street — see Soli as a distinctive way to differentiate their firms from competitors’ and market to the ever-increasing number of climate-aware consumers, especially Millennials.
Brick-and-mortar merchants pay Soli a fee to be featured in the app consumers use to find SoliPoints™ participating stores and restaurants. Customers link their credit to the Soli app, which automatically credits them for purchases at participating merchants listed on the app. Consumers can download the app to find retailers and restaurants within 10 miles that award SoliPoints. These merchants process Soli transactions like all others. “When consumers are looking for a place to have lunch or buy a gift, Soli lets them easily find and choose places that meet these needs and let them help the environment and earn cash rewards,” MacArthur says. ”It’s a pretty easy choice.
“For merchants, the Soli system not only drives traffic but also captures data on the date, amount and location of each purchase, which merchants can use in production planning and marketing.”
E-commerce merchants sign up to advertise with Soli via Rakuten Linkshare or through an Affiliate Network, and all consumer traffic is driven directly to the merchant’s website. E-tailers process Soli transactions like all others, with sales tracked via click-attribution.
For both types of business, all attribution occurs at the credit card level, with no additional equipment or steps required for secure checkout. Consumers automatically receive their Points cash back, which they can redeem in $10 increments, but each $1 of retail purchase keeps two pounds of CO2 out of the environment.
“Every $24.00 spent on day-to-day purchases through Soli removes as much carbon dioxide as it takes a full-grown tree a whole year to remove,” MacArthur says. “Everyone can understand this impact.”
Soli is aiming for America’s biggest market: Millennials aged 18-34 who account for $200 billion in discretionary spending each year – and who have a clear stake in reducing further climate damage. Their interest has been established; Soli’s first market is the 23 million millennials in higher education, most already onboard with climate effort and easily served with existing college and university infrastructure. This market segment gains about 25% each year with incoming freshmen, and graduates will continue to value their Soli membership as a rewarding way to help the environment.
Colleges and universities are a good market for another reason. Students, faculty, staff and alumni can have purchases through Soli credited to retire CO2 offsets on behalf of their schools. “Schools help market Soli so they can fast-track their carbon reduction and achieve carbon neutrality goals in years, not decades,” MacArthur observes. “Schools, institutions, merchants and consumers all have a stake in saving our environment,” MacArthur concludes. “Most people feel they can’t make a significant impact on climate change in their everyday lives, but they can — with everyday purchases they’d make anyway at stores, restaurants and online. The more of us who do, the bigger the impact.
“With the Soli program, each of us can reduce carbon emissions, every day and cumulatively over time – and do it directly and measurably. That’s a reward in itself.