Every dollar you exchange for goods and services provides an incentive for a business to keep doing things the way it does them now. Just bought a tank of gas? The petroleum was drilled somewhere. Wearing the latest fast fashion? Sweatshops will never go out of style.
Perhaps you want your money to matter. You stopped buying Nike in the ’90s, ditched your MacBook when the Foxconn story broke, and deleted Uber because, well, pick a reason. If you like the idea of using your hard-earned dollars to foster social change, online banking outfit Aspiration just introduced the tool for you. If you bank with them, their Aspiration Impact Measurement automatically scores every purchase you make on two metrics: How that company treats people, and the planet. Doing this requires algorithmically ruminating on some 75,000 data points ranging from the CEO to employee salary ratio to whether the company uses solar power, then spitting out two scores of one to 100. It’s like a quantified version of that guy at the local co-op market who always lectures you on the difference between fair trade and equal trade.
Of course, do-gooder capitalists have used carbon footprint calculators since the mid-1990s, and the popularity of brands like Tom’s of Maine and United Colors of Benetton proves there’s a market for products that don’t improve your life at the expense of others. The trouble is, none of those measurements track the impact of individual purchases. Aspiration, which bills itself as a bank with a heart of gold, provides scores for more than 5,000 companies. Purchase from one of them, and Aspiration calculates that company’s rating in your buying history.
“There has been a huge crying demand from people for a long time to be able to score their spending,” says Andrei Cherny, Aspiration’s CEO. Satisfying that demand requires sifting through gobs of data from companies like Thompson-Reuters and HiP B2B that specialize in collecting SEC filings, public analysis surveys, voluntary labor or sustainability reports, and the like. Aspiration’s data scientists unscramble and standardize all of these spreadsheets and APIs and other things so they compare everything to everything else and assign a score.
Then comes curation: Which data matters for which score, and which matters none at all. For the sustainability measurement, data scientists consider stats on greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, and water use. Employee benefit data, pay scales, and workplace diversity numbers go into the human and employee rights measurement. The data scientists then exclude anything extraneous, like ping pong tables.
With that done, Aspiration weights the relevant data. This wonky, but important, step is how Inspiration’s data scientists assure the reliability of each score. Ideally, it wants data from multiple sources. For example, let’s say you’re looking at the greenhouse gas emissions of Company X. If Aspiration has emissions data from only one provider, then the weight of that data point on Company X’s overall sustainability score will be low. “We also took into account some data providers themselves,” says Matt Lee, Aspiration’s VP of product.
But what about if you buy local, and want to make sure the Happy Goat Farm stand isn’t harvesting those grapes with a tractor belching plumes of pollutants because it burns the cheapest diesel fuel? Aspiration provides forms for companies of any size to provide their own data. That raises questions about the score’s sanctity, but Aspiration does its due diligence. “What happens in that case is our sustainability and data team will talk to the companies, vet them out, try to understand their approach, see what methodologies they used to measure their scores,” says Lee.
Cherny acknowledges that Aspiration can’t consider every variable of every company. But, he says the product is good enough for people to start tracking their purchases, and will only get better with time. And nagging. That’s right, you can tweet at irresponsible companies right from the tool. Hashtag your way to financial freedom.
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