Eight years ago, we started Aspiration when we realized that millions of people who care deeply about climate change did not know what kinds of destruction their own dollars were financing while they were asleep at night. People who voted for climate action, volunteered for environmental groups, and made ethical choices in their own lives were overwhelmingly still putting their money into the same big banks that were underwriting environmental devastation and climate disaster.
Environmental organizations, recognizing the power of financial institutions to shape our economy, had already started organizing pressure campaigns to force the big banks to divest from fossil fuels. But we realized that there was another, even bigger point of leverage that could eventually push the entire financial sector to renounce fossil fuels: an alternative institution for consumers to move their money. The fledgling “move your money” movement had already started among some small community institutions, but the challenge was scale, and let’s face it—when it comes to climate change, scale is the only thing that matters.
Now, at the end of 2021, Aspiration has cumulatively moved hundreds of millions of dollars out of big banks that finance climate disaster, and along the way, we’re also planting millions of trees to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Is all of this enough to stop climate change on its own? No. We’ll be the first to say that divesting consumer bank accounts from fossil fuels is only one piece of the puzzle, as is reforestation with tree planting. We need strong action at the national and international level, but in the absence of that urgently needed government action, we’re proud to be doing everything we can to make personal divestment from fossil fuels and positive carbon reduction action accessible to millions of consumers.
But ours is a new model action and a new kind of company. And oftentimes what is new is first seen by some as unserious or inconsequential. That’s been the story of any innovation or any innovative company you can name.
We’re experiencing that at Aspiration firsthand. There’s a story that was published recently that misses the mark. Its central thesis is that Aspiration’s claims “seem to fizzle” under closer examination. Ironically, it's the article’s claims that fail to stand up to scrutiny.
If you’re interested, we ask that you consider the full facts below (all of which we provided to them and they chose to omit). Trust is at the center of what we are building at Aspiration, so I’ll let you judge for yourself.
The article alleges we are juicing the number of people in the Aspiration ecosystem, but it conflates two concepts and fails to note that we’re using a similar definition as all of our peers. That is, members and active accounts are two different numbers. Our members are those who have joined our community and signed on to the terms to open a regulated cash management and/or investment account.
Companies across the fintech industry describe their members in similar ways that we do. Many of them have or are also in the process of going public. You can read their filings for yourself. In the category of “no good deed goes unpunished,” we actually go a step beyond in transparency and provide our active customer number as well in the very same investor presentations. It is publicly available. Check it out for yourself.
The article suggests there is something fishy going on with our commitment to plant trees in order to help save the Earth.
The revelation they report is that trees cannot be planted instantaneously. For instance, when someone makes a purchase with Plant Your Change and rounds up their spare change to the nearest dollar, we serve up a notification saying they have “planted one planet-saving tree.”
It is not a surprise to anyone that those trees do not immediately appear in the ground halfway around the world.
The process of funding and ultimately planting a tree can take up to 18 months, and contrary to the article's claim, this is a fact we are constantly emphasizing. We post it on Twitter, such as here and here, and we share the timing on our own site. The author had those links, and they actively chose not to include them and instead suggested we were burying the basics of tree planting in a footnote. In response to their questions, I said that, of the 35 million trees Aspiration has paid our non-profit tree planting partners to plant, over 12 million were currently in the ground with millions more being planted a month. In fact, by the time they published the updated figure was 16 million.
The article cited my comments that we are planting as many trees as there are in Central Park every day. That wasn’t an exaggeration as they claim. It was an understatement. Looking just at that 16 million tree number that the article reports, we’re actually planting a Central Park’s worth of trees even faster: every 10 hours.
And if you look at the 35 million trees we have funded our well-respected NGO partners to plant, it is every 5 hours.
Planting trees, the right way, is one of the best ways we can address the climate crisis. Here is what Al Gore said in Glasgow this month: “For now, the best technology we have for carbon removal is called the tree. And when you bring that technology to scale, it’s called a forest.”
The article claims that “Aspiration’s investing arm also appears to be less environmentally friendly than the company’s marketing suggests.” However, they don’t provide an example of misleading marketing claims on our part.
In fact, we offer exactly what we say we offer: “fossil-fuel-free fund investing in sustainable businesses that are leaders in their industry.” If you invest in traditional mutual funds or index funds, your dollars are likely supporting oil and gas companies. With Aspiration’s investments, zero of your dollars go there. That’s our mandate by law. And then we proactively invest in the companies across industries that do better when it comes to environmental, social, and governance metrics.
If you’re looking to specifically only invest in clean energy companies, that’s also a sustainable investment strategy, but it’s different than the ESG strategy we currently offer. We don’t claim they're the same. And the author of the article is wrong to claim that we do.
This next claim is a bit complicated, but it gets to an important point about how we operate in total transparency as a company.
We were attacked our use of the metric EBITDAM (which stands for "earnings before interest taxes depreciation, amortization, and marketing"). We use this as our internal yardstick because we see acquisition spend as an investment in what should be a long-lasting and growing relationship. EBITDAM has been used by public companies across industries for decades.
But the most important point is that we are using this metric in order to provide more information, helping the public understand us even better: We provide both EBITDAM and EBITDA to all of our prospective investors and if any of them prefer analyzing our business through the prism of EBITDA then they by all means should do so. The article story only notes at the end that we provide both figures “on the same page of the investor presentation” when that is the central fact that makes all else irrelevant.
Here’s the big picture: Aspiration’s trust and reputation is all we have. When we mess up, we’ll fess up and fix it. This time we have not gotten it wrong, and it’s important to state that.
We work very hard every day to make positive change and do it right. And we are doing it at a scale unlike that of any other company in the world. We’ve helped our customers divest hundreds of millions of bank deposits and investments that would otherwise have gone to finance fossil fuels. Every $1,000 you transfer to Aspiration from big banks has the annual planet-saving climate impact of up to 6,000 fewer miles driven by the average car.
Divesting your money from fossil fuels matters. According to the Rainforest Action Network’s Banking on Climate Crisis report, the world’s 60 largest banks fund more oil and gas exploration in a day than ExxonMobil does in a year. And they are using their customers’ money to do so.
Environmental leader Bill McKibben, who has spent decades fighting the climate crisis, recently wrote: “The money inside the vaults of banks like Chase is driving the climate crisis. Cutting off that flow of cash may be the single quickest step we can take to rein in the fossil fuel industry and slow the rapid warming of the earth.”
We help our customers see how the places where they’re spending treat people and the planet so they can make daily spending decisions with conscience and sustainability in mind. Aspiration being named one of the B Corps “Best for the World” isn’t press hype. It is based on our scores on B Lab’s rigorous assessment which place us in the top 5% of over 100,000 companies worldwide.
And our customers — individuals and businesses — are working with us to finance what we believe is the largest private sector tree planting program in the world. That can be done the wrong way or the right way, but our people at Aspiration wake up every day determined to make sure we do it the right way. The author didn’t point to a single way in which we were falling short.
Those are the facts, I encourage you to judge for yourself.