The success of movements like Grab Your Wallet, the Trump-focused retail boycott, have made putting your money where your mouth a new priority for many consumers. However, shopping sustainably and ethically can be harder than it seems. Specifically, it can be difficult to find out which brands actually use the most sustainable practices.
Brands are often defined by brief moments in the spotlight — think Pepsi's tone-deaf Kendall Jenner ad or, more positively, Target's lauded stand for transgender equality. Outside of these brief moments of hyper-publicity, though, it can be hard to obtain a clear picture of how a company operates on a day-to-day basis.
Aspiration, a startup financial firm, is attempting to address this information problem with the creation of Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM), a service within the startup's app that assigns scores to major retailers based on those companies' practices. The new service launched on April 26.
Companies are scored on two metrics: 1. "People," which evaluates things like gender equality in leadership and treatment of LGBT employees; and 2. "Planet," which examines whether companies implement eco-friendly practices. Aspiration clients can use the company's app to view the scores of their past purchases. These scores are also aggregated each month to produce a score for the client themselves.
"You’ll be able to make decisions in terms of thinking about, as you’re shopping on a day to day basis, not only the cost, quality, and convenience of the place you’re shopping, but the conscience as well," Andrei Cherny, Aspiration's CEO, tells Bustle.
The idea of ranking companies based on business practices is not new. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights group, produces an annual Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies on their treatment of LGBT employees.
Like the Corporate Equality Index, AIM "People" scores will factor in whether a company offers sufficient LGBT protections, Cherny says. "'People' would be dimensions like benefits for employees, relative pay of employees to CEO, LGBT protections, and so on. 'Planet' would be... reducing waste or greenhouse gas emissions and so on."
Data for AIM scores comes from private sector data sources and is fed into Aspiration's own algorithm, which ultimately calculates the scores.
However, these scores are not set in stone. Companies will be allowed to appeal their scores with Aspiration, Cherny says, if they feel that they have been inaccurately assessed. At launch, only major retailers will have AIM scores, but Cherny tells Bustle that small businesses will be able to have their own scores added by contacting the company and providing information about their business practices: "We are building in a way for local retailers and merchants to be able to self-report their own scores so that they're not penalized for being part of the app... we'll mark that that's self-reported data and do spot checks."
It'll force them to start acting even better when it comes to their employees or when it comes to the environment.
After a career in politics and law that included work with Elizabeth Warren during her time as a Harvard Law School professor, Cherny founded Aspiration in order to create "a financial firm with a conscience," he says.
In addition to offering a pay-what-you-like fee structure and a promise to donate ten cents of every dollar of revenue to microloan charities like Accion, Aspiration has also divested from companies that don't meet their political and social values. "Our core investment fund is 100 percent fossil fuel free, 100 percent firearm free," Cherny says. "We invest in companies with really strong environmental practices, employee practices." The Women's March recommended Aspiration in a list of banks and investment firms that are divested from the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Ultimately, Cherny says he hopes that the implementation of a quantifiable metric for good business practices will encourage companies to treat their employees better and use more sustainable business practices. "People are spending 36 billion dollars a day as consumers," he says. "Shifting a relatively small amount of that will get the attention of companies, and it'll force them to start acting even better when it comes to their employees or when it comes to the environment."