We've all become painfully aware of just how much excess waste we generate every day as humans – from plastic bags, straws, and takeaway containers, to our carbon footprint as we all get to where we need to go.
As we collectively look at ways to reduce this impact, a group of passionate action sports industry advocates have joined forces, and using their vast network of connections, are working to target an area that touches almost all of us: single-use plastic gift cards.
It's no secret that FinTech (or financial technology) has exploded with our increased reliance on smartphones, mobile wallets and platforms like Apple and Google Play. There's more awareness than ever before about how we can tap into these resources to make our lives more efficient while leaving a smaller footprint.
That's exactly what Tony Larson, Mark Marovich, Nate Elders and Paul Myers are doing with STOKE.fund, a new platform they've created that connects consumers to their favorite brands using a virtual payment system as well as gift cards made from recycled plastic.
Obviously, virtual or digital cards are the most eco-conscious form of payment, however, educating the masses on transitioning their spending habits away from using cards, cash or checks can be challenging and takes time. STOKE.fund is attempting to make this easier, leveraging MasterCard and partnering with Oceanworks, a company dedicated to removing plastic from ours ocean and transforming it into sustainable products.
We caught up with their team in the midst of the platform’s official launch this month to find out the details, what they hope to accomplish in the foreseeable future and how companies and individuals in our space can get involved.
Why did you see a need for this type of platform?
Mark Marovich: The purpose behind why we built STOKE is to tie together our daily spending habits with a focus on the environment. According to the most recent data, 15 billion plastic cards are printed each year for the U.S. market. It takes more than 76,000 tons of plastic to make these cards which releases 315,000 metric tons of CO2 into our atmosphere. The days of "single-use plastic" need to end. By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean [by weight]. We asked ourselves what could we do to help alleviate the problem, educate consumers and inspire future generations.
How was the idea for STOKE conceived?
Marovich: A few years back, I launched a gifting platform that promoted the values of giving, saving and buying responsibly. Paul Myers and I connected around the same time and our conversations took us from "gifting" to "payments" and the developing FinTech industry. Paul is deeply immersed in FinTech and also has an extensive background in the outdoor industry. With our passion for boarding and the environment, we agreed that whatever we built, we'd want sustainability at the core.
After a few months of ironing out the platform, we had a usable product that was safe, secure and smart. With my head spinning and trying to figure out how to build a brand around payments, sustainability and the outdoor industry, I reached out to Tony Larson. Tony created the branding and campaigns perfectly to align with the sustainable vision we had. Now we had a finished product but we still needed to place it into the market. Enter Nate Elders.
Nate Elders: When STOKE got to me, it was nearly complete. We have spent the last several months implementing go-to-market strategies. The platform has endless capabilities but we needed to find the best uses for our sustainability mission. The number of single-use plastic gift cards that Outdoor Industry is using annually is enormous. Our current focus is to deliver a sustainable payment platform with reloadable cards made from recycled ocean plastic. STOKE delivers a truly sustainable option to replace single-use plastic gift cards.
How does it work, exactly?
Tony Larson: STOKE provides a platform enabling the industry to offer free reloadable physical and virtual payment cards. STOKE cards can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. The outdoor industry should no longer offer single-use plastic gift cards.
Give us a little background on each of you and your involvement in the adventure sports industry over the years?
Marovich: [My career] began in retail at Becker Surf & Sport in the mid-’90s. I helped launch Beckersurf.com in the late ’90s through the early 2000's. After that, I was the director of eComm at SPY for several years and presently sit on the board of directors for Sustainable Surf.
Paul Myers: In 1992, I launched a snowboard mail order business, which lead me into brick and mortar retail with 540 Board Shops, which I eventually sold to a member of Jake Burton's family. Since 2001, 540 Productions has been a conduit for brands to engage the youth market via digital engagement through music and event properties. My journey into digital payments began while launching Lucky Lucy's Skate Supply e-commerce site in 1996.
Larson: For fifteen years, I have been a designer and creative director working with some of the most influential brands in the world including Girl Skateboards and DC Shoes.
Elders: For the past twenty years, I have been in sales (both inside and outside) for several different surf, skate and snowboard brands. Presently, I am on the road selling Brixton and Arcade in Southern California. I am also the co-founder of Psockadelic.
What are some of specific ways you will be working with brands and retailers to get the message out?
Larson: We want to collaborate with brands and retailers who share a similar eco-consciousness. Our goal is to leverage synergies and create awareness for sustainable payments and eliminate single-use plastic gift cards. Education is the starting point.
Elders: Most retailers and brands in our industry are already pushing sustainability but few are thinking about sustainable payments. We will need to pound the pavement to tell our story to inspire others to help spread the message.
Marovich: Change starts with all of us. Our planet is drowning in plastic. STOKE is an easy option for everyone to use that will make a huge collective difference by merely considering a more sustainable way to pay for things – which is something all of us do every day.
How did you team up with Mastercard and Oceanworks?
Myers: STOKE is powered by Jib Technologies, a company I co-founded in 2013 with a mission of removing friction and latency in payments. Jib has a direct brand partnership with Mastercard. Recently, Mastercard announce the "Greener Payments Partnership" which fits perfectly with STOKE's sustainable payments initiatives.
Marovich: Oceanworks' Brian Thurston and I are board members of Sustainable Surf. Brian's knowledge of the materials supply chain and his focus on plastics remediation made him an obvious choice to see if ocean recycled plastics in payment cards was an option. So we partnered to offer the first Oceansmade(™) payment card.
There are multiple facets to this platform. One being encouraging the general public to stop using physical gift cards and transition to digital. What will that push look like for your team – from education to getting the platform adopted by the right trend setters and influencers?
Myers: The rest of the world already uses mobile and contactless payments. Europe and Asia were early adopters dating back 20-30 years. However, adoption has been painfully slow in the US. Since 2014, Apple, Google and Samsung Pay have been educating both consumers and merchants about the safety and simplicity of digital payments. Yet, nobody is talking about the significant carbon footprint created by using cash, checks and plastic cards.
Elders: We are not currently aligned with any individual influencer. We are very aware of the retailers, brands and ambassadors who have sustainability at the forefront of their messaging. We are inspired by John John Florence asking Lei Lei's to ditch styrofoam and Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard updating their mission statement to be more directly tied to saving the planet. As we embark on this journey, others will join and all together we will continue to spread awareness.
Another facet is working with Oceanworks to provide cards made from recycled ocean plastic. Is this an initiative that Mastercard is adopting with all of its cards, or is it something that you are working with just through the STOKE platform?
Myers: STOKE brought Mastercard and Oceanworks together with a focus on the Outdoor Industry. If we collectively create a groundswell that will build big enough to reach the mainstream, all the better. It is our hope that eventually every company offering any sort of payment method will adopt sustainable payment solutions.
In addition to the influential partners you’ve already discussed, how will you work to educate the rest of the industry about the nature of reusable gift cards and getting on board?
Elders: The STOKE platform is robust and versatile. We can tailor it to the independent needs of each business.
For example, Active announced "The Crew" referral program in November. Loyal customers can join The Crew and earn up to 20% commission, access to exclusive events, products and skate the Active park. After reviewing, Nick Jacobs and I identified that Active's current payment platform is taking fees and a separate company issues a card.
With STOKE, we send each Crew member a physical STOKE Mastercard (or they could load a virtual card into their mobile wallet). From there, STOKE will allow Active push payments to each members' card with 0% fees for Active or the member.
Active built this program before they were aware that STOKE existed so they launched with another payment system. We are currently exploring opportunity for a potential transfer to the STOKE platform.
Active is a great example of how versatile STOKE is. In the future, STOKE could possibly be the platform they use to pay out ambassadors, reloadable gift cards and corporate expense management.
Myers: We have complete turn-key solutions available at no cost compared to similar payment solutions from Braintree, PayPal or Stripe. We also offer co-branded solutions.
Elders: Beyond ending up as waste, another issue with single-use gift cards is that the customer engagement is also single-use. STOKE allows the retailer or brand to engage with their customer through their wallet.
Imagine this scenario: Active Rideshop has the ability to text "Active just sent $10 to your STOKE card to spend at any Active location available now through February 1st".
That customer engagement is completely free and leaves no carbon footprint. Plus, Active gets real time visibility on which customers utilized the promotion and what the return on the $10 incentive was.
Larson: The scenarios are endless. The platform can do a lot and we will use educational videos and newsletters to highlight what we feel brings the most value, whether it is reloadable gift cards, driving sales, rewarding employees, tracking expenses or paying brand ambassadors and suppliers. We will be able to share real examples of how the platform is getting implemented as we grow.
How do you see the current state of our industry in terms of eco-consciousness? What shifts do you hope to see in 2019 and beyond?
Marovich: As mentioned previously we were inspired to build STOKE because of what's happening in the "eco-conscious" space especially within the Outdoor Industry. Examples of progress are everything from the use of more sustainable fabrics, to greener packaging solutions, supply chain transparency to LEED Certified buildings.
Oceanworks and Mastercard are great partners with a focus on sustainability. STOKE will be projecting the issues we face and alternatives to sustain. Brands such as Patagonia and Outerknown along with retailers like REI and industry associations like OIA and SIMA continue to push sustainability and make it a focal point. We look forward to working with these leaders and the outdoor industry to make a difference, one transaction at a time. For more information about STOKE, please email [email protected]
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