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Saving the Planet One Card at a Time

By: Neal Fitzgerald, Strategic Product Manager, Payment Experiences at PSCU

National Recycling Day falls annually on November 15, serving as a reminder about the importance of recycling — and protecting our planet.

Now more than ever, consumers are speaking out with their concern about the environment – with their voices, votes and wallets. Decisions consumers make every day – like recycling plastic, glass and cardboard at home, conserving electricity, turning off the water while we brush our teeth, driving an electric car or trying to eat less meat – may seem like small, individual decisions, yet they demonstrate the groundswell of support toward working for a cleaner environment.

Public demand for action is growing rapidly. According to an analysis by the World Wildlife Fund and The Economist Group, consumers are changing their behaviors and showing greater interest in sustainable goods. Internet searches for sustainable products are increasing by 71%. Social media reflects this trend as well, with the global volume of Twitter conversations about damage to the environment increasing 65%, even during the pandemic.

Consumers of all ages, but especially Millennials and Gen Z, place a high value on choosing organizations and companies that have values that align with their own personal beliefs. Sustainability ranks high on the list of those values.

Many corporations are responding to the calls to support the environment and sustainable products. Research conducted by NYU’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business shows that within the last several years, the number of products marketed as “sustainable” has grown 5.6 times faster than products that were not. As of 2019, 127 nations had enacted laws legislating restrictions on single-use or hard-to-recycle items, including plastics.

How is your financial institution participating in the movement to protect our planet? Do you have sustainability goals and values? One powerful way to connect with your cardholders and protect the planet is by offering sustainable cards, especially when bundled with other eco-friendly solutions and options.

Recycled materials make a positive environmental impact

Have you ever thought about the impact plastic payment cards have on the environment? Most payment cards are manufactured using PVC – polyvinyl chloride – which is a first-use plastic made by combining fossil fuel chemicals. While each card is only five ounces worth of plastic, there are six billion credit and debit cards produced each year. The environmental impact from six billion plastic cards creates a significant carbon footprint – equivalent to about 900,000 tons of carbon dioxide – each year.

One way for financial institutions to make a tangible environmental impact is to explore greener options for payment cards. Sustainable cards can be manufactured using upcycled post-industrial waste, such as plastic litter, bottles and containers from landfills. Ocean-bound plastic sustainable cards are typically made from plastics that would pollute natural ecosystems within 50 miles of an ocean coastline. Offering sustainable cards made from one or both of those recycled materials will help reduce the number of first-use plastic payment cards in the market.

Consumers support sustainable cards

Public sentiment for sustainable cards is high. CPI Card Group commissioned an independent research study in 2020 to evaluate consumer sentiment toward sustainable cards. Key findings from this study revealed that 73% of respondents felt it is important that their bank or credit union is environmentally conscious, 64% said reducing plastics use is a top priority, and 63% were “very concerned” about the environment and plastic waste. Respondents also showed strong interest in owning a payment card that is “made from recycled materials” rather than other popular card options like metal cards or cards with custom designs.

Benefits of offering sustainable cards

There are many benefits to offering cards made of sustainable materials, especially if that is part of a larger “green” initiative from your financial institution.

  • Reduce overall carbon footprint. Offering eco-friendly products helps reduce your impact on the environment and the very communities your financial institution serves.
  • Positively impact brand image. Showing your ethical side is something consumers can get behind. Once they see how you believe in your mission, they are likely to become more engaged with and loyal to your financial institution and offerings.
  • Social responsibility influences buying decisions. Consumers are doing more business with companies that reflect their core beliefs despite extra costs, because it’s worth it to them – many would pay a premium just to have a sustainable product.
  • Attractive to new cardholders. Offering payment cards made with recycled PVC or reclaimed ocean-bound plastic gives consumers a new reason to choose your financial institution. Even if being sustainable isn’t a personal priority, the idea of using an environmentally friendly card is attractive to many consumers.
  • Competitive advantage. In an increasingly competitive financial services market, eco-friendly cards can set you apart from competitors. They can provide an innovative edge to help your financial institution grow and thrive in the marketplace.

Sustainable payment cards have the unique ability to offer your financial institution a way to make your environmental values visible to your cardholders, while also enabling your cardholders to participate in an environmentally friendly initiative.

While there is typically an increase in cost per sustainable card, the benefits of going green more than make up for it. A way to offset this cost is by “bundling” sustainable plastics with other eco-friendly initiatives. For example, remind cardholders that they can sign up for electronic statements and not receive any physical mail. While bundling sustainable cards with electronic statements contributes to reduced use of paper material, your financial institution will also benefit from the reduced postage expense. Does your rewards program allow cardholders to use points to donate trees to be planted? Consider revealing the cost-savings of transitioning to paperless – which can help pay for the switch to sustainable cards or perhaps be donated to an eco-friendly cause in your community.

If you are interested in offering sustainable cards or taking other “green” steps, consider working with a fintech credit union service organization (CUSO) like PSCU or another partner to help. While it can feel overwhelming to reexamine your financial institution’s approach to sustainability, it is an important step to take in order to stay relevant to consumers and to protect the planet – our common home.

Neal Fitzgerald, Strategic Product Manager for Plastics, Credit Payment Experiences at PSCU.  Fitzgerald has over 25 years of retail card product management and co-brand reward cards experience in the financial services industry.

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