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Eco-Friendly Payment Cards: Putting Sustainability at the Heart of Payment - January 2022


Even before the Covid-19 pandemic began, investors, regulators and banks had already started linking sustainability to their corporate purpose and actions in line with the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI – Nov 2018) that released a first version of its Principles for Responsible Banking. These principles are based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations and provide a global framework and roadmap.

Over 250 banks representing over 40% of banking assets worldwide have now joined this movement for change.


But the pandemic has proved a pivotal tipping point. Consumers have begun to reflect more deeply on environmental and ethical sustainability concerns – so much so that 61% of UK consumers now actively choose to avoid single use plastics in pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle.


Rising consumer awareness about climate change risk and environmental issues isn’t the only thing driving banks and financial institutions to put sustainability at the heart of their operations. During the 2021 COP26 UN Climate Change Summit, over 450 of the world’s banks committed to accelerating the move to a low carbon future and safeguarding the world’s natural ecosystems.


The payment card is a highly visible and important physical connection between banking brands and the customer. With billions already in circulation – and the vast majority made from first-use plastic – there’s an opportunity for change.


An eco-friendly payment card can be a clear and very practical demonstration of a bank’s commitment to a more responsible and sustainable future. It’s not the silver bullet, of course. And it shouldn’t be positioned as such. However, changing the card body material is an important step when taken as part of a broader Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy.


Preserving the environment is something the payment card industry takes very seriously. Which is why, over the past decade, it has invested in developing new materials and approaches designed to help issuers reduce first-use PVC plastic, fight plastic waste and pollution, and reduce their carbon footprint by utilizing personalization centres that are closer to cardholders.


Providing a detailed review of today’s solutions and best practices for building a sustainable card issuance strategy, this Smart Payment Association (SPA) paper is the first in a series dedicated to evaluating the entire eco-payment card lifecycle – from production to issuance and end-of-life/recycling.


Covering eco-innovative materials and production techniques, the SPA paper also provides insights into why issuers need to go beyond simply focusing on the materials used to manufacture the card body itself - and considers the wider production and supply chain logistics involved.




Download SPA White Paper