How Spending “Green” Can Become More Green (Part One)

Before getting into the “how,” we should consider the “why.”

Without even mentioning the actual paper it takes to print currency, there are a significant number of ways that the amalgamation of banks, other financial institutions, payment providers and processors can make the long-term effect of payments and banking much more eco-friendly.


Before getting into the “how,” we should consider the “why.” Those reasons may be painfully obvious for some. In the case of plastics required to make credit cards, roughly 8 million tons of plastic pollution gets washed into the world’s oceans every year. In the case of paper, like that used to mail bank statements, issue new cards or send promotional offers, discarded paper accounts for about 35 percent of municipal solid waste (by weight). That’s certainly not to say that the financial industry is the sole contributor to those extensive pollution tallies, but the issues have some serious credence. As the old adage goes, if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.


The good news is that technological innovation and the dawn of digital financial services promise to mitigate those issues, even if we have quite a way to go on awareness and adoption of some of the possibilities. At a high level, so-called “green banking” is part of a broader movement called sustainable banking. That concept is twofold: One angle looks at a bank’s social and environmental programs and donations, while the other is focused on the internal initiatives of the bank, like its selected materials, waste practices, technology and processes.


Organizations such as the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV) and the World Bank’s Sustainable Banking Network (SBN) offer a number of relevant best practices for sustainable banking. As alluded to, there are varying degrees of participation from financial institutions, but many that are actively practicing sustainable banking see advantages in the long term on both the environmental and business fronts.


A discussion around how to make credit cards greener inherently requires potential alternatives. Mobile payments and other card not present transactions are on the rise, with the expectation that the total value of mobile payments transactions in the U.S. alone is going to rise 210 percent in 2016. Banks have been doing a commendable job of encouraging customers to sign up for those all-digital services, however physical credit and debit cards will clearly be sticking around for quite a while. While mobile payments continue to gain traction, millions upon millions of credit cards expire, are lost or are periodically replaced every year across the globe. All of those cards either need to be properly disposed of or end up contributing to the record hauls of plastic waste.