Sustainability goals are influencing company identity and mission statements across industries, including the financial sector.  Financial Institutions (FIs) of all sizes are setting sustainability goals, driven by a number of factors, including consumer demand for more eco-focused options. Since payment cards are a major touchpoint with customers, FIs are asking how cards can reflect those sustainability goals while also meeting cardholder preferences, which is good for business.  For example, CPI research shows that more than half (51%) of respondents would switch to a different issuer for a recovered ocean-bound plastic card with the same features and benefits*.  Two major US banks have recently announced their plans to transition to recycled plastic in their payment cards, and others, including American Express, have announced transitions of certain portfolios.

Small to mid-sized financial institutions are also paying attention to sustainability issues. In a market assessment with CPI, Mercator Advisory Group polled 106 executives of small banks and credit unions about whether their institution had a sustainability initiative and whether there was budget associated with that initiative. 84 replied that their institution did have an initiative, and 57 reported that there was budget to back it. More specifically, 77 out of the 106 reported considering sustainability initiatives specifically for their card programs.

If you’re thinking about ways of using your debit or credit card program to both extend your sustainability values statement to your cardholders and align with their interests, here are five strategies to consider.

Best Practice #1

Maintain Communication with
Sustainability Functions

One key to an eco-focused payment card program is to foster engagement between the card product and sustainability functions in your organization. Maintain ongoing, regular communication with any colleagues involved in the sustainability function as you develop the parameters of your eco-focused payment card program. In Aite Group’s 2020 study, the top 25 banks reported having a sustainability department, but the communication between the card management group and the sustainability function was lacking.

Share the ins and outs of your card program including measurable goals, positive environmental outcomes such as reduced first-use plastic, and timelines to ensure that team members share these mile markers across functions, and with the institution as a whole.

Best Practice #2

Strike a Balance on
Percentage of Recycled Content

As options for eco-focused payment cards grow, a common focal-point is to highlight the percentage of recycled content in the card body. This number may be based on factors including the type of material used in the card construction and the card design.

In general, higher percentage recycled content cards translate to a greater reduction of first-use plastic, but can have less design flexibility. The type and number of embellishments, colored substrates, and treatments (e.g., ink, foil, glitter, colored core), affect the amount of recycled content in a card. In addition, they can have other environmental impacts to consider.

Look for a solution provider that is offering a variety of recycled content percentages and card materials so that you can rely on their expertise to find the right balance of card materials for your organization.

Best Practice #3

Design to Align
with Your Brand

Design is another consideration when exploring an eco-focused card program. There’s good news for those who remember a time when choosing an “eco” payment card meant being limited to a few colors or treatments. Today’s financial institutions have many more options available for capturing their brand aesthetic.

Still, the type and amount of upcycled or recycled material used does dictate which specific design elements can be applied. Factoring in the “less is more” approach can lead to better results, and as mentioned above, result in a card that uses less first use plastic.

Vertical orientations, bold colors and experimenting with personalization are techniques that can help your card stay top-of-wallet.

Best Practice #4

Match Materials and Functionality
to Your Cardholders’ Needs

Beyond the base material used, today’s cardholder demands functionality. As the popularity and ubiquity of contactless cards grows, adopting contact and contactless dual interface chip and antenna technology can be a compelling reason for financial institutions to shift to eco-focused card materials and combine efforts into one initiative.

Best Practice #5

Find a Provider that Can
Support Your Efforts

Payment card products are the culmination of many different material inputs, so finding a provider that places a high value on more sustainable choices, and that has a track record for providing quality solutions is key. Look towards an experienced solution provider that can offer design flexibility and innovative approaches to support your goals.

*CPI Consumer Insights Study, Wave 3, conducted by an independent research firm, September 2021, n2215

CPI Card Group has sold more than 50 million eco-focused payment cards for U.S. financial institutions and Fintechs since launching Second Wave® in 2019

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Terra Grantham CPI Card Group VP Strategy and Sustainability

Written by:

Terra Grantham, VP Strategy and ESG at CPI Card Group