Reimagining banking with cleaner cards

As a purpose-driven business, we at Remagine are faced with complex decisions to achieve both our commercial and impact-oriented goals with the understanding that financial sustainability will further enable positive change for people and the planet. We’re not the only ones trying to achieve these hybrid objectives, and we have much to learn from each other to truly transform businesses into forces for good. So, we wanted to share some insights on our decision-making for one simple part of our business and hope others will do the same! The topic this time around? Our Clean Card.

The small rectangle in your wallet might not seem like much, but with over 150 million payment cards in use in Germany alone (est. 2019), we ought to consider the impacts of an increasingly cashless society. We looked into the environmental impacts of offering our customers bank cards and how we could minimise potential negative impacts as much as possible.

Introducing Remagine’s Clean Cards

We worked on minimising card-specific impacts to focus on what we could influence in providing our cards to customers in the areas of material use, production, and distribution. Though we haven’t perfected our offering and aim to improve further, we wanted to openly share the decisions we made with respect to our Clean Cards.

What can we do better?

There are some aspects to offering our cards where negative environmental impacts were unavoidable or difficult to achieve. For example, there are some components of the card that could not be sourced as sustainably as we hoped, such as the internal wiring and chip module. These are typically made from a variety of metals that are standard in the industry. Interestingly, the introduction of contactless payments made possible by the chip could be extending the life of bank cards, as the insertion of the card into payment terminals can lead to material abrasions. With the inclusion of all components, the entire card is made of 90% recycled materials.

Another consideration is the use of ink for our cards and carriers. Given our brand colours, the card carrier in particular uses large amounts of ink that is dark in colour and requires more resources for recycling. Further, there are concerns regarding the toxicity of ink and its effects on human health. We hope to work with our production partner to explore better options for colouring our cards and packaging, such as non-toxic or plant-based paints and ink.

Finally, the end-of-life of bank cards is not easy to manage. Card recycling is a challenge faced by banks due to the mix and complexity of materials typically used. However, the sector has made strides with advances in technology and the increasing sophistication of recycling companies in terms of sustainability. We’re working with our partner on properly managing the end-of-life of cards to be as circular as possible. We will update with more details as soon as we launch our disposal program.

The status quo of bank cards 

According to a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) by De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB),the climate impact of a debit card transaction is 3.78 grams of CO2-equivalents (CO2eq), which is equal to leaving on an 8W low-energy light bulb for 1.5 hours. If we translate that to 150 million payment cards in Germany, that equates to leaving that light bulb on for over 25,000 years…
assuming each card is used only once. The study further categorises impact areas of one debit card transaction, finding that the impact category with the largest contribution to environmental harm is fossil fuel depletion (assuming the use of non-renewable energy throughout the debit card system). Other areas of note are climate change/human health, human toxicity, and metal depletion. The figure on the left summarises their results.

It should be noted that these figures take into account all processes which influence the environmental burden of a bank card, with the largest environmental impact being caused by payment terminals. The card itself and its relevant subsystems account for 15% of environmental impacts within the entirety of the process chain. Additional figures provided by Thales Group assert that the carbon footprint of a banking card (not adjusted per transaction) amounts to about 150 grams of CO2eq, with:

In the next section, we’ll discuss how we diverted from the status quo to make planet-friendly decisions for our cards.

Decisions around Remagine’s Clean Cards presented us with a number of lessons that we’ll continue to apply in the future. Though the list is far from exhaustive, we hope fewer operational complications, and inspire innovative minimalistic design that appeals to customers – all while reducing needless resource consumption and waste.

PARTNERSHIPS MATTER. Working with a partner you trust will uphold your values means you can grow and improve outcomes together. Wherever technical shortcomings exist in the industry or value chain, rest-assured that a good partner will innovate with you to find solutions or be on the lookout for relevant changes in the market.

DON’T LET IMPERFECTION STOP YOU. Our cards aren’t perfect, and there’s plenty of room for improvement. However, striving for perfection or fearing criticism for the lack of it should not be a barrier to doing your best. The more of us who try to do better, the more we will inspire the innovation needed towards a better future.

© 2021. Conscious Growth GmbH. All Rights Reserved.