How Mastercard is responding to consumer calls for sustainability

Mastercard is among the leading businesses pushing for a more environmentally sustainable future—and as far as the company is concerned, the impetus for those efforts comes directly from consumers.

“Consumers really are the key drivers of change for brands and corporations,” Christina Paslar, Mastercard’s executive vice president of ESG Products, told TriplePundit. “We have politicians, yes, but I would say the loudest voice is actually the consumer perspective and consumer demand. Consumers can vote with their decisions, with their purchases and with their preferences.”

The Bale Mountains of Southeastern Ethiopia. (Image: Aaron Minnick, World Resources Institute)

Responding to consumer calls for more sustainable choices

Nearly 65 percent of U.S. consumers see climate change and resource scarcity as serious and immediate threats, with more than half willing to take personal action, according to a 2022 survey. Globally, charitable giving to environmental charities , have increased 26 percent from 2021 to 2022, ranking as the second-fastest year-over-year growth among all charitable causes, according to the Mastercard Economics Institute.

To address this growing interest, Mastercard has taken steps such as working with global industry players to develop a sustainable card program for all card issuers worldwide, including a directory of sustainable materials and card product suppliers. From January 1, 2028, all newly produced plastic Mastercard payment cards will be made from more sustainable materials and approved through a certification program, a first for a payment network.

Mastercard’s sustainable card offerings are available to consumers in more than a dozen countries around the world. The company has engaged more than 330 financial institutions to issue cards with approved materials, and more than 60 financial institutions have issued cards with approved materials made from recyclable, bio-sourced, chlorine-free, biodegradable and ocean plastics. Six billion credit and debit cards are produced annually, usually from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which includes dangerous chemical additives including phthalates, lead, cadmium and/or organotin, which can be toxic to children. These cards are replaced on average every three to four years, with the discarded cards ending up in landfills around the world.

“We closed last year with more than 170 million sustainable cards ordered to date, which was above the 120 million we expected,” Paslar said. “It shows that more and more of our customers are thinking, ‘Yeah, why not have a card that, instead of being made out of pure plastic, is made out of a sustainable material?’

Mastercard has also created a carbon calculator with Swedish fintech startup Doconomy, which gives consumers the means to see the estimated carbon footprint of their purchases to better understand where their choices have the biggest impact.

Card issuers, which include banks, credit card companies, credit unions and other financial institutions, also recognize these changes in consumer preferences, Paslar said. And they are looking for “natural” ways to inform and empower consumers to make more sustainable choices with the products and services they buy.

“We’re seeing high engagement from the card issuer where they see how they can play that role in informing, inspiring and empowering their users,” she explained. “But at the same time, we have good signs that consumers are really engaging with these types of solutions.”

Harvesting seedlings in Kenya - Mastercard priceless projects to restore the planet
Workers grow native seedlings in Nyeri, Kenya. (Image: Andrew Wu, World Resources Institute)

Bringing the public and private sectors together for transformative change

Of all Mastercard’s efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainability, the most prominent and potentially far-reaching is the Priceless Planet Coalition, which promotes collective action in the public and private sectors to combat climate change.

Launched by Mastercard in January 2020, the restoration effort, led by Conservation International and the World Resources Institute, aims to restore 100 million trees. The coalition has grown into a global network of nearly 140 partners and a portfolio of 18 high-quality restoration projects on six continents, as well as the island of Madagascar and the Philippines.

Projects were selected with an emphasis on those with the greatest potential for positive impact on the climate, local communities and biodiversity. The 18 projects range in size from a goal to plant 100,000 trees in Martin County, Kentucky, where deforestation from mining has degraded water resources, to planting millions of trees on the island of Madagascar, which has lost 25 percent of its tree cover since it began of the century.

Efforts like Priceless Planet are also a way for coalition partners to connect with the public around sustainability, as Mastercard research shows that tree-planting and reforestation efforts are “very relatable” to consumers, Paslar said.

“We have 136 partners and the key to maintaining a strong partnership is to always provide assets and ideas about how we can work together in a way that we think is commercially sustainable,” Paslar told us. “By commercially sustainable, I mean that the end user – the cardholder who holds our Mastercard cards issued by banks and used by merchants – they actually care about the climate. They care about having sustainable choices and they care about doing business with brands that really work and are committed to sustainable solutions.”

This series of articles is sponsored by Mastercard and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

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