Credit cards have a bad reputation for facilitating environmental damage. They often encourage you to spend more, which in turn fosters a fast consumer culture that creates enormous amounts of plastic and carbon pollution.
The good news is, not all credit cards pollute the environment.
In recent years, sustainable banks have begun issuing environmentally-friendly credit cards that help you eliminate your environmental impact. They allow you to make automatic donations to environmental charities and divest from fossil fuels. Some even plant carbon offset trees for you each time you make a purchase.
In this article, we take a look at the most environmentally-friendly credit cards that can help you reduce your carbon footprint.
Environmentally friendly credit cards
In response to the growing climate problem, some ethical financial institutions have begun issuing environmentally friendly credit cards which help customers reduce their environmental impact.
What are they?
Environmentally friendly credit cards are credit cards that help their owners fight climate change. They come with features that help cardholders reduce the negative environmental impacts created by credit card use, for example, by donating a percentage of each transaction made to an environmental charity.
Many environmentally-friendly credit cards are issued by financial institutions that have B-Corp certification or are members of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). These affiliations guarantee that the bank, and the credit cards it issues, follow socially and environmentally responsible banking practices.
What makes them sustainable?
Whereas regular plastic credit cards are made of fossil fuel-based PVC plastics, most environmentally-friendly credit cards are made of sustainable materials such as biodegradable fibers and recycled ocean plastics.
The use of these materials helps lower the amount of plastic waste and chemical pollution that the credit card industry generates.
Do they help change consumer behavior?
It’s no secret that credit cards are designed to encourage their owners to spend more, sometimes on things they might not actually need.
Environmentally friendly credit cards try their best to avoid this. Some cards offer cashback rewards for purchases made at sustainable businesses to incentivize socially conscious shopping. Customers are rewarded for supporting businesses that treat their employees and suppliers well.
Other environmentally-friendly credit cards come with a built-in system that tracks the carbon emissions of your purchases, allowing you to see the amount of pollution the products and services you purchase create. This helps consumers become more aware of their environmental impact. It also helps them know the amount of emissions they need to offset.
Out of bank actions
Materials used for environmentally friendly cards
In light of the plastic problem caused by millions of discarded plastic credit cards each year, issuers have begun using environmentally-friendly cards made from non-virgin plastic materials.
These materials come from a wide range of sources, from ocean-bound plastic waste reclaimed from beaches to sustainable plastic substitutes such as polylactic acid (PLA).
Each material helps fight pollution in its own way. Recycled plastics, for example, remove the tonnes of plastic waste piling up in our oceans and landfills and breaking down into microplastics.
Polylactic acid, another popular credit card material made from renewable bio-sourced resources such as corn or sugarcane, does not produce toxic fumes when incinerated. They can be broken down by microorganisms when composted.
And it’s not just the card bodies that are environmentally friendly. Some credit card manufacturers print the images and words on their cards using ink made from recycled air pollution particles, specifically soot that’s collected from chimneys and car exhaust pipes.
Investments made by eco-friendly banks and why they matter
Eco-friendly banks make a conscious effort to not invest in environmentally damaging businesses linked to fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and logging. Already too many of the world’s largest banks profit off of Arctic and fossil fuel projects.
Eco-friendly banks prefer to invest in renewable energy businesses and technologies to help the global economy transition faster to a low-carbon economy. They offer loans to commercial solar and wind power developers to help deliver millions of watts of clean energy to commercial, industrial, and community properties.
They believe that their money should be invested in climate solutions and not seemingly profitable enterprises that exacerbate climate change. They also make generous donations to environmental nonprofits and social equality advocacy groups to help communities become resilient to climate change.
Carbon offsetting initiatives
Eco-friendly banks may also pair their credit cards with carbon mitigation programs to help customers reduce their carbon footprint.
Customers may get automatic carbon offset trees planted on their behalf when they make purchases or meet a certain spending limit. Or they may be given the option to purchase carbon offsets with their credit card.
Banks usually carry out their carbon mitigation programs through nonprofit organizations that engage in reforestation efforts or sustainable farming projects. Internally, banks may also switch their data centers and offices to renewable energy to further reduce their carbon emissions.
The most environmentally friendly credit cards
Amalgamated Bank Maximum Rewards Mastercard
The Amalgamated Bank Maximum Rewards Mastercard is a zero-annual fee credit card offered by the B Corp certified Amalgamated Bank. With this card, customers can enjoy a 0% Intro APR for the first 6 billing cycles as well as 1.5% cashback on every purchase made.
Plus, when you bank with Amalgamated, your money goes to support all of the sustainable organizations, progressive causes, and social justice movements they partner with.
Amalgamated’s operations are powered by 100% renewable energy, with no investments in fossil fuels whatsoever. In early 2021, they helped launch the Net Zero Banking Alliance, whose aim is to help the banking sector reduce its carbon emissions and stay in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard
The REI Co-op World Elite Mastercard is a unique credit card that helps you donate to projects that conserve your favorite outdoor destinations.
Customers receive 5% cashback on purchases at REI and 1% cashback on everything else without having to pay any annual fees. For the moment, this credit card is only available to REI members.
The card is issued by US Bank. Although a well-known big financier of fossil fuels, US Bank finances clean energy projects, affordable housing, and community development projects. It also has a subsidiary, the US Bancorp Community Development Corporation, which has invested billions of dollars into a nationwide solar energy program.
Green America Rewards Platinum Visa
If you’re looking to make regular donations to an environmental charity, the Green America Rewards Platinum Visa could be for you.
It’s an affinity credit card that donates a small percentage of each transaction to Green America, a nonprofit membership organization that promotes ethical consumerism. Your donations help Green America provide loans to green businesses and remove GMOs from our food supply.
This card comes with no annual fees. You receive one point per dollar spent on all purchases, which can be redeemed for travel rewards. For the first 12 billing cycles, you’re given a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers.
Sunrise Banks Platinum Visa
A certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Sunrise Banks uses fintech to help their nonprofit, business, and individual customers in underprivileged areas achieve financial prosperity.
Their Platinum Visa credit card is one of several eco-friendly credit cards they issue in partnership with Elan Financial, which is a subsidiary of US Bank. Customers receive a 0% Intro APR for purchases and balances for the first 20 billing cycles followed by a 13.49% to 23.49% APR after the introductory period is over.
The credit card is protected by zero fraud liability, which means that you are not responsible for fraudulent purchases when your card is lost or stolen.
HOPE Platinum Visa
The HOPE Platinum Visa is a credit card issued by the HOPE credit union based in Memphis.
In line with their mission to help customers build their wealth sustainably, HOPE’s credit card has no outrageous interest rates or excessive fees. The card offers credit limits of up to $10,000 and a 4.99% intro APR on purchases for the first 6 months.
HOPE works to improve lives in economically distressed areas of the Deep South. They partner with private companies and nonprofits to help retailers in underserved communities stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. They also provide financing for affordable housing and community revitalization projects.
The Aspiration Zero helps you fight climate change each time you shop
While the credit cards listed above may come with some environmentally friendly features, they’re not specifically designed to help you eliminate your carbon footprint.
That’s not the case for the Aspiration Zero credit card, which plants a carbon offset tree for you each time you make a purchase.
This unique credit card tracks the carbon emissions of your purchases and helps you eliminate them with its tree-planting function. When you plant 60 or more trees in a month with your spending, Aspiration rewards you with 1% cashback on all purchases for that month.
The Aspiration Zero is issued by the fossil-fuel-free neobank Aspiration. To learn more about what this credit card offers, visit our website here.