GREEN CARDS: FROM ZERO TO HERO?
Around the world, card issuers are weighing up whether they should launch a green card – and, if so, what form it should take. And, with over ?1 trillion
estimated in the European ethical wealth management market alone, the question is also being asked by marketers responsible for financial services across the board.
First to market in Europe is Dutch issuer Rabobank: each time their credit card clients in the Netherlands use the Rabocard, the bank will pay into a range of climate improvement projects approved by the WWF. And there’s a clever twist: the amount paid will be calculated according to the transaction paid for on the Rabocard. So, because filling up with petrol generates a much greater emission of CO2 than buying tulips at the florist, the contribution made by the bank will reflect this.
There are other approaches: in the UK, Barclaycard has plans to launch a green product this summer. Details were sketchy as we went to press, but a spokesman claimed that they would be the first "leading" bank to offer a card that will help customers reduce carbon emissions, donate to green causes and offer incentives to buy green products. Across the Atlantic, Wells Fargo has developed a suite of green card rewards initiatives, and says that, as a result, at year-end 2006, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's "Green Power Partnership" programme the bank was the largest purchaser of renewable energy in the USA. Down under, Australia’s Westpac has launched a new “green” initiative in partnership with Easy Being Green for its Altitude credit cardholders. Altitude customers can now use the reward points they earn with their credit card to offset their greenhouse gas emissions and become “carbon neutral”.
Maybe it’s too soon to say, but although financial services institutions are happy to boost their green credentials product offerings, it’s noticeable that nobody is yet claiming any great commercial success with them.
Part of the answer may come from consumer research which we’ve seen
recently: in a series of focus groups, cardholders were quick to endorse the general idea of “green-ness”, but much more reluctant actually to change their lifestyles to help slow down climate change. For example, they would be happy if the carbon emissions of their holiday flights were being offset, but less comfortable with the idea that they would have to pay for this.
Perhaps it’s a case of “Make me green, Lord, but not just yet”.
Apart from conflicting attitudes among customers, there are also difficult questions about just how to implement a green card. Rabobank and Wells Fargo, for example, have taken very different approaches, and the jury is still out on which will prove more effective with customers – let alone actually
make a difference in the real world. And pity the poor marketer who tries to understand what the options are in carbon offsetting: you’d better get ready for a windstorm of acronyms, a jungle of competing standards, and a whole crowd of national and international regulators.
What’s more, there’s no certainty, even if you struggle through the jargon, decide a green approach for your card, and successfully launch your product, that you’ll satisfy every green requirement.
“There’s no certainty, Because it’s clear that, if card customers
even if you struggle simply continue to follow their previous
through the jargon, spending patterns, even the most effective
decide a green approach green/carbon offset programme will simply
for your card, and stop things getting worse. A significant
successfully launch your school of thought argues that a fully green
product, that you’ll satisfy approach would provide customers with
every green requirement.” incentives to change behaviour – and
maybe even disincentives for actions
believed to be the most damaging. And that
may be a step too far for many issuers.
There’s a further level of complexity as well: beyond simply developing green products and getting them out into the market place, there’s also the issue of how green your organisation is in the way it conducts its business overall. Often managed under the banner of “Corporate Social Responsibility”, this will almost certainly involve company-wide initiatives to change long-established processes. There’s a real possibility that, unless you get every one of these
aspects right, you’ll be accused of “greenwash” – talking the talk, but failing to
walk the walk.
And at the end of the day, even if you do manage to jump all these hurdles, be prepared for a final challenge: the diminishing, but still noisy, group of people who insist that, even if the climate is changing – and they say it may
not be – it isn’t happening as a result of human activity.
Oh, and one last thing: do make sure that the card is bio-degradable….
? Roy Stephenson 2007