Global Transaction Card Companies Driving Sustainability

Eco-friendly materials for card bodies continue to be a sustainability trend in 2023. The global payment card companies driving this trend include Swiss Wood Solutions AG/Copecto GmbH, Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) and Placard Pty Ltd. The International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA) recently recognized them with a 2023 Élan Award in the Environmentally Friendly Feature Card category for manufacturing unique and sustainable card products. 

Open to members only, the Élan Awards represent companies that are innovating and leading the global transaction card industry. Honoring world-class achievements in card design, technological innovation and other categories, the Élan Awards have established the global vanguard for card manufacturing excellence for more than 30 years.

Due to the growing movement to use environmentally friendly materials and processes to help protect the environment, ICMA added the Environmentally Friendly Feature Card category in 2021. Also, to emphasize the heightened importance of sustainability in the card manufacturing industry. This award category recognizes cards created with eco-friendly materials and/or sustainable card manufacturing processes.

Environmentally Friendly Feature Cards

The Élan Award-winners in theEnvironmentally Friendly Feature Card category are:

Swiss Wood Solutions AG/Copecto GmbH (Winner)

Swiss Wood Solutions AG/Copecto GmbH, together with their partners DG Nexolution and Raiffeisendruckerei, developed a plastic-free wood payment card body (TIMBERCARD®) for GLS Bank/Germany. The card consists of several layers of specially modified maple wood from certified regional, sustainable forestry. Equipped with the common antenna, chip, magnetic stripe and hologram technology, the card can be used as a payment (debit/credit/pre-paid) card. Additionally, it can be used as a non-payment card such as an employee badge, access and car key card, membership and loyalty card.

The plastic-free wood payment card features include:

  • Consists of four layers of wood veneer and one layer of paper, which carries the copper wire antenna for contactless payment, all bonded with a bio-adhesive. Except for the electronic and magnetic components, the card bodies are completely biodegradable or can be easily separated into their components for targeted recycling.
  • This is based on a patented (pending) thermo-hydro-mechanical process in which the wood is compressed under high pressure and temperature, increasing the density of the wood by a factor of 2-3. This densification process uses physical modification to create a largely non-porous, scratch-resistant and highly durable surface. No chemical additives are used in this process.
  • The increased density improves the mechanical and hygroscopic properties of the wood, which makes it possible to produce such a filigree card body without the need for final surface coating. The card has a 10-fold higher bending stiffness compared to standard plastic banking cards.
  • Laser engraving for the application of credentials and personalization is possible, as well as the hot stamping application of magnetic stripes and holograms. 
  • The natural variability of the wood is accompanied by slight alterations in the wood color and structure of the card. This not only makes the card truly unique, but also testifies to the natural origin of the card.

“Swiss Wood Solutions’ plastic-free wood cards are a disruptive innovation for the global card business,” said Dr. Christian Lehringer, designated CEO of the recently founded Copecto GmbH, the global exclusive hub for distribution and production coordination for TIMBERCARDS. “The banking card from its pilot with GLS Bank/Germany is the first worldwide, biodegradable, wood-based card without plastic or artificial coating, which is able to fulfil the international scheme requirements for payment cards. There’s currently no other wood card of this quality for the banking sector available.” 

Lehringer continues, “With this most sustainable product, Copecto and their partners aim to replace plastic cards, in as many applications as possible. Our target is to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable, mostly petroleum-based plastic cards in the world, thereby contributing to the avoidance of plastic pollution and the reduction of carbon dioxide footprint.”

Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) (Finalist)

G+D manufactured the Starbucks Colorful Summer Member’s Gift Card for Starbucks. To make environmental protection both creative and practical, G+D specially developed a new green material, a paper made from coffee grounds.

Coffee grounds, coffee shells and other recycled residues of coffee beans are made into basic materials for card making, which results in the regeneration of recycled coffee materials and zero waste. The texture of coffee ground particles is visible on the card. Regarding the sense of touch, G+D used matte ink to simulate the surface texture of coffee grounds, so that the cardholder can feel the grainy texture of coffee grounds. The texture of the card is enhanced in multiple dimensions and fits the theme displayed on the card face.

The card adopts a design of illustration featuring toasting and joy, and it perfectly blends with the theme of coffee, revealing diverse flavors of coffee. While promoting creative design, it attaches more importance to the environmental protection awareness.

“As a financial technology company with a long tradition, G+D has been relentlessly pursuing the coordinated development of social responsibility, environmental protection and corporate profitability, while practicing corporate social responsibility and jointly protecting the earth’s environment,” stated Xiao Wei, general manager at G+D.

Wei resumes, “In recent years, green-themed activities that use eco-friendly materials and processes to help protect the environment have flourished. Additionally, cardholders’ demand for eco-friendly themed cards is growing. So, we firmly believe that sustainable behavior will create value for the company and society. To this end, the company reduces the ecological footprint created by our infrastructure in internal production and in the logistics chain. G+D focuses on sustainable technologies and transforming our portfolio toward eco-friendly and sustainable products and solutions.”

Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) (Finalist)

G+D also manufactured the Sella Junior Prepaid Card for Banca Sella. The ocean plastic Sella Junior prepaid card, aimed at children 12-17 years old, has been manufactured for the Italian financial institution, Banca Sella. It’s the first sustainable prepaid card created in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, a nonprofit organization to protect the oceans.

At first glance, this card might just look like an appealing blue card. However, it contains several elements, techniques, connotations and details involving:

  • Provides the ability to gain more space to give depth to the main design element of the card, which signifies the ocean. When the user holds the card vertically, they can see how the predominant color, which is the blue color, goes through numerous shades. They range from the most crystalline turquoise tones of the Caribbean beaches at the bottom of the card to the darkest and most intense blue of the deep sea at the top.
  • Offset and silk screen were used. A thin coat of pearlescent ink has been applied to the front design, giving the blue color of the ocean waves a semi-translucent pearly effect that will make the light reflect differently depending on the position from which the user looks at the card. In addition, and on top of the overlay, a transparent varnish has been applied only on five elements of the design to highlight them. They are the turtle, contactless waves, Sella entity logo and the word prepaid. Therefore, when the user moves the card, these five elements will shine out from the rest. A matte finish has been chosen for this card.
  • Manufactured with Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (r-PET) ocean plastic, which is made of plastic collected from the oceans and coastal regions by the company’s environmental partner Parley for the Oceans. The ocean plastic content in the card is a minimum of 75% intercepted from the coastal environments and includes a core and antenna layer. The overlays are a minimum of 90% recycled layers of the same plastic family as ocean plastic—thus bringing the overall card content to 80%.
  • The chip is the silver option and the magstripe has been colored, also in silver, to better match the design. Finally, the card information has been moved to the back for a sleeker design.

“G+D is thrilled and deeply honored to receive the prestigious Élan Award of Excellence for the production of the Banca Sella ocean plastic card,” exclaimed David González, head of sales South + West Europe, Africa and Middle East at G+D. “This recognition fills us with immense pride, as it represents a remarkable achievement that underlines our unwavering commitment to environmental sustainability and innovation. Winning this award not only acknowledges the hard work and dedication of our team, but also validates our tireless efforts in tackling the critical issue of plastic waste in our oceans.”

González continues, “At G+D, we believe that innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. This award serves as a testament to our continuous pursuit of solutions that bring positive change to our planet. It reinforces our belief that by harnessing innovation and embracing sustainable practices, we can make a lasting impact on the environment while delivering exceptional products to our clients. Additionally, it motivates us to further innovate and collaborate with our clients to develop cutting-edge solutions that not only meet their needs but also contribute to a more sustainable future.”

Placard Pty Ltd. (Finalist)

Placard Pty Ltd. manufactured theAustralian Mutual Bank Visa cardsforAustralian Mutual Bank Ltd. With Australian Mutual Bank’s drive for a more sustainable product in the market, this secure financial card is made of recycled core and overlay components consisting of 82% recycled content.

Australian Mutual Bank was formed, as a result of the merger in 2019 of Endeavour Mutual Bank and Sydney Credit Union. The gum leaves are a symbol of something quintessentially Australian. 

  • The gum leaf is an Australian icon.
  • The two leaves join to represent mutuality and common purpose.
  • The rolling geometric lines reflect the progressive banking services and technology.

The vignetted gum leaf icons on the front are amplified by a subtle post-lamination pearlescent gloss overprint.

A Renowned Showcase for the World’s Best Cards and Technology

The ICMA Élan Awards of Excellence are open to ICMA members only. The 2024 Élan Awards will be presented at the ICMA Card Manufacturing and Personalization EXPO, which will take place from May 13-16, 2024 in Orlando, Florida.

Learn more about the other benefits of an ICMA membership.