Card Manufacturers Go Green Amid Consumer Demand

As we move into a new decade, it is time for companies to review the goals, promises and pledges they made regarding the sustainability initiatives they set out to achieve in 2020.


Consumers’ concerns about climate change combined with pressure from investment communities and business leaders demanding sustainable options is ultimately what is driving the greening of the card industry.

“Nine out of ten consumers report that they are willing to make changes in their lives to help the environment,” said Karen Brooker, vice president of client marketing and sales enablement, PLI Card Marketing Solutions. “These strong consumer attitudes are inspiring today’s brands to introduce greener options, and in some cases to migrate entire card programs to more sustainable card materials—even if it means a cost premium over standard materials. But it’s not just about delivering products that look and feel more sustainable—today’s consumers want to look under the hood and know that we are greening our business practices as well.”

Surprisingly, there are less green card options now compared to 20 years ago.

“Most of the earlier products were not everything they were promised to be—for the card industry and consumers—that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” said Peter M. Krauss, president and CEO, Arroweye Solutions. “The cards that were going to be the ‘green bullet,’ just didn’t come to fruition. They didn’t hold up to stringent manufacturing processes.”

Durability is vital in the financial card sector and requirements do vary segment to segment, for example, for “one and done” cards—pre-paid or gift cards, durability may not be that critical.

“There’s a lot manufacturers can do to green manufacturing processes, to lean them and to streamline them and that in and of itself is green—to reduce waste,” Krauss added. “The more time we save, the more energy we conserve, the more product we don’t waste or can recycle that supports greening initiatives and it’s critical.”

The war on waste is important to the efficiency and success of any operation, making card manufacturers leaner and more competitive.

“As manufacturers consider upgrades and enhancing facilities to be energy efficient, all of those green operations, all of those incremental changes make a big difference,” Krauss added. “Card manufacturers should consider the following questions: Is your waste recyclable? Are you throwing it in a bin? Do you recycle it?”

For example, think about the production of smart cards. At some point, card manufacturers may have punched the module out of the carrier and placed the carriers in the trash.

“If you take those carriers and recycle them, there’s metals in there that can return as much as $25,000 back into your company in a month or two, depending on how many smart cards you are making,” added Barry Mosteller, director of technology engineering, CPI Card Group.

However, it is important to note that not all scrap is created equal.

“Depending on what segment you are supporting and what product you are producing, you might be dealing with modules, chips, dual interface, EMV or you may be working with raw PVC or other substrates,” Krauss said. “What you do to recycle, repurpose or even reclaim money as a result will vary. It’s gotten harder and harder to recycle PVC for any return, but there are other materials that make sense to recycle.”

Although focusing on greening processes doesn’t always have an immediate payback, it is important for the long-term. Price premium is the number one barrier preventing adoption of sustainable options. If the price is too high, customers won’t purchase the sustainable option. A lack of awareness or suspicion about a product’s environmental claims, as well as the inability of alternative materials to perform as needed for a card’s purpose also inhibit adoption. Therefore, it is important that the environmental benefits be communicated widely and clearly.

In response to this demand, the International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA) launched the ICMA EcoLabel Standard Program, a certification that establishes third-party credibility of card manufacturers’ assertions that a product is an environmentally preferable alternative. The program defines criteria for environmental green card standards, allows for ICMA EcoLabel usage, licenses companies and certifies card products.

“Greening gives us the opportunity to reset our customers’ expectations, lockout the competition, win new business from customers who have stringent supply chain requirements and improve loyalty with existing customers,” Brooker added. “It also helps to prevent a loss of new customers who are launching brand new sustainability programs.”

However, the sustainable card is only valuable to the extent that there is a market demand for it, so it has to have compelling benefits. There are also regional preferences regarding sustainability. In North America, sustainability is associated with recycling. In Latin America, sustainability is linked to alternative energies. Globally, sustainability is seen as using environmentally friendly production processes.

Want More Industry Insider Insights or a Glimpse into Global Card Trends?
For three decades, ICMA has represented the interests of the card manufacturing industry—which includes manufacturers, personalizers, issuers and suppliers—as its leading global association.

ICMA offers regular educational opportunities, including the web-based Card Industry Training & Education program, which provides information on key areas of the industry, as well as tutorials and webinars from industry experts. ICMA also provides reports on the card market and on personalization and fulfillment statistics to keep members informed of emerging trends and changing forecasts.

Throughout the year, ICMA members have the opportunity to share insights and knowledge by giving presentations at ICMA events, webcasts and tutorials. The organization hosts three in-person conferences each year. The main event is the annual Card Manufacturing & Personalization EXPO and the other two conferences are CardTREX North America and CardTREX Europe.

Learn more about the benefits of an ICMA membership.

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