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Gary E. Frank headshot

Consumers Care About Sustainability: Mastercard Shows How Business Can Respond

By Gary E. Frank
tree nursery for indigenous species Lilongwe Malawi - mastercard priceless planet

Launched by Mastercard and made up of nearly 140 global partners, the Priceless Planet Coalition supports tree-planting and restoration efforts around the world. Here, Ernest works at the Four Seasons nursery in Lilongwe, Malawi, which propagates local indigenous trees and other types of plants. (Image credit: Sabin Ray, World Resources Institute)

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

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

Landscape Mosaic in the Bale Mountains Ethiopia - mastercard priceless planet restoration projects.jpg
The Bale Mountains in southeastern Ethiopia. (Image credit: Aaron Minnick, World Resources Institute)

Answering consumer calls for more sustainable choices 

Nearly 65 percent of U.S. consumers see climate change and resource scarcity as serious and imminent threats, with over half willing to take personal action, according to a 2022 survey. Globally, charitable donations at environmentally-focused charities increased by 26 percent from 2021 to 2022, ranking second in 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 globally, including a directory of sustainable materials and vendors for card products. Starting Jan. 1, 2028, all newly produced Mastercard plastic payment cards will be made from more sustainable materials and approved through a certification program, in a first move for a payment network.

Mastercard’s sustainable card offerings are available to consumers in more than a dozen countries globally. 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, degradable and ocean plastics. Six billion credit and debit cards are produced annually, typically from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which includes dangerous chemical additives including phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to children. These cards are replaced on average every three to four years, with discarded cards going to landfills across the world.

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

Mastercard also created a Carbon Calculator in conjunction with the Swedish fintech startup Doconomy, which provides consumers with the means to view the estimated carbon footprint of their purchases in order to better understand where their choices have the greatest impact.

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

“We see high engagement from the card issuer side, where they see how they can play this role in informing, inspiring and enabling their consumers,” she explained. “But at the same time, we have good signs that consumers are actually engaging with this type of solution.”

Seedling collection in Kenya - mastercard priceless planet restoration projects
Workers cultivate native seedlings in Nyeri, Kenya. (Image credit: Andrew Wu, World Resources Institute)

Bringing the public and private sectors together for transformative change 

Of all Mastercard’s efforts to counter climate change and promote sustainability, the most prominent and potentially far-reaching is the Priceless Planet Coalition, which encourages collective action across 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 Resource 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. 

The projects were selected with an emphasis on those with the most potential for positive impacts on 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 strip 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 the turn of the century.

Efforts like Priceless Planet are also a way for coalition partners to connect with the public around sustainability, as Mastercard survey research indicates that tree-planting and reforestation efforts are “very relatable” for 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 feel is commercially sustainable,” Paslar told us. “By commercially sustainable, I mean that the end consumer — the cardholder who is holding our Mastercard cards that are issued by the banks and used at the merchants — they actually care about the climate. They care about having sustainable choices, and they care about doing business with brands that are truly acting and engaging on sustainable solutions.”

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

Gary E. Frank headshot

Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications. 

Read more stories by Gary E. Frank