Who cares if an ATM card isn’t plastic? Perhaps the wealthy would prefer bespoke titanium cards instead? Or maybe the Providus bank. A few weeks ago, the Nigerian company said that it had started manufacturing a new type of debit card that is not only non-plastic but also biodegradable. (Box: Biodegradable is when a material can break down in a way that doesn’t pollute the environment. As you know, plastic is a threat to life on Earth.)
Back to Providus.
Its new card has been called ProvidusEco. Naturally. But why bother with an eco-responsible card? With Nigeria inflation rates as high as 17% and the dollar now trading for 620 naira on the black market, the skeptic in us would like to question the bank’s true motive. Why is it a priority right now to launch an eco-responsible card?
I wish there were direct answers. And there is; it’s just that they’re more serious than critics like us would want: a predictable marketing gimmick.
In the meantime, before continuing, let me ask you this: have you seen maize in Lagos this year? Yeah, but did you really see plenty of corn, like you’re used to at this time of year? I do not think so. It seems that corn, warmly welcomed between March and June each year, has chosen in 2022 to play a funny game of peekaboo with its fans. This minute you see it, the next minute it’s gone.
There could be several reasons for this corn ruse this year. One such reason could be that bloody nationwide banditry is slowing the transportation of agricultural products. Another could be a general reduction in agricultural production. Or it could just be good old global warming. By the way, if you think about it, these three factors could actually be directly related.
Unfortunately, global warming is not just a first world problem. If the tides continue to rise and the seasons become too hot or too cold, food crops, such as maize, will suffer badly. It’s according to science. If food crops suffer, hunger will ensue for everyone, especially those of us in developing economies.
That’s why it makes sense that elite business organizations are now including eco-friendliness in their product design and marketing messages. Who else is better placed to galvanize the country than companies that interact with millions of people every day – through massive advertising, public relations and one-to-one contact?
Well, Providus Bank happens to be one such company. But does he do it out of the goodness of his heart? The answer to this question is: should he? Yes. And no.
Yes, because a destroyed Earth is not a profitable business for anyone, including all-powerful banks. No, because of course Providus is a business, and businesses must make a profit if they are to survive.
Predictably, Providus seems to be doing both – hugging trees while wearing a business suit. During the bank’s public presentation of ProvidusEco, Walter Akpani, CEO of Providus Bank, said: “The resulting effects [of human activity on climate conditions] is perhaps the most important problem facing humanity today; and it is everyone’s “responsibility”, either as an ordinary citizen who simply consumes what is offered on the market, or as a business, “to act responsibly with the aim of saving the earth for future generations”.
Therefore, he promised, the ProvidusEco card, although appearing as an only child of the bank’s green goals, would not be the last of its kind. Additionally, Akpani said, Providus has signed a partnership with TREE Initiative, a non-governmental organization, to plant a tree in “different parts of the country” for each Eco Card issued to a customer. He also said the bank would significantly reduce the amount of paper that accompanies each card.
Which also sounds like a small revolution in itself. By convention, each bank sends its credit and debit cards in a paper envelope. Inside this envelope is also a welcome letter and educational documentation, printed on paper. Now Providus has chosen to throw away the tradition. Going forward, Akpani said, all that will come with its new debit card is a QR code, printed on a piece of paper, no bigger than a business card.
It works, doesn’t it, particularly because research has shown that there are many dimensions from which debit cards can contribute to global warming. First, 90% of the 24.56 billion cards in circulation are made of PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride), a main source of dioxin emissions, which negatively affect the human body and the environment. In 2019 alone, according to data from payment industry research firm Nilson, more than five billion of these debit cards were manufactured and distributed to consumers around the world.
If a map weighs five grams, said Nilson editor Chris Cantle, those five billion maps would have created about 24 million kilograms of extra material that the planet now has to grapple with, in landfills and the oceans. Add to this worrying problem the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and energy costs of making the cards and moving them from place to place.
Defense and aerospace firm Thales Group estimates the carbon emissions from these cards to be almost equal to 30 billion plastic bags or 500,000 people flying from New York to Sydney.
If payment cards, in their most common state, need to be recycled, that’s another mountain to climb. Erin Simon, plastic waste and business manager at the World Wildlife Fund, in an email to the Payments Dive blog, said the most effective way to recycle cards was for consumers to do it themselves. Apart from the “delicate” question of security, the cards and their chips are made of plastic, glass and metal. Companies can collect and recycle them “but it seems less efficient”.
So many companies now have to rethink the cards. Apple, for example, offers a titanium option for its credit card that it issues in conjunction with Goldman Sachs. Titanium is recyclable.
Although recycling may not have been a priority for a large portion of Nigerian consumers, there can never be a time sooner to wake them up. One way to do this is to use an item that many carry in their wallets, pockets, purses, and behind their phones every day. The more the subject is in front of us, the more we are reminded of it, the more we take it into account in our lives and our businesses.
And maybe if any of us choose to venture into green energy as a form of business, we could just bring Providus Bank into the plan. I walked in and played the card they already gave me.