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Eco-friendly credit cards get a bit harder to find

Kelly Dilworth

If you’re looking for a card that helps you reduce your environmental footprint or financially support an eco-friendly organization, you may not have many options. The number of cards promising to help consumers support the environment with each dip or swipe of the credit card is shrinking.

After launching to great fanfare in 2015, the Sustain:Green MasterCard has stopped accepting applications. The card, made of biodegradable material, aimed to help consumers reduce their carbon footprint by replacing traditional card rewards with carbon offsets. For every dollar spent, Sustain:Green would purchase and retire two pounds of carbon on the cardholder’s behalf.

The online application button for the CREDO Visa credit card also has disappeared. The card donated 10 cents of every purchase to a range of environmental and social justice groups, including Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network and Earthjustice.

The Sustain:Green MasterCard and the CREDO Visa join a long list of “green” or eco-friendly cards that have been discontinued in recent years, including the Zync charge card from American Express, Bank of America’s Brighter Planet Visa card, HSBC’s ecoSmart MasterCard, GE Capital’s Earth Rewards MasterCard and the Greenpay MasterCard from MetaBank.

In a 2009 interview with ClimateWire, executives at General Electric and MetaBank cited lackluster consumer interest as a reason for canceling the cards. “What we found is that there is such a wide variety of options available with credit card programs and that consumers were selecting cards with more personal rewards,” said Dori Abel of GE Financial (now Synchrony Financial).

Now, the only lenders that offer eco-friendly cards you can apply for online appear to be Bank of America, Beneficial State Bank and HaloCard.

Bank of America offers a number of eco-friendly affinity cards that benefit various nonprofits, including the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation and the World Wildlife Fund. The cards’ charitable assistance varies, though, depending on the nonprofit.

For example, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards card aiding the Nature Conservancy donates 5 cents for every $100 spent and an additional $100 if $500 is spent in the card’s first 90 days. The World Wildlife Fund, by contrast, receives 0.25 percent of every dollar spent on its affinity card and $5 for every year the card is renewed.

Meanwhile, Beneficial State Bank offers the largest selection of eco-friendly credit cards, including the Green America Visa, the Clean Water Action Visa, the Amazon Watch Visa, the Sierra Club Visa, the Salmon Nation Visa and the League of Conservation Voters Visa. But the cards’ environmental impact is less transparent since Beneficial State Bank doesn’t say what percentage of each purchase goes to the nonprofits. The community bank goes out of its way, however, to work with sustainable businesses and eco-friendly nonprofits, indirectly broadening cardholders’ impact.

HaloCard is a much smaller organization offering a socially responsible card. It partners exclusively with community banks and offers 1 percent of every dollar spent to the nonprofit of your choice.

The shrinking market for eco-friendly cards may be disappointing to some consumers who wish they had more choices. But environmentally conscious cardholders still have reason to take heart: Many of the eco-friendly cards still available are arguably the greenest.

While some major banks have come under fire from environmentalists for investing in projects that contribute to climate change, such as coal plants, smaller community banks, such as Beneficial State Bank, typically invest in local communities and often support socially and environmentally responsible businesses.

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