When Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson envisioned the first Earth Day in 1970, environmental activists achieved more than they could have imagined. The years that followed saw the launch of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Since then, companies have worked harder to balance business demands and environmental protection goals.
Credit card issuers have hopped on the bandwagon, tying their rewards credit cards to donation schemes that funnel funds to environmentally oriented nonprofits. Not all cards are as green as they claim; industry observers often accuse banks of "greenwashing" their most basic cards with logos of well-known charities, without addressing long-term environmental preservation efforts. However, the CardRatings.com editorial team has identified six of the best credit cards from lenders who have committed to help improve the quality of air, water and life all over the world.
Biodegradable Discover Card
Discover launched the first biodegradable credit card in 2008, utilizing a special type of PVC that almost completely breaks down after about five years of exposure to landfill conditions. You can specifically request a biodegradable card, and many a Discover Card is issued in that form by default.
Discover helped pioneer paperless credit card statements, eliminating millions of pounds of paper from landfills each year. As a cardholder, you can also earmark your CashBack Bonus rewards for automatic donations to charities.
The Nature Conservancy Visa
Bank of America manages this affinity Visa program, issuing credit cards manufactured from at least 55 percent recycled material. When you open a new account, BofA donates $65 to The Nature Conservancy while charging no annual fee.
You earn WorldPoints on each qualified purchase on The Nature Conservancy Visa, which you can either redeem for "green" merchandise or exchange for additional donations. Bank of America also donates $1 to the Nature Conservancy when you sign up for online statements across all of its bank and credit card accounts.
ReDirect Guide Visa
The ReDirect Guide tracks sustainable businesses in Colorado, Utah and the Pacific Northwest. In partnership with One PacificCoast Bank and Sustainable Travel International, the ReDirect Guide Visa offers discounts at green businesses and makes automatic cash donations that pay for carbon offsets.
Every new account earns a $30 donation from the bank to the card's offset fund. Everyday purchases trigger additional donations totaling 1.4 cents for every dollar you spend. According to bank officials, this relatively small carbon offset program has already generated the equivalent of removing 47 passenger vehicles from the road.
Permaculture Credit Union Visa
For more than 10 years, Permaculture Credit Union, a small credit union in New Mexico, has helped build support for sustainable living by investing in local businesses that care for the earth and its people. So far, the credit union has lent more than $15 million toward sustainable farming, energy-efficient homes and environmental education.
This rewards credit card offers free airline tickets for as little as 20,000 rewards points, while offering you the opportunity to reinvest your rewards back into the local community. Membership in the credit union is available by making a minimum deposit of $50.
You may know the Capital One Card Lab from the bank's television ads. However, the same technology that lets you customize your own credit card also allows charities the power to build their own affinity programs. Seacology uses the Card Lab Connect program to generate donations of your rewards which you earn using the card, 2 percent of each purchase at gas stations and major grocery stores and 1 percent on other purchase made with its Visa card.
The Berkeley-based nonprofit uses those funds to protect endangered species, island habitat, and coral reefs throughout the world. Meanwhile, Capital One has used its growth to fund green construction at it Virginia and Texas corporate campuses, earning some of the world's highest accolades for its environmentally-friendly office buildings.
A recent CardRatings.com survey indicated that as few as 1 in 100 credit card users redeem their rewards points for charitable donations. These six cards offer effortless ways to support organizations that live Earth Day's ideals every day, while rewarding lenders who have committed themselves to improving the environment for their employees and customers.
About the Author
Curtis Arnold, a nationally recognized consumer educator and advocate, has been educating consumers about credit cards since 1998. New! Curtis is the author of 'How You Can Profit from Credit Cards: Using Credit to Improve Your Financial Life and Bottom Line' (FT Press, 2008). He is also the co-author of the upcoming Complete Idiot's Guide to Person-to-Person Lending (Alpha Books/Pengiun Group USA, April 2009), a contribitor to The Ultimate Allowance (InnerWealth Publishing, 2008) and is extensively featured in 42 RulesTM for Driving Success With Books (Super Star Press, January 2009).