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Welcome To The Decade Of Sustainability Rewards

The 1980s were known for consumers obsessing over airline miles, while the 2000s reflected shoppers’ love affair with getting cash back. But the 2020s could be the decade of sustainability rewards — and a time when credit card purchases take a turn towards protecting the environment.

That’s according to Mastercard Chief Digital Officer Jorn Lambert, who told Karen Webster recently that today’s consumers simply have different values than those 10, 20 or 30 years ago did. Lambert’s comments came as Mastercard announced the expansion of its Priceless Planet Coalition, a global coalition of partners and eminent environmental experts who’ll work together toward planting 100 million trees over the next five years.

“Despite the angst around COVID and all of the attention that it requires, it dawned on us that our partners and our consumers both continue to feel the urgency to do something about the climate,” Lambert told Webster, pointing to recent wildfires in the United States, the Amazon rain forest, Africa and Australia as catalysts.

To help, Mastercard and its partner banks and merchants will undertake a three-pronged strategy to enlist some 3 billion consumers via education, empowerment and encouragement.

Do It For The Planet

Lambert said the Priceless Planet program would give consumers clear estimates of their purchases’ carbon footprints. For instance, a tank of gasoline can produce about 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of carbon dioxide, a “greenhouse gas.”

Once the program makes such figures visible to consumers, it will also aim to give consumers a chance to do something about climate change.

“If this month you have ‘spent’ 1,500 kilograms of CO2, we will say if you plant 23 trees, you can compensate for that,” he said. The program will allow consumers to make tree purchases by either a standing order or on an ad hoc basis, and even use rewards points to do so.

Lastly, Mastercard wants to acknowledge consumers’ positive choices. It will make free tree plantings for customers who choose e-mailed statements versus printed ones or take public transportation instead of driving.

Seeding Confidence

Lambert said making sure that consumers understand what trees can actually do for climate change will also be critical, ensuring cardholders that their purchases actually get trees into the ground.

And while 100 million trees might seem like a huge number, Lambert said a team of experts put a lot of effort into selecting a big enough number to make a difference — but also attainable.

“Our first thought was, ‘Oh, gee, this topic is a little bit niche,'” he said. “But as we researched this more, we realized that actually this is on the minds of almost all consumers.”

Getting Social About Climate Change

To that point, the Priceless Planet program will also include a social component to create a bit of a competition among consumers.

“You want to get social media going, absolutely,” he said. “Once you get this thing rolling — once you get a few roots in the ground — that’s exactly what we want to do.”

He said that with a social-media component, consumers might be inclined to “give a little patch of forest” rather than (or in addition to) a traditional gift.

Merchants Seeing Green

Although the program is aimed at consumers, Lambert said merchants would play an increasingly important role over time — especially as the program grows.

“We’re sensing merchants will be extremely sensitive to this as well,” Lambert said, noting recent trends that reflect the growing importance that transparency plays in how and where many consumers shop or travel.

“Over the next five years, we’ll see merchants actually disclosing carbon footprint for individual products,” Lambert predicted. “Two, three, four years down the line, I think merchants will compete for consumers on that point — and will hopefully use our coalition” to do so.

COVID-19 Represents An Opportunity

Taken together, Lambert said we’re on the cusp of a decade that will change business models, buying behaviors and corporate disclosure to help the environment.

While he admits 2020 has been a terrifying time, it’s also underscored how interconnected our world has become. Lambert added that the pandemic’s impacts are also why he feels encouraged about the program.

“Every partner [in the new program] had the excuse of COVID to do nothing,” Lambert said. “But, they didn’t.”

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