Mastercard’s Chief Sustainability Officer on Getting Customers to Go Green

By Kaitlin Milliken |  January 20, 2021

When a new credit card comes in the mail, what happens to the old one? Most bank cards are made of single-use, PVC plastic that cannot be recycled. And with 6.4 billion payment cards shipped around the world (or about .015 percent of the world’s plastic use), according to Nilson Report, those plastic cards can leave their mark on the environment.

Kristina Kloberdanz, Chief Sustainability Officer at Mastercard

To tackle that challenge, Mastercard launched the Greener Payments Partnership in 2018 with three of the largest credit card manufacturers. The goal: to reduce first-use, PVC plastic in cards.

“We have a registry for banks around the world…[with over] 28 different card material types that can be used to help reduce plastic,” says Kristina Kloberdanz of Mastercard, the $17 billion financial services firm. That includes biodegradable and renewable materials.

Kloberdanz started her role as Mastercard’s first Chief Sustainability Officer in 2017, after 24 years at IBM. Today, her role includes assessing new technologies, forging partnerships, and developing programs that help the company meet sustainability goals.

“We’re not a manufacturing company. We’re not in the extractive industry. So, we’re actually managing our footprint, but that is not going to make the biggest dent for climate change,” Kloberdanz says. “[But] we actually can use the scale and the influence of our business to help nearly three billion card holders actually have a positive impact on the planet.”

Getting Customers On Board 

“We know that climate concerns are changing consumer behaviors. And many people say they want to take action, but they don’t know where to start,” Kloberdanz says. 

In order to include customers in sustainability efforts, Mastercard launched its Priceless Planet Coalition in January of 2020. For this initiative, Mastercard collaborates with 40 partners — including scientists and environmental nonprofits — with a goal of planting 100 million trees over five years. 

Bringing the program to life also required internal partnerships. Kloberdanz says she worked with Mastercard’s Chief Digital Officer and Executive Vice President of Customer Delivery to embed the program into the company’s product roadmap.

As a part of the program, customers can donate to green causes and have trees planted in the forests of Brazil, Kenya, and Australia as a reward for making green choices. “You can…open a new account with a bank, and it’ll turn into trees being planted… If you swipe with your Mastercard on the Metro…that can turn into trees being planted,” Kloberdanz explains. “You can start to see how it will be engaging consumers in incentivizing more sustainable consumption patterns.”

Additionally, customers may not currently understand the environmental impact of their shopping habits. In order to help people assess their footprint, Mastercard partnered with Nordic startup Doconomy, which shows customers the carbon impact of their purchases.  

“It is all about delivering [this information] to the consumer visually, on an app on their phone,” Kloberdanz says. “The next step is being able to help them, see how they can reduce that, but then also giving them an opportunity to compensate for their own impact.” 

Applying Innovation to Other Challenges 

When it comes to driving sustainability, Kloberdanz contends that creative solutions can emerge from projects that may not be entirely about sustainability. “I would challenge innovation and technology teams to look at what you’re currently doing, and look at it through an environmental or a climate lens,” Kloberdanz says. “We started to go throughout the business, [and saw] that there were things that were either already happening, or if we…shifted it slightly, we were able to take that expertise, and use it in another way.”

Kloberdanz asserts that the overlapping challenges of 2020 and 2021 demand new perspectives, new partnerships, and new approaches.

“We look at this convergence of these multiple crises — global pandemic, an economic crisis, and social or racial injustice. We started [2020] with climate being everything… Now, the S in this social piece of ESG [Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance] is really sharing the stage with the environment,” she says. “How can we take that innovation and help address the challenges that we have ahead of us?”