Can You Help The Environment With The Way You Pay?

When we think about sustainability and how to help the environment, how we pay for things isn’t usually a topic that comes to mind. Traditional payment methods are so deeply ingrained in our society that most of us never give them a second thought, let alone consider environmental ramifications or possible alternatives. Furthermore, it’s certainly true that there are aspects of our day-to-day lives that are more consequential regarding the environment, and they should thus be prioritized.

True sustainability efforts should be comprehensive, however, which means that even things that seem small need to be kept in mind. And as it happens, there are actually some indications that traditional cash can be bad for the environment. Banknotes, for instance, are made largely with cotton, which despite being a renewable resource requires a great deal of land, water, and chemicals during its growth process. Coins, meanwhile, actually have a massive carbon footprint when one considers everything from mining to transporting metals.

It’s partly for these reasons, or at least a vague understanding of them, that some who are concerned for the well-being of the environment might turn to plastic payment methods (which is to say credit cards) instead. There are indeed some ways that credit cards can help you go green – most notably in that they last for years (even if they’re somewhat hard to dispose of responsibly when the time comes). A lot of the benefits to using credit cards, however, come from the fact that they enable completely paperless, digital transactions. While there is always an environmental impact to using electricity in general, conducting digital transactions via card number appears to be more responsible than exchanging physical currency.

If credit cards are primarily beneficial because of their ability to facilitate digital payments, however, there’s also some logic to the idea that wholly digital payment processing services might in fact be even more responsible. Meanwhile, such services are in fact becoming far more widespread as day-to-day cash or card alternatives. Consider the following examples, which are ultimately just a few of many:

PayPal has become more or less ubiquitous, and is essentially the premier digital processing service. While some still think of it primarily as a means of exchanging money with friends or family, PayPal has actually partnered with countless businesses in online retail to make electronic payments simpler and more secure, and has even added some banking services to make the customer experience more comprehensive. The company has also taken specific steps to address its environmental impact, and thus has a responsible reputation even beyond its basic mission to take payments digital. Boku has been around for some time, but has lately emerged as an interesting alternative to PayPal, and a different but equally responsible version of digital payment. Based in San Francisco, the company is now attached to numerous companies and industries in its quest to make payments as easy as possible for consumers. One UK-based gaming site that’s embraced the service offers perhaps the most concise explanation of what makes Boku different, stating that it enables phone bill depositing. So for instance, in the case of this specific company, a user making a deposit with which to play online games could simply agree to a transaction such that the charge would be added to a phone bill, rather than pulled out of some digital account.

Square is more of a direct PayPal alternative, if not a competitor for the PayPal subsidiary Venmo. Or at least, that’s how its digital payments service started. Originally known as Square Cash, and now titled simply Cash App, this service allows for the quick, secure transfer of funds that can be pulled from one’s bank account and stored on the app and accompanying website. For some time Cash App was essentially an exclusive peer-to-peer payments service. However, the company has actually taken strides toward supporting more digital payments – ironically by way of producing its own debit card. Users can now order this card to use Cash App funds in real life, but can also use said card’s numbers to conduct transactions online. Thus, Square and its Cash App can essentially match PayPal’s utility from a sustainability perspective.

Again, this isn’t necessarily the first thing we think about when we consider how to help the environment. But being more conscious of how you pay for things, and possibly embracing some of the methods mentioned above, can help you make a difference in your everyday life.


This is a Guest Post from Archie Sheppard.

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