Greenpeace Issues Biodegradable Card

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Greenpeace introduced its first credit card -- one that is biodegradable -- this month and is urging other credit-card issuers to do the same to help the environment.

The international environmental group, which has its U.S. headquarters in Washington, and Household Bank, Salinas, CA, are promoting the card to 400,000 preapproved donors via direct mail and follow-up telemarketing calls.

"Our strategy is to get acquainted with the membership file and get acquainted with the program," said Janet Johnston, director of marketing at Household Credit Services.

Johnston said the bank will mail to Greenpeace's donor file several times this year and probably will use other lists to prospect in the future. Every time customers use the card, Household makes a payment to Greenpeace in support of its environmental campaigns.

The card looks and feels like plastic but does not contain polyvinyl-choride (PVC). It is made from a polymer derived from sugar, wheat and other plant materials and produced through fermentation by microorganisms. The polymer will biodegrade into carbon dioxide and water. Potential uses for the polymer, called Biofan, include food packaging, plates, cups and garbage bags.

The credit card was launched in the United Kingdom last year in partnership with Cooperative Bank, which plans to convert its other credit cards to the biodegradable material. Greenpeace is urging other banks to follow suit, but Household still is considering the transition.

"We are certainly going to look into it," Johnston said, noting that the biodegradable cards are more expensive to produce than traditional credit cards. "Using biodegradable cards is new in the industry. It's something we need to evaluate and work with over a period of time."

Greenpeace and Household are testing two different mailings created with the help of agency Kessler Financial Services, Boston. Both pieces are printed on 100 percent-recycled, chlorine-free paper. In one mailing, Greenpeace mentions that it has considered endorsing a credit card for the past few years, but standard cards are made of PVC, which it views as "the worst plastic for the environment." The mailing includes a separate acceptance certificate and postage-paid reply envelope.

The second mailing lists three ways the MasterCard "is a credit to the environment," saying that Household makes a payment to Greenpeace every time the customer uses the card, that no harmful toxins are used when the card is manufactured and that the card will biodegrade after its disposal.

The credit card depicts the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace ship that sails worldwide to protest nuclear testing, carry medical supplies and campaign against seal and whale hunting. A rainbow is painted on the vessel, and a dove bearing an olive branch adorns the sails.

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