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December 20, 2011

Show me some Green

Guest Post by Jagmeet Singh, Principal, Manufacturing Management Consulting Services, Infosys Limited

Last time when I was in the US, my interaction with friends while shopping, were mostly identifying the right price of an item or how many Greens (dollar bills) it would cost? And as part of the conversation we also discussed various evolutionary modes of payment like credit cards, gift cards, debit cards, pre-paid cards and so on. Among all these, what intrigued me was how a simple looking plastic card can replace our hurdles of carrying Cash/Greens. And whatever form these cards may come in, they would still be made of plastic. And we all know plastic cards are made up of PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)! Does it ring a bell? PVC - a toxic compound that produces carcinogens and toxins including chlorine residue and heavy-metal pollutants.

Even worse, when burned, PVC releases dioxins and gases such as hydrogen chloride. And ever wondered what happens to these cards after we discard them? Yes, they end up in landfill contributing millions of pounds of plastic to the waste stream impacting the environment and increasing global warming. So, either way one Green resource is taking away another Green resource.

Moreover, the life cycle of a product like a plastic card is also very interesting to look at. It follows exactly the same life cycle stages as of any other product , stages of concept, design, develop, assemble and ship. Each lifecycle stage governs and complies with regulations either driven by local laws or product needs or both. Complying or meeting regulatory requirements, for some, is product compliance and for others, it is a mere fulfillment of market needs. However, both are narrow in approach. And they do not take care of larger impacts on the environment, planet or eco-system. Unless, a product is holistically mapped to People, Planet and Profit impacts, it would be wrong to declare it as a compliant product.

So, for plastic, raw materials mostly come from petroleum and natural gas, both of which involve extraction. Post extraction they undergo a chemical synthesis process to get to a defined shape. After the shape has been defined they undergo an assembly process where chipset and magnetic tape are fixed on the card. Cards are then shipped to the requestor (mostly banks) and from there, they are again shipped to the customers. A study commissioned by MasterCard revealed "If the credit card industry worldwide produces roughly 1 billion cards per year, the study found that the total annual impact of credit cards would be 21,000 tons of CO2".

Now, if a small item like card can do this much harm to our environment do we need any more data to remind ourselves about environmental responsibility.