The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to the European Payments Council.
We continue our series of interviews focusing on sustainability in the payments industry with the contribution of Stephen King, Vice President, Sustainability Solutions, Visa Europe. In this interview, we invite you to learn more about Visa’s commitments, challenges and plans towards more sustainable choices in the payment area.
In your opinion, what are the most effective ways to make payments more sustainable?
The sustainable impact of payments lies less in the practice of a payment itself and more in the power to inform, educate and guide individuals and small businesses in more sustainable behaviours. Innovation in payments can also reduce friction on sustainable choice, helping to make it as easy to choose a more sustainable product or service over, for instance, a more well-established but less sustainable option.
The ability for payments data and insights to guide more sustainable behaviours in a personalised way continues to improve. Advances in open banking use cases, transaction enrichment and receipt data are just some of the tools helping refine and target the information that consumers are given to inform their choice.
That data can then be used in any number of scenarios, and there are more and more companies today finding ways to help consumers take advantage of that. It could be choosing the most sustainable route to work mixing private and public transport, finding local businesses with sustainable sourcing practices, providing advice to make more sustainable food choices in the supermarket or recommending financial products and services that align to an individuals’ sustainable practices.
Could you tell us more about how your company is contributing to more sustainable payments?
First and foremost, we have a responsibility as a company to manage our own footprint and sustainable practices. Globally we completed our transition to one hundred percent renewable energy usage in 2020 and achieved carbon neutrality across our operations1. We have committed to reaching net zero by 2040 and are working with Ecovadis to embed more sustainable practices throughout our supply chain. On a local level we take various other steps, like donating and recycling unused computers and phones, and removing single-use plastics from our canteens.
We believe we can make the most impact by supporting our clients in their own transitions to more sustainable practices and helping them help their own customers to learn about how they can make sustainable choices too.
It’s the main focus for my team and I, and we’re doing that in a few different ways today: embedding into payment cards and accounts, through our own data products, through our work with partners offering carbon footprint tracking for consumers and businesses, our own sustainability consulting practice and by offering card material options that have a lower impact on the environment.
Visa is bringing that expertise to bear in a number of different areas, helping governments in planning more sustainable travel and tourism infrastructure, for instance through urban mobility and electric vehicle charging systems. We are working with local authorities in 50 of the largest urban areas in Europe, including Athens, Paris, London, Warsaw, Madrid, Milan, Turin and Porto to support urban mobility initiatives. And we're integrating contactless payments into local transport systems to remove friction from paying for daily commutes, making sustainable choice easier for consumers. We believe the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, will be key to helping Europe to meet its net zero targets. Hence, we are supporting the standardisation of payment methods at electric vehicles (EV) charging points to smooth the customer journey and provide consumers with greater choice and convenience. Our aim is to make paying for EV charging as easy as buying a coffee.
What are the challenges of adopting and creating sustainable payments?
Our European research reveals that the majority of consumers often consider sustainable choices as more expensive. Six out of ten say that sustainable options are not always available, and half of European consumers find that sustainable products are harder to find. Nevertheless when it comes to financial services, forty-two percent of European respondents said they would use their payment card more often if a financial institution were to reward them for their more sustainable behaviours, and twenty-five percent would even switch their bank to have access to green features. With that in mind we see great potential in enabling our clients, banks and fintechs, to make these behaviours more rewardable and accessible.
The broader challenge long term will be how payments can adapt to make sustainable choices more natural and as simple as tapping to pay for a coffee today, so the sustainable option is an easier decision to make.
Finally, a broader question: how do sustainable payments impact the future of our planet?
The work we’ve done so far gives me a lot of confidence in the capability for payments to enable change. The movement of money across communities, cities and countries relies on a resilient and accessible payments infrastructure. Through the pandemic we have seen the use of contactless payments grow rapidly in acceptance, but importantly that number has not really gone down as the worst of the pandemic has passed. If payments can achieve the same with more sustainable choice, it removes a friction that helps people more readily adapt these more sustainable options as part of their day-to-day; and provides people with data to inform them at the same time.
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