Green Payments by Design
Changes Challenges Choices
  • Accelerated digitalisation is both a cure and a poison, with the digital world now representing a 7th continent in terms of water and energy consumption
  • Action is needed to reduce the footprint of the digital world, including in digital payments
  • To effectively reduce the digital footprint of payments, an end-to-end life cycle assessment is needed 
  • Due to the complexity of the payment ecosystem, optimising single parts of the value chain in isolation is ineffective (and can make things worse)
  • How do you understand your own payment related footprint and what level of direct vs. indirect impact/influence do you have with other stakeholders? 
  • How you can best collaborate with other stakeholders in the payment ecosystem to drive progress towards greater sustainability?

Digital technology is – as philosopher Bernard Stiegler calls it - a Pharmakon – both a cure and a poison. According to a recent study, the digital world represents a 7th continent in terms of energy and water consumption – between 3 and 5 times the size of France.

Environmental footprint of the digital world as a percentage of total human impact

Environmental footprint of the digital world as a percentage of total human impact

Main stakeholders of the payment industry

Digital payments are part of this digital world. Although environmentally friendlier than other forms of payment such as cash, they still have an environmental footprint that needs to be measured accurately and understood so that action can be taken to minimise it.

Truly “green payments” will not be achieved through individual stakeholders focusing only on their part. A digital payment is a complex interaction between multiple stakeholders. Understanding this and acting collaboratively as an industry in an end-to-end approach is the only way to achieve a meaningful reduction of the environmental footprint of payments.


The limitations of today’s approaches

Service providers across the payment value chain are all working to reduce their environmental impact. However, as in most industries, this action generally happens at the individual corporate level using a “measure, reduce, offset” approach.

The recent “Net Zero Initiative: A framework for collective carbon neutrality”[5] launched by Carbone 4 (a leading consulting firm in low carbon strategy) states that the scope of the greenhouse gas emissions taken into account often overlooks the induced sources of emissions (upstream and downstream in the so-called “scope 3”). The initiative calls for global neutrality.

Environmental topics are systemic and complex, and the environmental impacts of payments cannot be identified precisely and reduced unless we consider the problem as a whole. Many approaches are possible at the level of an individual company to minimise the impact of payments. However, they often do not consider the wider value chain or ecosystem. Individual stakeholders do not have a way of measuring the impact of an end-to-end use case. Their efforts may, therefore, only represent a small part of the total footprint. Apart from using an environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), there is no concrete way of knowing and measuring this footprint and acting on it accordingly.

Impact/influence Matrix - Environmental footprint of digital payment stakeholders


Collaboration to reduce the footprint of payments

Some companies are collaborating to reduce the footprint of payments. Worldline delivers eco-designed payment terminals. Mastercard has analysed the material make up of plastic cards to help issuers offer more eco-friendly cards to consumers.[6] In 2018, it formed the Greener Payments Partnership with Gemalto, Giesecke & Devrient and Idemia to establish environmental best practices and address first-use PVC plastic in card manufacturing.

Nevertheless, most companies do not focus on the complete ecosystem, yet a systemic approach is needed: the lifecycle impact assessment and the design of the “end to end payment” need to consider the full environmental life cycle. 

No single company can tackle the problem by itself; collaboration is required between all stakeholders. Including those who operate the systems and public bodies that regulate and supervise them. This means:

Operational payment stakeholders:

  • Consumers, merchants, manufacturers of devices, payment service providers, schemes and standardisation bodies (technology, security)

Public body stakeholders:

  • Responsible for the creation of laws and regulations with laws on environment which may have implications for payments but also regulations more specific to the retail payments (Payment directives)
  • Those responsible for supervising payment activities, at national (AMF) or regional level (EBA)

They all need to collaborate to assess the environmental footprint of the services provided for retail payments and to identify mitigation actions in terms of standards, regulations and deployment or adaptation of technology.


More chapters about Unification Taming Diversification

New business models

With the shift towards servitisation, pay-as-you-use and pay-for-outcomes, many businesses will have to adapt their business and operating models to match consumers’ expectations. Fintech 2.0 will bring major changes, with the most significant successes coming when incumbents and new entrants combine forces.

Learn more about New Business Models ›

Digital Currencies

Digital currencies, whether public or private, can provide attractive alternatives to fiat money for certain use-cases. However, businesses face the new challenge of identifying which use-cases will deliver the greatest impact for them.

Learn more about Digital Currencies ›

Context Aware Services

The rapid growth of available data sources will demand responsibility, relevance and quality from AI-based automated decisions, maintaining ownership and confidentiality of data and ensuring fair and loyal decision-making by autonomous processes.

Learn more about Context Aware Services ›

More resources

Make your end-users aware of their environmental impact by leveraging their banking data and offering them alternatives to adopt more sustainable behaviour.

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Our approach to sustainability is long term and 360 degrees, taking in every aspect of our business activities and operations. We are committed to delivering sustainable, trusted and secure solutions across the payment value chain, bringing together different worlds, connecting lives, with Worldline at the core passing on trust.
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Our 2021 Integrated Report gives a comprehensive overview of our 2021 commitments and performance.

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